Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Bring the Demons to Submission - Sermon on Revelation 12:7-12

Revelation 12:7-12
7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb  and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. 12 Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them!  But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath,  because he knows that his time is short!”

Luke 10:17-20 
17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

So, today we celebrate Michael and All Angels day!  We honor the witness and fervor of angels as they act on behalf of God, delivering messages of God’s good word.  In our text from the book of Daniel, Daniel learns of a chief prince named Michael who assists in the fight against the Prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece. Prince in this instance implies not a human in royal leadership but rather a sort of super human, celestial being that represents the interests of particular people.  So the Angel Michael is introduced to Daniel as the protector of his people.

In our text from Revelation, John records vision of a great red dragon, with seven heads, ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.  His tail sweeps down a third of the stars of heaven, throwing them to the earth. The dragon stands ready to devour the child of a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  The child, who is to rule all the nations is born and snatched away, taken to God.  

So, a war breaks out in heaven, and Michael and all his angels fight the great dragon.  And despite the dragon and his angel’s best efforts, they are defeated. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

And so, we celebrate today the festival of Michael and All Angels.   Angels thwarting dragons. That matches our cultural experience and portrayal of angels doesn’t?  

In a few weeks you’ll set up the annual Christmas tree and you’ll grab your box of ornaments from the attack, and you’ll hand your family heirlooms, and your favorite meaningful ornaments.  You may have some eloquent globes or figurines. Maybe a hallmark ornament. And then of course you’ll pull out the classic celestial figure slamming a giant 7-head dragon, the deceiver of the whole world, throwing him down to earth.  yah? Everyone has one of those, right? You don't?

No, certainly our society has an affinity towards angels.  The conversation and portrayal of angels is so abundantly present that we almost become desensitized to them, right?

Think about Clarence Obdoby, Angel 2nd Class, who answers the prayers of family and friends on Christmas eve to save George Bailey,  And if successful, will earn his wings. This movie of course, it’s a wonderful life. And in the end, the bell on the tree rings, and the young girl zuzu says, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” 

Think about the mid 90s and TV.  I can still hear the opening tune to the show…”I’ll will walk with you, til the sun don’t even shine...I’ll walk with you..every time..I tell ya I’ll walk with you.”

Anybody? Touched by an angel?  I remember my parents watching it.  And again, the story of an angel, named Monica, who has climbed the angel promotion ladder from choir to annunciations, and now promoted from the search and rescue division to work individual cases.  Along with her supervisor, Tess, Monica meets people on the walk of life, to help manage their cases, for a positive outcome. This portrays angels as guardians. 

Speaking of guardians, there was a story out of Germany a few months ago.  A man was driving his car and caught speeding by a traffic camera. As the car passed the camera, the camera took a snapshot in order to issue the ticket.  Well at the exact moment the picture was taken, a dove flew in front of the car with its wings spread, hiding the man’s face.  

The police reported jokingly that a “thanks to a feathered guardian angel..” and the intervention of the “Holy Spirit” they will choose mercy over justice and not issue a ticket.”  They said, “we have understood this to be a sign to leave the driver at peace.” We portray angels as helping us avoid tickets.

If you haven’t heard, I was in a car accident this past week.  Everyone is ok. Just a bruised ego and a very bruised car. But I was reminded of 2005, when I was in my first car wreck.  I totalled my jeep. It wasn’t my fault. Lol. Anyways, when I got my new, used car, someone gave me a little metal guardian angel to clip on my sun visor and it said, “Never drive faster than your guardian angel flies.”
Right, these are the ways we perceive and portray angels in our everyday lives.  I can’t tell you the number of stories I’ve heard from people who were in an accident, or in the hospital, or a precarious situation and they talk about an angel rescuing them or aiding them.  They can’t always recall the details of who or how, but they know so strongly that there was some sort of presence felt. As though an angel was watching over them or intervening on their behalf. 

We portray angels as statues in our gardens, figurines on our mantles.  We have plumb little babies with wings and halos, or delicate, fragile silver or diamond angelic beings dangling on chains around our neck...or charms on bracelets.  

One of my favorite movies growing up...angels in the outfield.  Young Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Rodger. And Roger’s dad promises that if the Angels win the pennant, his dad will come home.  So Roger prays, and for the rest of the season angels show up to assist the team and help them win. Rubbing pitcher’s shoulders.  Elevating outfielders to make crazy catches. At one point the whole stadium flaps their wings because they believe in something bigger.

The symbolism of Angels is everywhere.  The language of angels is so present. How often do you or someone you know talk about someone being angelic, or acting like an angel?  Or, an angel brought us together? An angel must have been watching over me? An angel made me do it! 

It’s such a common place.  Even in our worship, we talk about angels.  In communion I say, and so with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim we praise your name and join their unending hymn.  Notice our hymns today… 

I think we’ve come to appreciate and perceive the presence of angels, but they truly remain somewhat of a great mystery, right?  What does an angel look like? How do they act? Can humans be angels? Do they really level up from choir to case management? Are they guardians, controlling our acceleration pedal and monitoring our life choices?    
Are they tangible, real beings, or hidden celestial beings.  Is this the power of our confession when we proclaim a belief in God, the maker of heaven and earth, all things seen and unseen? 

What, we fairly ask, is the deal with angels?  Perhaps scripture is a great place to start. 

Think about Abraham.  In Genesis 18 it tells us that Abraham was visited by the Lord as he sat by the entrance of his tent.  But the story goes on to say that three men approached the tent. Abraham welcomed them and fed them. They proclaimed to Abraham and Sarah that Sarah shall bear a son.  The Lord appeared to Abrhama as these three men. 

Think about Luke 1, as the Angel Gabriel is sent by God and appears to Mary.  Gabriel says Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. He then proclaims to her that she will bear God’s son. 

Think about Acts 12, when Peter is bound in prison.  While the guards sleep and angel of the Lord appears, taps him on the shoulder, and helps his escape prison.  It says Peter didn’t realize what was happening was real. He thought it was a vision. Once the angel leaves him, peter is certain that an angel rescued him. 

In Mark 16, The women enter then empty tomb and find a man, dressed in a white robe.  He says “Do not be alarmed and proclaims that Christ is risen”

Revelation 14, Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth - to every nation, tribe, and language. 

Psalm 91 - for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

Hebrews - Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 

Of course, Revelation 5, as John hears the voice of thousands of angels - tens of thousands - circled around the throne singing “worthy is the lamp, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise. 

And of course there is today’s text...The great prince or angel Michael and his angels defeating the great dragon.  

When we take another look through scripture and the presence of angels, it becomes apparent that an angel is one who delivers good news, proclaims good news.  Brings forth the testament of God and God’s power. To be sure, the word Angel, when translated literally means “messenger.” An angel is one who delivers a message. We tend to associate angels with God as heavenly beings.  

But the reality of the translation is that an angel is simply a messenger.  One that is empowered by God, intrusted with good news, and sent to deliver the good news.  More specifically, an angel is equipped with the word of God. The logos. God’s word alone.

If we look at today’s text from revelation, it is Michael and all angels that defeat the great dragon.  But to be precise, verse 11 tells us that “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”  The gift and power of the witness of angels is the deliverance of testimony. A message of God’s grace and love. And for the sake of scripture, testimony that is God’s word.  Good news in God’s name.   

The church has a long held a belief in angels and their witness to the power of God’s word to bring good news into a dark world.  In fact, Luther insisted that this day, Michael and All Angels always remain a festival day so that we as a Christian people might hear again the story of the angels, and the power of the word of God to strike down the forces that defy God. 

Think about the 3rd verse in Luther’s A Mighty Fortress.  
Though hordes of devils fill the land
                all threat'ning to devour us,
            we tremble not, unmoved we stand;
    they cannot overpow'r us.
            Let this world's tyrant rage;
    in battle we'll engage!
His might is doomed to fail;
                God's judgment must prevail!
One little word subdues him.

In our gospel lesson today from the 10th chapter of Luke, the 70 return with joy saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”  Recall that Jesus sent the 70 out two by two, to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. To greet no one on the road. To offer peace to the household and remain in that house eating and drinking what the host provides.   

So the 70, equipped with nothing but the word of God and the accompaniment of sibling, go forth in the name of God to share the peace of the Lord.  To deliver to every town and place a message of God’s good peace and the promise of God's favor. And what they experience, what they encounter, what they witness, is the power of God’s word to bring demons to submission.  To bring light to the darkness. To bring hope to the despair. To proclaim favor, justice, mercy, peace, and love. 

And so in the celebration Michael and All Angels, rejoicing with the return of the 70, we might remember and reclaim the power of our witness in the world.  That we too, have been called by God, claimed in the waters, equipped with every good gift, sent forth into the world to deliver a message.  

That is a message of eternal hope, of grace and glory, of promise and forgiveness.  It is a message that frees the captives, redeems the oppressed, lifts the lowly, and casts down the mighty.  It is a message that restores kingdoms, and tears down divisions. It is a message that always, always, always acts on love and delivers good news.  And friends, with the word of God on our lips, hearts, and in our actions, the demons of this world submit. They fall down.  Amen.

© Pastor Daniel Locke, preached Sept. 29, 2019 @ St. Mark's JAX 

Monday, September 16, 2019

God's Until, As Far As Mission - Sermon on Luke 15:1-10

Listen to the sermon here.
Luke 15:1-10
1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 So he told them this parable: 4 "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." 

We have heard part of this story before.  Many weeks ago, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, our gospel text began with the first three verses and then skipped to the parable of the prodigal son.  Today we circle back with an opportunity to read and reflect on the first two parables in this section.  

For Luke’s gospel, these three parables about the lost being found lie at the heart of not only Jesus ministry, but his journey to Jerusalem as well.  Several chapters ago Jesus set his eyes towards Jerusalem, where the son of man will suffer, be killed, and on the third day rise again.  We are well into the journey, and he has had multiple encounters with not only the sick and broke, the tax collectors and sinners, but the pharisees, scribes, and religious leaders as well.  He has had both good and not so good encounters.  

There have been moments with Pharisees have warned him that Herod is hunting for him, that he should go and hide.   And there have been moments like two weeks ago where Jesus is invited to a dinner banquet on the Sabbath and the offers a stern lesson about humility and inclusion.  

Jesus has had a wide range of encounters with the religious leaders, and it’s important to remember that any time the Bible mentions “the Pharisees” it isn’t necessarily talking about the same handful of people again and again.  Jesus meets and challenges a variety of religious leaders, and their impression and reaction to Jesus is just as varied and diverse.  Some are openly appalled and offended by Jesus.  And some are warming up to his way of life and teachings.   

And so today, at the heart of his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus once again encounters a group of religious leaders.  Jesus hears their grumbles and responds with three parables about the lost being found.  About God’s unexpected relentless pursuit of the lost.  About each and every one of God’s children being sought after.  It’s about the joy of community when it is made whole.

In chapter 15, Luke sets the scene for us by letting just know that “all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”   I really like this line of scripture, because as much as the Pharisees intend it to be a line of accusation and condemnation, I read and hear it as a proclamation.  Right?  “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  The fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them!”  

I always like to hear it as though the Pharisees are proclaiming a wonderful truth to the community.  Let it be proudly and widely known in all the land that THIS Messiah is one who favors the sinners and graciously breaks bread with him.  All should know that all are welcome at his table.   Then, of course, everyone raises and clinks their glasses, all cheers and toast to the faithful work and witness of Jesus.

I love this line, because the Pharisees accuse and condemn Jesus’ behavior, “THIS Fellow...welcomes and eats with sinners.” and I imagine a snarky Jesus looking around and saying, “Yah, So?”

For Jesus, it is a proclamation of truth.  This is what Jesus does regularly.   On so many occasions he calls to the sinners, fellowships with the broken and ill, dines with the tax collectors and despised members of society.  That’s what Jesus has always done.  And it has caused him a following.  A following of sinners, tax collections.

The Pharisees simply won’t stand for this sort of behavior.  Tax collectors were considered traitors and enemies as the poached on the members of society and representatives of Roman authority.  The sinners weren’t so much an issue for being a sinner but because their sin was typically in opposition to Jewish law, tradition, or cultural cleanliness.  Their sin made them unclean, and therefore a Rabbi, even Jesus, shouldn’t dare break bread with them.

So, Jesus confronts the grumbles by teaching in three parables.  One about a shepherd in search of a lost sheep.  One about a woman fervently searching for a coin.  And one about the prodigal son.  All are in some way about the lost being found and the joy of the community when they are welcomed home and made whole  

In the first parable, Jesus invites the Pharisees, and all gathered to imagine themselves as a shepherd who has a flock of sheep and unfortunately one is lost.  Jesus then celebrates the shepherd’s commitment to go after the lost sheep until it was found.  This seems like a simple, eloquent image of God as a shepherd committed to finding the lost at all costs.  

And I think it’s important to recognize that shepherds and their flock did not always graze on nice flat green pastures.  These are hilly lands with some rocky and dangerous terrain, with predators both human and animal lying in wait.  Not only was leaving the 99 a risk but chasing after the one lost was a bold and risky endeavor.  So much so that the Pharisee might be left wondering would it be worth it.  Why would the shepherd not risk more than he might gain?

In the second parable, Jesus invites the Pharisees, and all gathered to imagine a woman having lost one of her 10 silver coins.  And in today’s world it seems such little effort to flip on the light and sweep the house in search of the coin.  But I think it’s important to recognize that this woman would have to spend her own resources to oil and light a lamp, and then diligently and carefully scour the home for what is lost.  

Again, the pharisees, who sit in positions of power may wonder, why would anyone go to such lengths in search of a single coin.  Why would this woman search tirelessly, expending more resources and time then she might gain through finding the coin?

Both parables start with something being lost.  But the emphasis is not on the lost item or animal.  The emphasis is not repentance or the turning around of the thing that is lost.  After all, a coin is not alive, and I suspect the message is not that a sheep can confess and repent.  

More importantly, these parables are about the one searching and their commitment to the search.  A Shepherd who risks his own life in passionate pursuit of the lost member of the flock.  A woman who brings light to darkness in order to diligently and carefully sweep the house.   And both the shepherd and the woman search until the lost is found.  It’s not simply that they search with haste and passion, hoping the lost will be found, but they do not rest or relent UNTIL it is found.   The word until is only one of the translations permitted by the original Greek.  It can also be understood by the phrase “as far as.”  So, they search UNTIL it is found, or we could say, “that they search as far as necessary to find the lost.”   

As Jesus says, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” 

Friends, this is our God. This is God’s mission to search Until the lost are found, willing to go as far as necessary to save God’s people and make us whole again.  Our God is faithful and relentless.  Our God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Our God pursues the lost, as far as necessary, even unto death, until all are made whole in the kingdom of God. 

And here’s the truth my friends, just because we may be baptized, just because we attend worship regularly or participate in church activities...just because we do our daily devotions and pray regularly doesn’t mean we’re exempt from becoming lost.  Of course, in the waters of baptism, God finds us.  Claims us.  Dusts us off, names us, and welcomes us into community.  

But the truth is, it doesn’t mean we’re exempt from every wandering, straying, or lingering into temptation. 

I have no doubt that we have friends right now, in these pews who feel lost.  We can go through the motions of our faith and still feel lost.  You can belong to the body of Christ, but still feel alone.  Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we aren’t sinners in desperate need of God’s unending redemption. 

And this is what I love about our faith.  We believe that we are simultaneously sinner and saint.  God has made us alive and free in the death and resurrection of Christ, but we are still susceptible to sin.  We can be both found by God and feel lost all at the same time.

And the good news is that God is infinitely better at pursuing and finding then we are at running, hiding, and wandering off.  God is relentless in loving pursuit.  Sometimes that means that God seeks us out in the most bizarre or unsuspecting ways, scoops us up, and brings us back to community without us ever realizing we were lost in the first place.  It’s that feeling when you walk into the most secure, safest, warmest place you know...and when you cross the threshold of the entrance you know you’re home.  You’re found.

My siblings, each and every week we gather in this place.  The Spirit calls us and gathers us for worship.  God finds us in the muck of the world and brings us together as a community to rejoice the power of God’s relentless love. 

This is one of the reasons why we start with confession and forgiveness.  God has found us and brought us to community and together we confess the ways in which we might have become lost in the first place.  And God says I forgive you.  And wherever you go, I’ll be with you. 

And what I find incredibly powerful about these parables is not just God’s relentlessness, but the one’s searching are a shepherd and a woman.  If the Pharisees weren’t grumbling before, then the notion that God would act as a shepherd or even a woman...can you imagine?   
These are not the religious and cultural norms of God’s portrayal.  And I find this so powerful because it suggests to me that God works through anyone at any time, in any way to find the lost.    Even you and me.   

God’s work of seeking and finding the lost is community work.  In this place we experience again and again the power of God’s love and we’re filled with bread and wine, grace and forgiveness, love and hope to face the world ahead and remember that God will never relent or rest Until all are found. 

My dear siblings, All - all, sinners, tax collectors, pharisees, and scribes.  All, you and me, the least, last and lost - all are in need of God’s Until, as far as mission.  More importantly, all are worthy of God’s until, as far as mission.  Thanks be to God that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, no matter how lost we may become, God can, and will, always welcome us and invite us to dine.

© Pastor Daniel Locke, Preached on Sept. 15, 2019 @ St. Mark's Lutheran JAX, FL

Sunday, September 8, 2019

What Does It Cost You? - Sermon on Luke 14:25-33

Listen to the sermon here. 

Luke 14:25-33
25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,26 "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,30 saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

“When Christ calls a human, he bids him come and die.”   These are no doubt powerful words. Anybody familiar with that quote?  Do you know who wrote it? “When Christ calls a human, he bids him come and die.”  When put into context, these words are all the more powerful.

In 1937, at the height of the Nazi Regime, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a well known book called “The Cost of Discipleship.”  Bonhoeffer was German pastor and theologian, and perhaps most well know for his resistance and opposition to the Nazi party.  From the beginning, Bonhoeffer publically and passionately opposed the Nazi party. Even more so, he was deeply troubled by the misuse of the gospel message and power of Christianity to justify mass genocide.  He was worried that the secularization of faith and grace was a cause for complacency and indifference - that the cost of our salvation was taken for granted, that forgiveness was an endless gift, and therefore and failure or shortcoming as disciples of Christ was shrugged away under the gift of grace.  He called this cheap grace. Grace that is abused and taken for granted. Grace that abounds despite our own sinfulness, our indifference, our hatred, and inability to act.

So, Bonhoeffer spoke adamantly of costly grace.  Grace that convicts us to live into the crucifixion of Jesus and rise again to work towards the kingdom of God, despite the costs.

In his book, he wrote. “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

 It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'Ye were bought at a price', and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” 

In the mid 1930s, despite being a vocal and public opposition to the work and belief of the Nazis, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany.  For several years to risk his life traveling from town to town, educating and training clergy and church leaders in underground seminaries.  By 1940, he was shut down by the Gestapo. Banned from Berlin. He was silenced.

He accepted a job at Union Theological Seminary in the US, where he would be safe from persecution.  But within a few short years he said, “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people ... .I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.”  

By his convictions as a Christian, and at a cost, he returned to Germany to proclaim the gospel and the grace of Christ.  He was silenced. Harassed. Arrested. Imprisoned in concentration camps. And eventually he was hanged.  

“When Christ calls a human, he bids him come and die.” 

I suppose today’s reading calls to question, what is the cost of being a disciple.  What does it cost to be a Christian. To be a follower of Christ. And I mean that seriously, myself included, what does it cost us to be disciples and followers of Christ?

You don’t have to answer out loud if for no other reason than I don’t know what my own answer would be.  And to be clear, I’m not talking about an hour in worship and a few hours a week of service. I’m not talking about your 10% tithe or charitable giving.  It’s so much more. And it’s what Jesus talks about in front of a large crowd today, what does it cost to be a follower. A disciple.

And I would venture to guess, that once most of us had a chance to think about it, the answer would frankly be “nothing.”  It doesn't really cost us anything. Being a Christian, being a disciple is not in and of itself a risky endeavor. On a day-to-day basis, it cost most of us nothing to be a part of the body of Christ. 

Since baptism, God claimed us and named us, grafted us into the body of Christ.  Into the one mission we share. We were called to be God’s children. And from that day forward, we’re Christians, followers of Jesus, free to invest as much or as little of ourselves, our time, and our possessions as we choose.  And we can be as Christian as we want without it costing us a thing.

But, given today’s text, shouldn’t it cost us something to follow Christ?  Should there be some sense of risk involved? Why doesn’t our discipleship stir up a bit of trepidation or hesitation?  Is following Christ really that...easy?

The word “follow” has taken on such a different meaning in the context of today’s world.  Our cultural and social media dominate life has almost redefined what it means to follow. With the click of a button you can follow almost anyone you want.  And just as easy you can broadcast all of your life for anyone in the world to follow you. Status is gained by having a higher number of followers.  

When we think about Instagram, Facebook, twitter...whatever it is, we are invited to follow the lives of whomever we want.  Famous movie stars, and athletes. Musicians, friends, hobbyists...whomever. With one click we become a follower. A subscriber. 

More importantly, we follow at a distance.  We can watch their every move, read and hear what they have to say, we can like or ignore whatever we do or don’t support.  We follow at a convenient distance. We become subscribers of content.   And the larger the following the more powerful the person we follow.  But this sense of following is actually simply observation, empty and vain.  And it cost us nothing.  

In today’s Gospel text Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem.  Word has spread about the things he has done and said. People continue to gather around him and the crowds follow.  Now we don’t know how big the crowd was, but it was big enough for the gospel writer to make mention of it. Jesus turns to them all and offers some very blunt words about what is at stake if they desire to be his follower.  

After all, Jesus has his eyes on Jerusalem, where he’ll be arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified.  This journey is not for simple onlookers, marginal observers, and curious inquires. No, Jesus is ushering in a new reign of God, a kingdom that will rattle the foundations of the known world, unsettle the bedrock of the cultural, societal, and political norms.  And if, IF you desire to continue to follow Jesus, you must be honest about what lies ahead, and that it might cost you your very life. 

“When Christ calls a human, he bids him come and die.”

In Jesus’ day, it really was a costly decision to follow Christ.  I think we too often make light of it because in the beginning of the gospel Christ calls and the disciples drop everything and follow.  No big deal.  

But the reality was, following Jesus often meant encountering conflict...with family, friends, coworkers.  It meant forsaking or changing your life-long beliefs about the Messiah and what to expect.  It meant denouncing the ways of a sinful world, challenging powerful systems, venturing to hostile territories, dining with sinners, accompanying the unclean, caring for the oppressed, loving the last and least, finding the lost, and healing the broken. 

Following Jesus truly and literally meant following in his footsteps.  It meant, as the definition goes, paying close attention to Jesus, acting according to his example, conforming to his ways, and striving for his witness.  Following Jesus meant you were bid to come and die. Die to the old ways of life, be transformed by his radical witness of love and justice, and live in proclamation of God’s kingdom.  

So when we ask ourselves what does it cost us to be a disciple and follower of Christ and our answer is nothing, then I think we must re-encounter the gospel message, reassess Christ’s call to come and follow, reevaluate our identity as Christians.   I suspect that when Jesus laid out the cost of being a disciple to the crowd, several people turned around and said never mind. I bet they went on home where life felt safer, easier, and more content.  

Friends, being a Christian, a disciple, a follower of Christ is not something we should take lightly or for granted.  Because the truth is, the call to discipleship has in fact cost us our lives.  

In the waters of baptism we drown to the old way of living and rise again, claimed and named into a new way of life.    And baptism isn’t simply a Rite of initiation. We don’t haphazardly click subscribe to be a Christians and follow safely from a distance.   Leaning in when convenient or beneficial. Stepping back when too risky. 

No, we’re in the thick of it.  IN the footsteps of our radical, counter-cultural Messiah, we’re on a journey to Jerusalem, where our very lives are stake.  Believing in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus changes the way we see the world. Being washed in the waters of costly grace and fed at the holy banquet table, where we receive a foretaste of the feast to come transforms the way we live out our life.  Our calling. Our discipleship.  

And in part, that’s exactly what God’s Work. Our Hands day is about.  It’s not just a time of church wide service. It’s not simply about giving our time and resources to intentional serve our neighbor.  God’s Work. Our Hands. Is intended to be a public affirmation...a re-affirmation really that we are called, claimed, named, and appointed disciples of Christ.  

As followers of Christ we don’t just choose to get our hands and feet dirty in the muck of the world, we absolutely cannot help but engage with the brokenness of the world.  
As followers of Christ we cannot help but forsake the lifelong teachings of sinful world, Can’t help but denounce sin, death, devil, and all the forces that defy God.  

We cannot help but challenge unjust systems of power, venture into hostile territory, break bread with sinners, accompany the unclean, care for the oppressed, and love the last and least.  We cannot help but heal the broken and care for creation.

And the truth is, this calling may cost us everything.  Following Christ, being a disciple may cost us everything.  And for many of the apostles and early church leaders, it did.  It cost them their lives.  

My siblings in Christ, our world is bent, broken, oppressed, and in desperate need of healing.  And as the church, the incarnation of God’s costly grace, we absolutely must engage. We must pick of the cross, take the risk, and harken Christ’s bid to come and die. 

Because through death is the promise of resurrection.  And at the cost of following Christ, God promises hope.  God promises forgiveness. God promises grace. God promises everlasting life.  And thanks be to God, it is freely given. 


 © Pastor Daniel Locke, Preached on Sept. 8, 2019 @ St. Mark's Lutheran JAX, FL

Sunday, May 19, 2019

That's the Power of Love - Sermon on Luke 13:31-35

Listen to the sermon here. 

John 13:31-35
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, "Where I am going, you cannot come.'34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." 

Love one another.  Amen? Easy enough.  Amen! 

Did you know that the longest sermon ever preached is 53 hours and 11 minutes.  Yes, you heard me, 53 hours 18 minutes. 3 days of preaching. Now I couldn’t verify it as a certified Guinness World Record, but that’s the claim.  In fact, several reputable news outlets reported the even. 53 hours. 

These are the kind of things you find when Google sucks you in and your mind wanders.  And so I kid you not, it was widely reported that in November of 2014, a 31 year old pastor named Zach, preached a sermon...never stopping for more than 30 seconds...to a rotating crowd of people in, get this, Mount Dora, FL.  Practically in our backyard.

53 hours and 18 minutes.  Now, to be fair, in an interview, Zach clarifies that his motivation was not only to proclaim the word of God, but it was to raise awareness and money for a local organization.  

So my friends, sit back, and relax, order some pizza, I think today is a good day to chase the record.  53 hours and 19 minutes. Joking, sort of. 

So, like you, I found myself wondering, “What does someone even talk about for 53 hours?”  Thankfully the interviewer asked this question. Pastor Zach said, “I chose to speak on the Bible and kind of cover the entirety of the story from Genesis to Revelation.  My goal of the whole sermon was to talk about God's ridiculous commitment to God’s people, even though we give up on God that God never gave up on us.” 

53 hours on the theme of God’s ridiculous commitment to God’s people despite our failure.   Now I didn’t read the transcript, but if I interpret the theme correctly and paraphrase just a bit, it seems to me that the entire preaching event was about God’s love for God’s people.  It was about the love of God. A love we are desperate for. A love we are not worthy of. And a love we would do well to learn, receive, and imitate. Love!

There’s the classic tale of a preacher giving the shorte sermon on record.  Obviously, there is no exact record holder, but I’m sure you’ve heard the tale.  Preacher steps into the pulpit. Looks intently across the congregation. Takes a breath and says one word.  Love. Then sits down.

The world’s longest sermon and the world’s shortest.  And when you parse it all out, it seems the theme is the same.  Love. I mean no disrespect to my brother preacher, but you gotta wonder, why in the world use 53 hours of words when one will do?  On average, a person speaks 125 words a minute. That’s 400,000 words, amplifying a theme of love. And here’s the crazy thing, neither had a more powerful message than the other.  Neither was more right. Neither is more theologically brilliant or insightful. Love is love is love. Be loved. Now love one another. Love. Amen?

Beyond raising money for a good organization, why the exhaustive lesson on God’s love?  The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize, because there are times in our lives when we need to hear again and again,  and I mean, 400,000 times, how loved we are. How loved you are. How powerful love can be. Love of a God for God’s people. A passionate, dedicated, ridiculously committed God...who would even take on death...gruesome, humiliating, painful, and tragic death...for the sake of those whom God loves.  You and me.

And sometimes we are so broken.  So beaten. So jaded, torn, distraught, misguided, abused, and neglected. That it takes some repeating.  Maybe even 400,000 reminders that you are loved. 

“I give you a new commandment, Jesus says, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Anybody hear the old Nat King Cole classic from 1948?  Nature Boy. It’s been covered so many times, but in the final line, Nat so smoothly sings, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”  

This new commandment to love one another happens on Christ’s final night with his disciples.  Our small excerpt occurs within a larger story, a story we typically hear on Maundy Thursday. Christ gathers for a meal with his closest friends.  He removes his outer robe, takes on the role of a servant and washes their feet. Then he dines with them. He offers bread and wine, as body and blood of a new covenant.  He even shares the cup with Judas who will soon betray him. And just as Judas leaves, we hear today's text. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” 

Here’s an honest, vulnerable question.  Is there anyone among us who would argue with Christ’s command to love?  Anyone stand in opposition to Christ’s command, that perhaps love...love for each other and our neighbor is not the way of Christ and the root of our Christian calling?  Any objections?

No of course not.  And why would there be.  Why oppose love? I believe each and everyone of us understand that our call as Christians, as people of God, as believers and witnesses is to love.  As Christ loved us, we should love one another. That makes sense, doesn’t it? 
Seems like an easy and common sense concept right?  Seems like a quality characteristic we might aspire too.  Surely we want to be known and remembered for our love. After all, if God is love, and we are created in God’s image...if Christ teaches and commands us to love...if love is the foundation of our faith and the theme of our Christian narrative...

Then why is it so gosh darn hard for us to love one another as Christ loved us?  Now hear me out. I am not suggesting that anyone among us is void of love. Or lacks the ability to love.  Each and everyone of us is loving, and I’m sure we each have a list of people to attest to that fact. But, let’s be honest….we all at times, whether we mean to or not, show partiality in our love.  

I think we’re all guilty of cherry picking who we love.  Choosing to go against our being and Christ’s command by withholding love when it comes to loving as Christ loved us.

And to be clear, we’re not talking about familial love or brother love.  Love between friends, neighbors, colleagues, and families. There are specific words for that type of love in the original greek.  The love that Jesus commands is agape love. Selfless, sacrificial love. 

Agape is to have love for someone, based on sincere appreciation and high regard...it’s not a love rooted in emotion or feeling.  It’s a love rooted in the preservation and dignity of life. A willingness to humble yourself to lift up another. An intentional and imbedded sacrifice for the sake of the other.   To empty yourself, pouring out for another, with absolutely no reason, motivation, or incentive other than that is who you are created to be.

We might say that such a level of love.  Agape love, seems to be the exception in our society and culture.  Selfless, sacrificial, non-incentivized love is the exception. And Christ calls us to not only receive such love, but to reflect back to the world as well.

So why is it so hard?  Why do we struggle? What within us causes us to put conditions or incentives on love?  It’s easy for me to say that I love everyone, but the truth is it is just as easy for me to justify and convince myself into withholding love.  And the true confession, friends, is that love seems easiest when the other person either looks just like me, or I know that I have something to gain from offering love.

Why is it so hard to love as Christ loves us and as Christ commands.  Are we afraid to be vulnerable? Are we scared we won’t be loved in return.  Maybe we prefer not to be so selfless? Maybe we fear there isn’t enough love to go around.  How can I be so selfless to so many?

I think it ultimately comes down to power, and a fear of giving up our power.  You see, to love as Christ loved is to relinquish power. To humble yourself in order to raise up another.  To remove any power you may hold. Because when we withhold agape love, we deem someone unworthy or unfit of love.  That’s a power move. An abuse of power, even. To have something to give or offer, and to say, I’d rather not offer it for you is a power play.  And God knows, it’s hard to give up power.

This is what makes Christ example of love so radical.  Christ never withheld love. In fact, on the night of our text, Christ removed his outer robe, put on a towel and took on the role of a servant.  Humbled himself before his followers and friends, even those whom we may argue you were unworthy. And Christ washed their feet. He had nothing to gain.  

This what makes Christ’s sacrifice on the cross so radical.  He gave up everything, including his own life, with nothing to gain, for the sake of the world.  Even in his final breaths, Christ prayed for forgiveness for those whom we may argue were unworthy.  

This is Christ’s example of agape love, and holy smokes, we’re called to do the same?  It’s no wonder we struggle with such love. 

There is no weakness if relinquishing power.  In fact, there is power is weakness. Power in vulnerability.  Power in sacrificial, unconditional, Christ-commanded love.

There is power in such love, because loving one another as Christ love us means restoring, preserving, and celebrating the life and dignity of all God’s children.  
It means equality and equity are the norm, not the exception.  
It means acts of generosity and mercy are the norm not the exception.  
It means that siblings take precedent.  
It means we are no longer motivated by fear of the unknown or the other. 
It means health, wholeness, and justice upstage profit and self-interest.  It means empowering the hungry, homeless, last, least, and lost, challenging the systems of oppressive power and preferential love. 
It means washing the foot of unworthy, affirming the unfit, forgiving the unforgivable, and becoming one of the least of these.

In the power of such love, everyone will know that we are Christ’s disciples.  In the power of such love the first heaven and the first earth pass away, as John reveals, and God will dwell among us in the kingdom of God.  Every tear will be wiped away. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will ease. All things will be made new. 

So, it may seem fair to ask, how do we love as Christ loved?  
First, you dip your fingers in the water of the font, you taste the bread and wine, and you remember that you are loved.  And even more so, you are worthy of Christ’s love. Now and Always. 

Second, we confess that we have not loved with our whole hearts and not loved our neighbors as ourselves.   

Third, you hear the words of forgiveness and acknowledge that you do not have to love perfectly in order to love powerfully.  

Lastly, remember and affirm that love and the power of love are gifts from our grace-filled God.   There is no and will never be any shortage of love. 

As much as you pour our love, God fills you again and again.  And so you love, love, and love some more until the Kingdom of God is fully at hand and Christ’s glorious name is proclaimed by all.


© Pastor Daniel Locke, preached May 19, 2019 @ St. Mark's Lutheran Jacksonville, FL