Submit Your Own!
By Stephen Schuette
At the Men’s Breakfast there was some comment about Sunday’s sermon touching on divorce. They probed, “Ok, so after divorce, what’s up for this week?” Well, what may be even more difficult to talk about than divorce? Money, of course.
The man had obviously been working at his faith. But he also had this feeling. You know the feeling. It’s like the feeling you just know there’s something you forgot to do - only this is bigger. There’s something hanging. The checklist in your hand is complete, but you know the job isn’t finished. You can’t put your finger on it, but you know it’s there. What could it be?
Jesus loves him but doesn’t let him off. (There’s that same hardness and tenderness in Hebrews and a bit in Amos too.) There is something standing in the way. And we know from other texts it’s not just about the poor (Mk 14:7). It also has to do with the man’s own journey and what’s blocking the way.
As our discussion with my colleagues about these texts was winding down we began to talk, unrelated to the texts, about ONA (the UCC acronym for LGBTQ inclusion). All of our churches were at different places, as well as we in our own faith-journeys.
Our own congregation had held the ONA discussions over a nine month period which culminated in our ONA statement. Whew, done with that! Shortly after that I attended a clergy conference at which the preacher scrapped his sermon and told the story of the sex offender who was visiting his congregation and was now seeking to join. His congregation was struggling with the idea that they thought they were open and welcoming until this person arrived and opened up a whole new set of questions, concerns, and fears. After returning I related the story at a committee meeting. A woman leaned back in her chair and said, “I feel like I just get finished with one thing only to find that the next thing comes along. It just seems like there’s no place to rest. There’s always more.”
I wonder if that’s a little of what the rich man felt? And wasn’t this one of the differences between Jesus and the Pharisees, the possibility of a check list that could be completed, done, finished? And maybe it’s what’s behind Peter’s reaction too: “Look, we’ve already done what you just told the rich man to do! So isn’t our journey finally at an end? Haven’t we fulfilled everything? Can’t we go back to fishing now and forget all this talk of what’s ahead in Jerusalem?” But Jesus just keeps pushing. On the faith journey there’s always another horizon, always more to learn, always the possibility of growing in faith. The opening line, after all, is about the “journey.”
At the same time I draw comfort from the fact that Jesus loved the rich man. The “push,” while firm and clear, is at the same time tender and loving. For I have felt what he felt, and what the woman in my congregation felt, and what Peter felt. As my music teacher in college would say, “There’s no time to rest on laurels.” The journey is not finished. But neither is the love of God for us.
Love Over Legalism
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on Mark 10:2-16
18th Sunday after Pentecost
on Sunday, October 4, 2009,
The Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten
(word count: 805)
Love over Legalism
On Wednesday night, when I was driving home, I heard a pastor on the radio say, “The Bible is our rulebook.” Many of us think that way about the Bible, don't we? We regard the Bible as a collection of rules. Follow the rules, and you will get to heaven. But that understanding is wrong.
The Bible does indeed contain rules that we are to follow, but the Bible is not primarily a rulebook. The Bible is a collection of works that, together, proclaim the Good News. Foremost and first, the Bible proclaims the Good News, which is that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. God loves us, so God has saved us. We the baptized shall live forever, not because we have earned eternal life by following the rules, but because Christ has earned it for us. That is the Good News, and that Good News is primarily what the Bible is about. The rules are there, but they are secondary, and keeping them does not earn us eternal life. The Bible is not first and foremost a rule book. It is first and foremost the Good News.
Further, the Bible itself warns us against being legalistic, being rigid about the rules. For instance, the Bible declares that we are to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Part of honoring the Sabbath is abstaining from work, but, according to the Bible, is it always wrong to work on the Sabbath? Jesus heals on the Sabbath, and when the pastors and council presidents criticize him for this, he indicates that the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath. Sometimes, you can work on the Sabbath, such as when you are helping a person in need. Of course, we are to do our best not to work on the Sabbath, and most of us, myself included, are not good about abstaining from work. Most of us could improve in honoring the Sabbath, but, at the same time, the Bible teaches us that we are not to be rigid about the rules.
Indeed, the Bible makes clear that we are to place love over legalism. According to the Bible, which is morally better, following the rules or being loving? Often the two are the same, but when we have to choose one of the two, according to the Bible it is better to be loving than to be a rule-slave. Should we abstain from work on the Sabbath? Yes, but if someone is in need on the Sabbath, we are to help that person. Helping someone is more loving than following the rules.
In Mark 10, Jesus offers a painful, difficult condemnation of divorce. He says, “Whoever divorces and marries another is guilty of adultery.” Boom. That's the rule.
This rule urges us to take our commitments in marriage seriously. Do not be casual about marriage. Marriage is a commitment. Marriage is hard work. Marriage is sometimes painful. Marriage is holy. Jesus' strong words command us to revere the commitment.
We are to take Jesus' teaching seriously, but we are not to be rigid about the rules. We are to place love over legalism. Love over legalism. If a man is beating his wife, should she stay in the marriage? Of course not. She should pack up and flee to the Blackburn Center, and given Jesus' love and compassion, especially for the oppressed, we know that Jesus would agree.
Your spouse has cheated on you, has wounded you. The pain is deep and sharp. You have tried to make things work, but the suffering continues. Jesus says, “I don't like divorce, but sometimes it is the most loving thing to do, even though it is painful.” We are to do that which is most loving, and sometimes the most loving thing to do in a relationship is to end the relationship. At times, divorce is the best option, even though it may not be the easiest option. As the Fray sings, “Sometimes the right thing and the hardest thing are the same.”
The pain, the heartbreak, we frequently feel when a relationship ends is something we in the Church are called to help each other heal from. How could we at St. James do a better job of helping each other recover from heartbreaking relationships? That's something to think, talk, and pray about.
The preacher on the radio is at least partly wrong. Yes, the Bible is, in a way, a rulebook, but we are not to be rigid about the rules. We are to place love over legalism. More importantly, we are always to remember and never to forget that the Bible is much more than a rulebook. It is more accurate to call the Bible a love letter. That love letter says, “Even though you break the rules, I still love you. Christ has died and risen so you can live forever, even though you break the rules.”
Fall in love with Hope, with Perfect Love, so beautiful. God has fallen in love with you, has written you – all of us – a love letter. In fact, in about twenty minutes God will give you a special, sacred valentine.
Rally Day Sermon
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on Isaiah 50:4, James 3:1,
and Mark 8:31-38
15th Sunday after Pentecost
on Sunday, September 13, 2009,
The Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten
(word count: 1028)
Far, Far More than Nice
We Lutherans disagree on many issues. Politics, global warming, health care reform. There is much disagreement, but there are also many points of agreement. One point on which almost all of us agree is that Christian education is important. Do you? Do you agree that Christian education is important, that it is even essential for us Christians to continue to study the Bible, the Book of Concord, and the Church so that we can understand better how to love God and neighbor in accord with Christ?
Some of us attend Sunday school, many do not, but almost all of us agree that it is important to have a Sunday school program. Do you agree?
After all, way back in the 1500s, what did Martin Luther, who started our denomination, do for a living? He was a pastor, yes, but his main job as a pastor was to be a college professor who taught Old Testament. He was a teacher.
Given the crucial place of Christian education here among the baptized, clearly teachers play a sacred and priceless role. Being a Sunday school teacher is a powerful and holy calling. Often, when we say someone is a Sunday school teacher, people respond by smiling and saying something like, “Oh, how nice.” “Oh, isn't that nice?” Nice? Holding the door for someone is nice, and there is nothing wrong with niceness. Niceness is precious, but being a Sunday school teacher is not nice. It is far, far more than nice. It is holy, profound, crucial. The word “nice” doesn't do Sunday school teaching justice. “Nice” is such a tame word, a vanilla word. Teaching Sunday school is miles wider than nice. Teaching Sunday school is mighty.
The book of James agrees. James 3:1 warns, “Not many of you should become teachers [ . . . ] for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Yikes. Teaching is serious business. Teach with care. Be quick to listen, slow to speak. A tongue is a fire.
Just think about how extraordinary Sunday school teaching is. You are sharing with others the Good News of Jesus Christ, the story that assures salvation, forgiveness, and hope for all the worn-out and sagging world. You are shaping minds and hearts with God's word. The Holy Spirit is working through you to build up others. You are an expression of God's agapic wisdom. That's what Sunday school teachers do, and it is far, far more than “nice.”
Our readings this morning help us to appreciate just how powerful, how far wider than nice, teaching Sunday school is. We already mentioned James 3:1. Now take a listen to Isaiah 50:4, in which the prophet declares, “The Lord GOD has given me / the tongue of a teacher, / that I may know how to sustain / the weary with a word.” At the time that that verse was written, the people of Israel were in a dark, stinking, heart-breaking point in their history. The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem, had demolished the Temple, had ransacked the land, and had taken large portions of the population into captivity. The people were lying by the waters of Babylon and weeping. Those people were weary, and they were aching for a word of liberation, a clear drop of hope for their souls' parched throats. In that crisis, the prophet announces, “So that I can sustain the weary with a word, God has given me the tongue of a what?” The tongue of a teacher. Indeed, over and over in Scripture, the teacher, including Jesus, brings words of hope, renewal, refreshment. Teachers present other messages, yes, but sustaining the weary with a word is a vital message that we, in our obsession with thou-shalt-nots, often overlook.
Sunday school teachers, a crucial part of your calling is to sustain the weary with a word. That is, you bring Good News, hope, love, new life, for adults and children who are often afraid, sick, angry, confused, worried, bored, and if you don't think children have these concerns, then you need to think again. How can we teachers sustain the weary with a word?
In the gospel, in verse 31, he hear that Jesus begins to teach the disciples that he must suffer, die, and come back to life. There are other teachings, but this one is the most important: that Jesus died on the cross and came back to life so that we can live forever, have forgiveness of sins, and new life in this world. What a message! Talk about sustaining the weary with a word! In this world, in this time, no matter what controversies vex and infuriate us, Christ has died and is risen, so we have new life. No matter what terrorists or other enemies threaten us, Christ has died and risen, so we have new life. No matter how frustrating health care reform is, Christ has died and risen, so we have new life. Further, Christ's death and resurrection is for all: Mexican and white; citizen and illegal immigrant; Democrat and Republican; the elderly, teens, and little children; the healthy and those dying of disease.
We do not have all answers to all questions. We may feel like the world is caving in on itself. We may feel like we're in exile, but we are also the baptized. Therefore, nothing in heaven or on earth or in hell can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Christ suffered, died, and rose, so no matter what we do wrong, we can ask God to forgive us, and he will. Christ suffered, died, and rose, so no matter how painful and unfair this world is, we know that the next one will be perfect and that we will be there, even though we can never earn our way. God has first loved us, so we can love one another with the invincible love that is more muscular and powerful than the world's hatred.
Love stronger than hate, the word that sustains the weary, the cross that gives life and forgiveness. That is what Sunday school teachers teach, and it is infinitely more than nice. Alleluia!
Love Over Legalims
By David von Schlichten
A sentence from our second reading, James 2, has been flapping around inside me all week. [Lector] just read it. The sentence is “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Mercy triumphs over judgment. The statement does not eliminate judgment but rather places mercy over judgment. [Hands]
That four-word sentence reflects the heart of Jesus' ministry. Repeatedly Jesus raises mercy over judgment. Jesus cares about judgment, but mercy is dominant. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Think about it. In John 8, the religious experts bring before Jesus a woman caught in adultery. According to the Bible, she should be stoned to death. That's what is says in the Bible, right in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22. Stoning the woman to death for adultery would be the proper judgment, but how does Jesus respond to the religious experts? He says, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Everyone walks away. Jesus saves the woman's life. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Related to the idea of mercy triumphing over judgment is what I call love over legalism. Love over legalism. Repeatedly Jesus places mercy over judgment, and over and over Jesus positions love over legalism. Understand, Jesus is not ignoring laws. Laws help preserve order. Laws help expose sin. According to the Book of Concord these are the two uses of the law. Further, Jesus announces, “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” This is not an anything-goes religion. We are to follow the law, but we are not to be legalists. Jesus places love over legalism.
For example, Jesus heals people on the Sabbath. The religious experts criticize him for this. They pull out their Bibles. “The Bible says that we are not to work on the Sabbath. Healing someone is work, Jesus. You just went against the Bible. You broke the law, Jesus.” For Jesus, healing someone is more important than following the rules. Love over legalism.
If Jesus places mercy over judgment and love over legalism, then we are to do likewise. Indeed, in the Church, frequently we do that. We place mercy over judgment and love over legalism. For instance, if a man is beating his wife and children, what should that woman do? Should she stay and take it? The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 7:10, “[. . . T] he wife should not separate from her husband [ . . . ],” and Jesus says in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 that, except in the case of infidelity, divorce is wrong. According to those verses, abuse is not a legitimate reason for divorce. The verses about divorce declare that divorce is wrong. Yet many of us agree that, if a man is abusing his wife, she should take the children and leave. Why do we say that? Because we place love over legalism. We are to take the rules seriously, but we are not to be legalists. It is more loving for us to want that woman to flee abuse than it is for us to demand that she stay with her husband because the Bible frowns upon divorce. The Bible gives us rules, but the Bible also teaches us to place love over the rules, love over legalism.
Do you do that? Do you place love over legalism? Do you place mercy over judgment? Do I?
Thanks be to the Trinity for God's mercy and love which he has expressed to us, the baptized, in the supreme way through Christ's death and resurrection. “Take and eat; take and drink.” Mercy, love. If God had placed judgment over mercy, we would all die and burn in hell, but God places mercy over judgment. If God situated legalism over love, Jesus never would have died on the cross. He would not have bothered. Because of our sin, God would have just tossed us all into Satan's mouth. Instead, because God places mercy over judgment and love over legalism. Christ climbed onto the cross, endured shocking torture for our sins. Because God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, places mercy over judgment and love over legalism, Christ dies for us. Christ could have said, “Condemn them all, Father.” Instead, he prays from the cross, “Forgive them, Father; they know not what they do.”
Sermon on Ordaining Open Homosexuals
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on Matthew 13:24-30
13th Sunday after Pentecost
on Sunday, August 30, 2009,
The Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten
(word count: 984)
No-Weeding Is Fundamental
In the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, in Matthew 13:24-30, wheat and weeds grow side-by-side. The servant says to the farmer, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” The farmer realizes that an enemy sowed the weeds. The servant asks, “Do you want me to pull up the weeds?” The farmer replies, “No, because, in pulling up the weeds, you might pull up the wheat in the process. Just let the weeds go, and I will get them at the harvest time.”
This parable calls us Christians to be patient and humble. The parable is telling us, the baptized, the members of the Church, not to determine who is in and who is out. We are not to be in the business of weeding people out. That is up to God, not us. Our calling is to go and make disciples of all nations, as Matthew 28 says, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We are to share the Good News with others. We are to care for people in need. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love the neighbor. Further, the Book of Concord teaches that the Church is “the assembly of saints where the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.” We are to do our best to carry out these tasks, trusting that the Holy Spirit is with us to guide us.
Our task is not to weed people out. We are to be patient with one another, slow to anger, slow to speak, as James 1 says. We are to be patient with each other. James 1 says that true religion is caring for widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself unstained by the world. True religion is not determining who is a weed and who is wheat. That is God's business.
Sometimes, in the Church, we disagree over important issues, and when we disagree we might want to give up on each other. We might want to shout, “You're a weed. Get out of here!” Or “I'm wheat. I'm right, you're wrong, so I'm leaving.” When we disagree, we often become hotheaded, judgmental, and self-righteous. But our disagreements don't have to lead to division.
Think about it. If we went around the room and asked people's opinions on a variety of issues, we would find disagreement, wouldn't we? Some of us are Republican, some are Democrat. Some of us are pro-choice, while others of us are pro-life. Some of us believe in global warming, others do not. Some of us don't have a problem with evolution while others are passionately opposed to it. Regarding homosexuality, some of us believe that an openly gay person can be a pastor while others believe that openly gay people can never be pastors ever, no matter what.
We get passionate about the issues we disagree on, and there is nothing wrong with being passionate. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing, but Jesus urges us not to weed each other out. We are to be patient with each other. We are to to be humble with each other. We can disagree, even passionately, but we are not to give up on each other. It is not our place to determine who is a weed and should be removed. That is God's business, not ours. We are to continue to worship together and work together to study the Bible, teach and preach, pray, sing, and help people in need.
We have been doing just that here at St. James for 209 years. Here at St. James we have disagreed on issues. We disagree today, but we still come together each Sunday to worship. We have our differences, but we can live like the one Church, the one body, that God has made us to be, not labeling people as weeds, but living and growing together, humble and patient with each other.
After all, consider the many things we have in common. We may disagree on some issues, but we are still all baptized. We all believe that the Bible is important to our lives as Christians. We believe that God the Father created everything. We believe that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. We believe that, on the third day, he rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of God. We believe that he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Think of everything we have in common, despite our disagreements. We believe in the Holy Spirit, we believe in one Church. We believe that we are a communion of saints. We believe that God forgives our sins when we repent. We believe that someday we will be raised to new life. We believe that, one day, we shall live in heaven, because of Jesus Christ.
We believe that coming to church on Sunday is an important part of the Christian life. We believe in helping the poor, the elderly, and children. We believe in singing hymns.
We in the Church disagree over many issues, such as homosexuality, but God has made us into one body through Christ. We are all one, like it or not. Also, while we may disagree on many issues, we agree on much more. We have so much in common, and God has made us one. Further, in John 17, Jesus prays for us to live like the one people that we are.
We are one field, all together. Who are we to decide who is a weed, who needs to be uprooted? Let us be patient and humble with each other. Thanks be to God that God is patient with us.
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