First Lesson: Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28
Responsive Reading: Psalm 14
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Gospel Lesson: Luke 15: 1-10
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Mount Rose, Minnesota is the scene for the 1999 movie Drop Dead Gorgeous. Drop Dead Gorgeous tells the story of two girls: Rebecca Leeman and Amber Atkins. Let me tell you a little bit about both the girls. Rebecca Leeman had it all. Rebecca’s dad was the richest man in Mount Rose. Rebecca’s mom was a beauty queen herself and sat on nearly every committee within Mount Rose. Rebecca Leeman would seem to be the ideal beauty pageant contestant: long stunning brown hair, blue eyes, and perfect teeth. Rebecca Leeman would boost quite openly about her faith. Rebecca’s favorite catch-phrase was “Jesus loves winners”.
On the other side of the beauty pageant was Amber Atkins. Amber Atkins grew up on the other side of the tracks. Amber lived in a trailer court in fact. Amber’s mom sat around all day drinking beer and using foul language. Amber didn’t have a dad in the picture. Amber had a chipped tooth. While Amber was nice, she didn’t invoke Jesus’ name every five seconds. We all know Rebecca Leeman and Amber Atkins. Many of us would make snap judgments about both Rebecca and Amber and how their stories end up. We’ll get back to Rebecca and Amber’s story in a bit.
Now as you picture Rebecca and Amber let’s talk about our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 15. Jesus has been having meals with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus is having meals with the Amber Atkins types from the other side of the tracks. Certain Rebecca Leeman types like the Pharisees and Scribes couldn’t figure out why Jesus would waste his time.
How did the Pharisees think let me tell you another story. When I was growing up, I had a friend named Ira. Ira and I were playing golf one day. Ira didn’t take to golf too well. Ira would swing at the ball and “miss”. Ira’s best attribute was not his patience. Ira would proceed after every attempted shot to A. Yell out church inappropriate language. B. Pound his club into the ground. C. Throw his club down the fairway.
Eventually, another twosome catches us on the “golf course”. Part of this two-some was the local priest Father Chuck. Now the thing you need to know about Ira is finding out that he’s playing with a Catholic priest is just going to cause him to act out more. So Ira swings then misses then hits the ball way off the fairway then cusses then throws his club into the ground.
Father Chuck would just like act what Ira was doing was normal. His playing partner though was a different story. Trying to distract from the outburst, I asked him where he lived. After answering, he turns and sneers as he asks “What group home did Ira and I live in?”
Now picture this guy. Picture the Pharisees. Picture Ira. Now picture Jesus sitting down to eat with Ira like this was how normal people play golf. The Pharisees were kind of mad with this whole scene.
So Jesus seeks to educate the Pharisees and Scribes by telling a couple of parables. The first parable is the Parable of the Lost Sheep.
Here’s the scenario. One-hundred sheep are under the watch of a shepherd. One sheep runs away. The shepherd has two options at that point: He can declare the one sheep a sunken cost or he could foolishly pursue the lost sheep to risk losing everything that he had. Any normal shepherd would have described the “lost sheep” as a not worth the investment. The Kingdom of God doesn’t work like this, though!
Jesus seeks to drive home the point of the power of one by telling another parable. Jesus tells the story of a woman with ten coins who lost one coin. The woman wasn’t going to view this “lost coin” as any normal coin, though, but rather as the most precious coin that she owned. The woman is immediately going to turn her whole world upside down because she can’t bear not being in the presence of this one single coin.
Now it would have made more sense for this woman to invest her time in trying to make more money, but Jesus is saying that he doesn’t do things like other people do things. The women's devotion to the one coin instead is how the Kingdom of God works.
Phillip McLarty makes the following point:
“When you think about it, our whole lives are based on an acceptable percentage of failure. We start every school year knowing there will be a certain dropout rate. Not everyone will graduate. Marriages start out with a predictable rate of divorce. Not every marriage will make it. We’re happy when the employment rate is below five percent.”
What our parables illustrate though is the depths of God’s love are such that even one lost sheep is way too many.
A couple of years ago, I was staying at my parent's place before leaving on a vacation to Las Vegas. The morning that I’m supposed to go to the airport, I begin to look for my keys. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I finally had to stop looking as we needed to leave for the airport. As I’m in Las Vegas, I couldn’t shake for three or four days, what happened to my keys. I finally get back to Lindstrom, I must have gone over every inch of my parent's house multiple times. You know how it is? I still couldn’t find the keys. I had to take a spare car key and get all new keys made in Silver Bay. The new keys though were an annoyance as they didn’t work as good as the old keys, and I kept getting them confused. Finally, it happens My Mom had by accident grabbed my keys put him in her purse, where they feel on the floor of her middle school classroom. At this point, I didn’t care about how the keys became lost in the first place. When the lost becomes found, you act without abandon. I made sure the keys got sent to me as soon as possible. Now think if keys or coins could generate such emotion. Now reflect on how far you would go to reunite with someone you love. You understand this story. You know this parable.
Now consider it from the other angle of those whom Jesus receives.
Forrest Gump was getting on the school bus for his first day of school. Forrest Gump didn’t look like he was going to fit in whatsoever. Forrest had braces on his legs. Forrest was slow and socially awkward. Whenever Forrest attempts to take a seat next to another child, the child would snap back “seat’s taken”. Finally, a young blonde girl named "Jenny" tells Forrest that he could sit next to her. Forrest’s devotion to Jenny would not cease from that moment forward, all the days of both their lives.
The Colin Kaepernick story of the past few weeks brings back to mind another story the story of Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl did the worst thing that a soldier could ever do in a fit of rage at his unit; he left his post in Afghanistan. Many people figure Bergdahl got what he deserved as he was quickly captured by Taliban soldiers and held a prisoner for five years. Bowe Bergdahl is eventually returned to the U.S. in a prisoner exchange. The problem is though that everyone else in the Army hates his guts. Soldiers from his unit confess to wanting to “murder” him. Bowe Bergdahl is reassigned in the Army to desk duty but requires an armed guard because of the nature of his sin. Now let me ask you two questions: 1. What might you say when someone like Bowe Bergdahl lets you down when you need them the most. 2. What do you suppose that Jesus might say?
What do you suppose the Pharisees thought about the type of people whom Jesus reached out to in his ministry? They thought the prettiest girl in Minnesota, Rebecca Leeman always end up on top. They figured Amber Atkins’ types weren’t worth the time. Only this is how not the Kingdom of God works. Rebecca’s rival trailer park Amber Atkins ends up in a moment of fate becoming one of the biggest television stars in Twin Cities. The Lost can always be Found!
Let me close with one final story. John Newton’s dad was a sailor; his mother died when he was young. John Newton as an orphan gets sent to military school. Here, John Newton was such an obnoxious brat; his instructors nearly beat him to the point where he broke his back. Newton got so mad at the beatings; he ran away from school. John Newton decided to go to the only place that might take a guy like him; he was going to become a sailor.
Out at sea, John Newton came in contact with every bad influence in the book. John Newton joined the British Navy, only to end up becoming dishonorably discharged. John Newton left England hoping never to see anyone he knew ever again. He became involved in sailing for the African slave trade. While on board, Newton would often openly mock the captain by creating x-rated poems and songs about the Captain with the hope of creating an uprising against him. John Newton would steal rum as a way to bond with the rest of his crew. John Newton’s lifelong rebellion kept resulting in further beatings and public humiliations.
One night during a storm, John Newton’s life changed. John Newton became convinced that his ship was about to sink, and he wasn’t going to make it through the night. John Newton remembered the religious words of his mother from years before.
In one final act of desperation, John Newton cried out for the Grace of God to protect him. John Newton called on God’s own son to save him. It was on this night in the midst of dangers, toils, and snares that John Newton came to realize that the only reason, he had breath was because of the Grace of God and it was possible for this Grace to lead him home.
After the storm of this night, Newton eventually becomes an ordained minister within the Church of England. One day, Newton sits down to write a sermon whose words become his great legacy: “Amazing Grace- How Sweet the Sound” “That Saved a Wretch like Me” “I once was lost but now am Found” “Was Blind” “But now I see”. John Newton didn’t just think of these words; his life knew these words.
Who would have sat with John Newton in the days of darkness? Jesus. Who would have gone to Amber Atkins trailer court to say “The Kingdom of God belongs to people like her? Jesus. Who would have responded to my friend Ira’s golfing antics with grace and mercy? Jesus. Who would forgive Bowe Bergdahl after the rest of his troops' vow never to walk alongside him again? Jesus. Who would offer awkward Forrest Gump a seat on the bus when no one else would? Jesus. Who rejoices when the lost become found? Jesus. Amen
 “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 7.Jul.2016. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 Luke 15:3-7.
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002.P.184-188.
 Luke 15:8-10.
 McLarty, Phillip. “The Parable of the Lost Sheep.” Lectionary.org. 2007. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 Bryan. J. “Serial Season 2 and the Second Prodigal Son.” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries). 27.Jan.2016. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 The Forrest Gump analogy comes from Pastor Bill Shappell of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lutherville, MD. The analogy is found on the Pentecost 19 (Sept.11.2016) section of Text Week.com under grace.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 18: 1-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18
Second Lesson: Philemon 1: 1-21
Gospel Lesson: Luke 14: 25-33
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“At any moment, you must be willing to give up what you are, for what you will become.”- Eric Thomas.
Let me begin with a story. As told by Carmine Gallo. Some years ago, a young man set out on the journey from London to Los Angeles. The young man seemingly had nothing going for him; no job, no place to live and merely a few hundred dollars to his name. The young man was twenty-two years old and he had not gone to college. His dream was now to make it big in a country that he had never previously visited. The young man believed that the future was a blank slate. The young man after a couple of years starts selling t-shirts at Venice Beach. This young man had no background in sales but was good at reading people and telling stories.
Eventually, the young man gets so good at selling t-shirts that he’s making $1500 a day. The young man invests this money in real estate deals and finally he buys the rights to a British team extreme sports competition. The premise was what would happen if you put sixteen strangers together on an island. Who would lead? Who would follow? Who would get voted off? The man was Mark Burnett. The T.V. Show was Survivor.
Survivor becomes an American phenomena leading to Burnett’s involvement in all sorts of other programming The Apprentice, Shark Tank, and The Voice. When Mark Burnett arrived in America, he only had two things going for him: optimism and confidence that things were going to work out for him. He believed that his previous journey in life was merely crafting him for a difference purpose.
Now you might here Burnett’s story and say “It’s easy to be optimistic when you’re twenty-two with the world full of possibilities.” Let me tell you though about another guy though was also struggling with his life’s purpose.
Jeremiah didn’t want to be a preacher. Jeremiah’s excuse was that he was too young. Jeremiah probably though didn’t want to deal with the hardship of a preacher’s life. Jeremiah didn’t have much in his bank account. God had previously told Jeremiah that he wasn’t going to marry. Jeremiah’s not too well liked around Jerusalem because people didn’t really like his sermons. Jeremiah would spend his nights sleeping on dirt floors, seemingly isolated from everyone in the world.
One night though God sought to change Jeremiah’s life, God taps Jeremiah on the shoulder. God leads Jeremiah to the streets of Jerusalem to a potter’s house.
Why did God take Jeremiah to a potter’s house? God wanted Jeremiah to see a potter working with clay. Clay is a material with limitless possibilities. Clay can always be shaped in a different direction. God wanted to show Jeremiah how involved he would always be shaping Jeremiah’s plans moving forward. Here’s why this is important.
I have a friend who I’ll call Jackie. Jackie had a serious boyfriend some years back. The boyfriend cheated on her. Jackie then began to go through the phrase where “All men are like this”. Jackie after several years decides to give online dating a try. Jackie runs into a few dead ends this way. Jackie had finally had it. Jackie was looking at the world through all that she didn’t have. Jackie believed her trust issues were such that she could never find a relationship with any meaning. Once people abandon hope it’s tough to bounce back.
Life will certainly throw you moments where you feel like Jackie does. Jeremiah would face all sorts of circumstances where he would have wanted to give up on being a preacher. Jeremiah was arrested. Jeremiah saw his writings burned. Jeremiah was forced to wear humiliating clothing in public. Jeremiah saw his home fall victim to a foreign power. Jeremiah had to spend his dying days living far, far away from home. So what is God saying to both Jackie and Jeremiah on this day?
I was reading a book by Andy Stanley a while back where he talked about life being a series of chapters. The chapter that you’re currently living may very well not be the chapter you would write. The current chapter though always can shape the next chapter. The next chapter may even be written after you've left this world behind. The current chapter may provide opportunities for God’s purposes to come to fruition within the next chapter.
What God is seeking to assure Jeremiah in our lesson for today is “I have a plan for you.” So that even as Jerusalem burns. Even as Jeremiah wonders if God has forgotten his people, God is saying “My love shall never cease “. Hope is soon coming to your city of Jerusalem in the form of a child. Hope is coming in the form of a cross. Hope is coming in the form of a resurrection even as the city currently burns. The Potter will not abandon his clay until it reaches its final form in the world that is to come.
What I want you to take from Jeremiah’s story is this that it is possible to be optimistic even in the most difficult circumstances of life.
Let me tell you another story. Let me tell a story about a kid born an albino named John Walsh. Walsh like most albinos had really bad eyesight; Walsh struggled to learn and read because of this. Walsh, more than anything else in the world, loved playing sports growing up. But because of his eye sight, he couldn’t play very well. Sports though gave him the focus and discipline to improve his school work. Walsh enrolls in college. He decides that since he won’t be able to play sports for a living that the world had a different path for him. John Walsh became the rare almost blind Sports Editor. The first magazine that Walsh founded folds in 1982. Walsh bounces around at odd jobs for a couple of years. In 1987, he got hired as a consultant by the Sports Network ESPN. Six months later he gets put in charge of a program called SportsCenter. SportsCenter under Walsh’s direction becomes a national phenomenon. John Walsh could have all sorts of times going through the world could have called out “woe is me”, but regardless of John Walsh’s eyesight. He was able to maintain his sense of purpose.
Dr. Rich Guerra presents the following scenario.
Imagine living in medieval times and you’re traveling through the countryside. There’s all sorts of dust, noise, and activity. You come across a man with a sledgehammer and he’s smashing rocks.
“What’s going on here?” you ask.
The man responds, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m breaking rocks.”
You continue on your way and find another man who’s got a sledgehammer and he’s breaking up rocks.
“What’s going on here?” you ask.
The man responds, “I’m making a living.”
You walk further down the road and you see a man doing the same thing. He’s got a sledgehammer and is smashing rocks.
“What’s going on here?” you ask.
“I’m building a cathedral.”
What this story illustrates is how the Potter sees the world. The Potter does not merely see lumps of clay at any given moment. The Potter never loses sight of what this lump of clay might become.
Let me close with the following story of why this is so important for God's purposes within our world. Joe Falkner dreaded going to Middle School. Joe had heard horror stories of ninth-graders bullying seventh graders leaving them without any pants. Joe seemingly had nothing going for him. Joe was short, fat, and shy. Joe didn’t have a dad living at home. Joe was poor and it had crushed his self-esteem. As he began Middle School, Joe encountered a teacher named Miss Evridge. Miss Evridge was seemingly the tallest woman that Joe had ever seen. Miss Evridge seemed cold with her hair worn in a bun and glaring eyes for anyone who ever crossed her path. If you were a second late for class, then Miss Evridge would mark you as tardy. All the kids thought Miss Evridge was mean and unfair.
Joe Falkner began to see something in Miss Evridge over time. She was fun! She could get the students both laughing and learning at the same time. Miss Evridge was also a Christian. When Joe Falkner found out, he let her know that he was too and their bond deepened. Miss Evridge eventually encourages Joe to enter a speech contest. Joe was way too timid and shy for public speaking. Miss Evridge promised that she would work with him. Joe Falkner won the public speaking context.
Miss Evridge and Joe were one day talking about what Joe was going to do in life. Joe wanted to be a “scientist”. Miss Evridge suggested that he could be a preacher. Joe stomped his feet at that suggestion. Joe Falkner was like Jeremiah he never wanted to be a preacher, but God had other plans. Joe Falkner became not just a preacher, but a preaching professor. Miss Evridge helped take a short, fat, shy lump of clay to mold it for God’s purposes.
The point is this. It’s real easy to get defeated in life. It’s real easy to look everywhere around you and see no sense of purpose. Jeremiah would have understood this reality. So Jeremiah sees a vision on this day. The vision has Jeremiah see a potter working on some clay; the clay begins to lose its intended shape or form. The Potter had two choices at this moment. The Potter could curse at his imperfection, or the potter can keep working on it until the clay ultimately serves the Potter’s purposes.
As I’ve talked about before, I do not stand here on this day apart from the influence of my Great-Grandpa Arvid who shaped my life well into his nineties. Mark Burnett doesn’t become one of the biggest influences in television apart from his optimism. John Walsh doesn’t change American sports if he doesn’t keep faith even as life veers off course. Joe Falkner doesn’t become a preacher apart from the influence of Miss Evridge. The Potter is looking to lump clay in your own life. The Potter is looking to work with your strengths to change the lives of those around you. God is saying on this day “Follow me to the Potter’s House.”
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”-Jeremiah 29:11.
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. Saint Martin’s Press. New York. 2016. P.18-22.
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. P.20
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. P.23
 The Sunday lesson is Jeremiah 18:1-11.
 Jeremiah 1:4-10.
 Jeremiah 16:2.
 Hyde, Dr. Randy. L. “Jeremiah: The Season of Discontent.” Lectionary.org. 2004. Web. Aug.31.2016.
 Hyde, Dr. Randy. L. “Jeremiah: The Season of Discontent.”
 Jeremiah 18:1-11.
 Portier-Young, Anathea. “ Commentary on Jeremiah 18:1-11”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 4. Sept.2016. Web. Aug.31.2016.
 Stanley talks about this in the book Ask It.
 Lamentations 3:22-24.
 Wagner, Dr. Keith. “A Play-Doh Like Faith.” Lectionary.org. 2001. Web. Aug.30.2016.
 Walsh, John. “His Own Unique Self.” Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal. 11-17. May. 2015. Web. Aug.30.2016.
 Walsh, John. “His Own Unique Self.”
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. P.153.
 Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hanson, Patty Aubrey, and Nancy Mitchell. Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. Deerfield Beach, FL. Health Communications Inc. , 1997, Book. P.189- 193.
 Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hanson, Patty Aubrey, and Nancy Mitchell. Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. P.190-191.
 Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hanson, Patty Aubrey, and Nancy Mitchell. Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. P.191-192.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 2: 4-13
Responsive Reading: Psalm 1, 10-16
Second Lesson: Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16
Gospel Lesson: Luke 14: 7-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story. When I was at Luther Seminary, I managed the Seminary’s mail room. One Saturday a gentleman came into the building where the Olson Campus Center which was the location of the mail room. The gentleman said he lived across the street, which was plausible with the number of students it was hard to keep track of neighbors. The gentleman was clean-cut and looked like a guy living in Saint Anthony Park would look going about his business on a Saturday morning. The gentleman had a dilemma; he had locked himself out of his house. He needed to call a locksmith. He only needed $20, before the locksmith would get to work. He needed a loan because his wallet was in his house. This gentleman promised to come back within a half-hour with $40 and an offer to buy lunch for whoever helped him out. Now being good Lutheran seminarians, you want to be trusting of your neighbors. I handed the gentleman $20 then waited around for a couple of hours only to never see this gentleman again. Now everyone hearing this story can point out plenty of problems with this scenario. There are people out who by their nature always end up on the short-end of the stick of these arrangements hence the title of Today’s sermons.
Let me ask a question, though “Is being a sap or sucker always bad?”
A few months back, I read a book by Adam Grant titled Give and Take. Grant’s specialty is in Organizational Psychology. Grant’s book describes three types of people that you will meet in the office, but we could easily apply to life in general.
The first type of person is a taker. Takers are ruthless. Takers make sure to get the better end of every deal. Takers are always in competition with others. Takers will always let you know of their accomplishments. Many people think you need to be a taker to get anywhere in the world.
How do takers operate? I have a friend who I’ll call Dale. Dale lived in Fargo when I attended Concordia. Dale and I would go out to eat quite a bit. Dale’s policy on tipping at restaurants was interesting. Dale would start out with a small albeit low amount. Dale would stiff the waitress/waiter on a tip at any real or perceived slight of service. Dale was always thinking about what was in it for him. Dale was always on the defensive about people taking advantage of him. Dale would be the first person lecturing me about my foolish giving away of money. Certainly not everyone is as extreme as Dale without being a doormat.
The second type of person is a matcher. Matchers are all about fairness. You want to give to others just as much as you receive in return. Matchers will give favors for favors. Matchers will give back scratches to get back scratches.
Matchers make sense as people. If I walk down to Zup’s, and when I see some delicious fatty, red meat, the scenario from this point forward is relatively straightforward. I will then make the decision that I would rather have the red meat than the money, and Zup’s would rather have the money than the red meat. Seemingly everyone wins in this interaction, so most people won’t admit to being takers, but being a matcher doesn’t seem like a bad deal. A matcher might ask for collateral before offering to give any sort of money to a total stranger. So matchers seem sensible.
The third type of person that Grant describes could be called all kinds of things they could be called a sap, a sucker, but Grant calls them “givers.” Givers are about giving more than they receive. Givers are about giving their time without receiving any obvious benefit in return. Givers would be the type of people where the saying that nice guys finish last could be apt. Givers would do things like hand money to complete strangers trusting that they will return it.
What can we say about givers? When studies were conducted about who were the least successful: engineers, salespeople, and medical school students , givers were at the bottom. Givers seem to be just too caring, and too trusting to advance in the world. So if givers are at the bottom of the ladder.
Who is at the top? Again, it’s the givers. Givers can be both champs and chumps at the same time? So our question this morning is this “How do givers get to the top”? Givers are able to ask for help for help when they need it. Givers realize that they can never get anywhere alone.
Now as you picture givers, takers, and matchers that you now in your life.
Let’s talk about Our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 14. Luke 14 takes place right after Jesus heals the crippled woman on the Sabbath. Jesus is dining at the home of a Pharisee.
Now to understand our lesson, you need to understand the world in which Jesus lived. The whole Greco-Roman world operated via a class system. You had the “patricians” who were the elites; you had the “plebs” who were the commoners. Lastly, you had non-citizens and slaves who were entirely separate class from these. For many generations, the classes could not intermarry. Within Jesus’ day, the various classes didn’t have a lot of interaction with each other. When I read Kent Kaiser’s book Company Town, Reserve’s Hat System would not be entirely dissimilar to the social realities of Jesus’ day.
So Jesus is having dinner with a group of Pharisees. The Pharisees would have been the religious big shots of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees would have been made up of scholars and other political/religious elite. Now with Jesus being the center of attention, everyone wanted to sit the closest to him.
My Dad and I have been to more sporting events over the years then I could even begin to count. Occasionally, we’ll spot two open seats better than where we are sitting. Dad without hesitation will seek to claim the better seat, whereas I’m more cautious. I would much rather stay in our regular seats for the whole game. What happens if someone is sitting in our seats? Dad acts like it’s no big deal, whereas deep down I’m annoyed. It’s hard to shake the idea from my head that someone should get something as simple as a seat they don’t deserve.
Now back to Jesus having dinner with the Pharisees. The Pharisees have their ranks and the thinking goes that those at the top of the Pharisee food-chain should get the seats that are the closest to Jesus. How do you determine which Pharisee has paid forth the most spiritually to sit on the fifty-yard line of Jesus’ presence?
Jesus says the Pharisees understand his kingdom all wrong? “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”- Luke 14:11.
How can we make sense of Jesus’ words? Let me tell another story: In 1994, my hometown of Lindstrom was having its centennial celebration. We wanted a keynote speaker with local ties. Nils Hasselmo who was at the time the President of the University of Minnesota agreed to come. Hasselmo was a perfect fit: born in Sweden, spent a summer in Lindstrom growing up, spent his teaching career as Chair of the Scandinavian Studies department. After Hasselmo’s speech, my parents were in charge of organizing a reception for dignitaries from the community with Hasselmo as the guest of honor. My grandparents hosted the event at a lovely setting on South Center Lake. My parents hired a caterer who they had known for a long time. The caterer put together a nice spread with just one problem. When the caterer was bringing the food into the house, he dropped the chicken salad. The glass bowl shattered. The caterer though refused to chalk this up to a loss, so he decides to put the chicken salad in merely another bowl. Let’s just say this was the first chicken salad recipe to contain shards of glass and it was served to one of the most distinguished men in the State of Minnesota.
What this story reminds us is that even those at the head of the table will face unexpected trials throughout the course of life. Jesus is saying today that our shared human experience is such that who gets the closest seat is pretty much irrelevant.
So Jesus in our lesson for today wants to address two key things. 1. Who sits where at the Pharisees’ dinner party? 2. Who is invited to the party?
The list of people that Jesus wants to see invited is not just limited to his family, his friends, or the rich. Jesus wants to invite those that are never going to be able to give him an invitation that’s any good at all. Jesus wants the pro-wrestling, monster truck loving, non-religious management crowd at any party that he’s going to be.
Jesus being a preacher of grace was going to operate as a giver. Jesus was going to invite to the banquet even the guy that conned me out of $20, even if I stood outside protesting. If you understand the politics and class-system of Jesus’ day, then you begin to understand how radical his message truly is in reaching out to cripples, foreigners, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and all kinds of other sinners. What Jesus is saying is this. The Kingdom of God isn’t you where you take something to receive something. In the words of Steve Molin “The Kingdom of God is about being invited to a place where you don’t belong to be”. The Kingdom of God is about giving you a place of honor regardless of what events in life previously have brought you to this place.
So how should we understand Jesus’ Words that the humbled being exalted, and the exalted being humble? What should our interpretation be of the first being last and the last being first? What should you think about saps and suckers?
Remember the Christian Faith is not about claiming the best seats in the house for ourselves. The Christian Faith is rather about God giving us an invitation to the party handed to us by Jesus. Amen
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take. Penguin Books. New York. 2013. Print. P.4.
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take.P. 5.
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take.P. 5
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take..P. 7
 Analogy based on Grant’s language from P.10 of Give and Take.
 Luke 14:1, 7-14.
 “Social Class in Ancient Rome”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 24.May.2016. Web. Aug.23.2016.
 “Nils Hasselmo”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 17.Mar.2016. Web. Aug.23.2016.
 Brown, Jeannine. “Commentary on Luke 14:1,7-14.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 29. Aug.2010. Web. Aug.23.2016.
 Molin, Steve. “Friends in Low Places.” Lectionary.org. 2001.
 Similar statement from Jesus’ ministry found in Matthew 19:30, 20:16.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 1: 4-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 71: 1-6
Second Lesson: Hebrews 12: 18-29
Gospel Lesson: Luke 13: 10-17
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Robert Holmes gives the following anecdote. There once was a farmer who put a want ad in a farm journal. The ad read “Wanted: a woman in her thirties interested in marriage who owns a tractor. Please send a picture of the tractor.” What this ad illustrates is how easy it might be to lose perspective of what’s crucial in a given situation. We come across such a situation in our Gospel lesson for today.
Our Gospel contains three main characters. The first character is a hunched back woman, the second is a rabbi and the third is Jesus.
Let me tell a story when I was in Lamberton; we had a woman in the congregation that I’ll call Lena. Lena couldn’t make it to church so I would visit her at home every month. Two things that I noticed about Lena the first time I met her. Lena was as hunched over as any woman that I’ve ever seen. The second point I noticed is that Lena’s home might have been the least kept that I’ve ever set my feet. Catalogs and newspaper ads from decades ago lined the floor. I couldn’t begin to venture a guess since that the last time the kitchen sink had been cleaned. When I visited with Lena, all I had to ask her was “How everything was going?” and I didn’t have to say another word for the next 45 minutes. Lena longed for human contact. Once in a while, I would see Lena uptown. The interesting thing about this is people tended to avoid Lena. Lena wasn’t unpleasant or mean-spirited in any way. But because of Lena’s condition people didn’t know what to say to her or do for her. You would see Lena and long for her back to be healed.
As I describe Lena this morning, I want you to now to picture the hunchback woman from our Gospel lesson. This lady had been hunched over for eighteen long years. I don’t imagine this woman to be a regular Saturday Synagogue goer. This woman had heard though about a new preacher giving a different kind of message. She decides to show up to hear him on this day. Jesus immediately notices this woman. Let’s be honest; she would have been pretty hard to miss. Jesus approaches this woman and pretty soon she is crippled no more. The people began to cheer this healing! Why wouldn’t everyone be happy?
The second character in this story is the Rabbi. Most people will read this story and think of the Rabbi being a bad guy. Why would the Rabbi not want this woman healed on the Sabbath? Here’s the thing though the Rabbi knew the scriptures well.
Steve Molin describes the Sabbath regulations best: “If a pregnant woman went into labor on the Sabbath, you MIGHT be able to help her deliver her baby. MIGHT. If you’re child broke his arm, you could put it in a sling, but you could not run cold water over it. If your daughter cut her finger, you could put a bandage on it, but you could not apply any ointment; that would be working on the Sabbath.”
Molin illustrates how you were not to do any work on the Sabbath. Here’s how a Jew in Jesus’ day would have understood the Sabbath. The Ten Commandments came after the Exodus from Egypt. In the days of Egyptian slavery, the Israelites would never have gotten a day off. Now think of the weather these past few weeks. Now imagine, working in the hot sun day after day after day without rest in the much, much warmer climate of Egypt. Now think of the importance of having a Sabbath day of rest. The Rabbi’s point was the following. Jesus could have healed this woman any other day of the week.
How did the Rabbi see this healing? To understand the Rabbi think of the anecdote of the boiling frog, you put a frog in boiling water (the frog will immediately jump out), but if you put the frog in tepid water then slowly raise the heat then the frog ends up boiling alive. The Rabbi wasn’t just concerned with this healing; the Rabbi was worried about a slippery slope where pretty soon the people of Israel were doing everything and anything but attending the Synagogue on the Sabbath day. So if you understand the Rabbi’s role in the story this way, then perhaps not healing this woman on the Sabbath might make sense.
So we understand the hunch-back woman, we understand the Rabbi, so now let’s figure out why Jesus dared to heal on these most sacred of days.
To understand Jesus’ thoughts on the Sabbath let’s look at his words from Mark 2:
“And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
You see Jesus knew the rules. Jesus knew the rules so well that he was able to out-debate the smartest religious scholars of his day at age 12 in the Temple.
Jesus’ point was not that the Sabbath was a bad thing.
The Sabbath is about what God can do for us, not what we can do for God. We get the Sabbath day all wrong when we think of it existing for God’s benefit rather than our own.
Dr. Armand Boehme tells this story. “One individual noted that going to church and listening to sermons was not doing her any good. Church was a waste of time because she couldn’t remember what had been preached two weeks prior. This woman decided that she was going to stop coming to church and soon dump religion altogether. The Pastor then asked her “If she can remember what she ate for Sunday dinner two weeks ago?” Her response was “Of course not! How could I remember that!” So the Pastor said, “Then perhaps you should stop eating since you can’t remember what you ate; the meal couldn’t have done you any good!” Her response was, “Well, of course, it did me some good since I am still alive. The food nourished my body.”
“So” replied the Pastor, “the food did you some good even though you can’t remember what you ate! So it is with the Word of God. As the food nourished your body, so the Word nourished your soul and kept you spiritually alive. If you neglect to feed your soul, you will die spiritually just as surely as you would die physically if you stopped eating food. No more comment was necessary and the lady kept coming to church to be fed and nourished by God’s Word and the Sacraments!”
Jesus’ point about the Sabbath was that the letter of the law was and is important. “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy” but remember the Sabbath exists for our benefit, not God’s. And if a woman can’t remember her supper or a sermon from two weeks back, then think of the impact upon a woman that had been healed after being hunched over for 18 years.
Here’s another story why the Spirit of the Law is more important than the Letter of the Law.
At the turn of the 19th century, the country of Norway was in shambles. Poverty and drunkenness were both running rampant. Norway’s State Church was more interested in seeing that the citizenry possessed Seminary type belief even if it didn’t connect to their lives. Into this crisis comes a man named Hans Nielsen Hauge. Hauge grew up poor and lacking in education. The Spirit of God one day touched Hans Nielsen Hauge and he began to preach. Hauge’s preaching wouldn’t have earned him an “A” in seminary. Hauge was arrested for not being a licensed preacher many times. People accused Hans Nielsen Hauge of practicing “witchcraft”. Hans Nielsen Hauge saw the Spirit of the Law as being more important though than the Letter of the Law. Hauge’s movement eventually began to revitalize Norway. Hauge’s writings and sermons began a revival throughout Norway. Hauge’s influence began to cause men to put down the alcohol and become better husbands and fathers. Hauge’s mission took up the cause to find factories and mills throughout Norway. A simple, uneducated lay preacher started to help lift the nation of Norway out of poverty. Many regard Hans Nielsen Hauge as one of Norway’s greatest heroes. They said Hauge shouldn’t preach; they also said that Jesus shouldn’t heal on the Sabbath.
The Norwegians could have waited for the right preacher to come around. Just like there were six other days of the week that Jesus could have healed this hunch-back woman. The thing is Jesus would always place the person as the priority rather than the way that things had been done before. You see later in Jesus’ ministry he would encounter people who were guilty of sin. Jesus heard these people say and do all kinds of nasty things to him. No one else would dare do what Jesus did because it just wasn’t right. The thing is that Jesus was always about placing God’s people at the center of his ministry rather than rules about what had been done before. So therefore, Jesus was going to set the woman’s hunched back straight. When the rules tell Jesus one thing, he will always come marching on out of the grave. Amen.
 Holmes, Robert. “Beyond Change to Transformation”. Day 1.org. 26. Aug.2001. Web. Aug. 15.2016.
 Luke 13:10-17.
 Molin, Steve. “Maybe Resting on Sabbath is Overrated.” Lectionary.org. 2004. Web. Aug.15.2016.
 Lose, David. “The Law of Love.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 18. Aug.2013. Web. Aug.15.2016.
 Mark 2:27
 Luke 2:41-52.
 Pastor Boehme serves at Trinity Lutheran in Northfield, Minnesota. I previously used this analogy during a October 10th, 2010 sermon given at Our Savior’s in Lamberton, Minnesota. I have previously met Pastor Boehme and thanked him for use of this analogy.
 “Hans Nielsen Hauge”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 09. June.2016. Web. Aug.16.2016.
First Lesson: Isaiah 5: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2, 8-19
Second Lesson: Hebrews 11: 29- 12:2
Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 49-56
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“If you can’t fly run, if you can’t run walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward”- Martin Luther King Jr.
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house, there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”-Jesus of Nazareth- Luke 12:51-53.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus comes at us with some words that probably will catch all of us off-guard “I come not to bring peace but a sword.”
The way to understand this passage is to learn about the context in which these words were spoken. In the earliest days of Christianity, if a Jew converted then he was cut off from his family. If a Roman converted, they were viewed as a fool who was often engaged in treason against the empire.
To understand what it would have been like for people to announce they were converting to Christianity in the 1st century imagine the following scenario: a thriving college student who seems destined for medical school. Now imagine this student announcing to his parents that he intends to drop out of school and follow some band with what Mom and Dad consider awful sounding music all over the world as a roadie. The parents would rightfully think that their child was wasting their life. Now imagine this scenario and as you hear Jesus’ words for today. Imagine now the college student within Jesus’ day confessing to his parents that he was going to become a Christian. Jesus was the ultimate interriant preacher surrounded by seemingly nothing other than deadbeats and hangers-on. Jesus’ realized that following his ministry would create turmoil for the Disciples and those close to them.
Jesus is getting at something very important today as he speaks to the Disciples and that is the importance of mission in the midst of hardship.
One of the more influential books that I’ve ever read is Dr. Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. Branden seeks to ask the question of this book “How do you keep going in life when everything is working against you whether it is your family or your situation?” Branden’s answer is self-esteem comes from living purposefully out one’s mission.
Let me illustrate how living with a mission might work. Bill Wilson was a thirty-nine-year-old alcoholic. Wilson’s life was a complete mess. His marriage was in shambles and due to the Great Depression, his finances were a ruin. Wilson had lost his job after getting into a booze-induced fight at a country club. Wilson had tried everything from detox to support groups and the only place where Bill Wilson continually found comfort was in the bottle. Wilson eventually meets a friend who told him he recovered due to finding religion. Wilson thought the guy was nuts! Wilson’s life in the latest round of detox would soon change forever. Wilson took a drug that began to cause hallucinations. Wilson finally yelled out in agony “If there is a God, I am ready to do anything.” At that moment, it was almost as if God’s hand reached out to Wilson as he described a “white light filling his room” and “pain ceasing”. Wilson otherwise known as Bill W. would never have another drink the last thirty-seven years of his life. Wilson today is known as the founder of an organization called Alcoholics Anonymous. What forever changed Wilson’s life is expressed in AA’s step three “He turned his will and life over to the care of God as he understood him.” When Wilson was only living life for himself, he had no sense of mission. After his white light experience, the new found mission totally changed Bill Wilson from that day forward.
How might you live out Mission within your life? Let me tell another story; this story involves a personal confession. The year was 2009; I was working down in Lamberton, and the Vikings were playing the San Francisco 49ers. I was watching the game by myself. The Vikings seemed headed for defeat. My parents and sister were at the game. Vikings fans had already left in large numbers. Twelve seconds left in the game, the Vikings new QB Brett Favre hoists a ball to the back of the end-zone. Greg Lewis catches it; the Vikings win the game and the play is known as “The Minneapolis Miracle.”
How did I react to this catch in the privacy of home? I started running around the house as fast as I could, I was screaming at the top of my lungs, I feel down on the ground and started hyperventilating from all the excitement. My breathing wasn’t back to the normal for probably a half- hour.
Why do I tell this story? It has to do with a sense of mission.
Vince Lombardi once said, “Think of only three things: your God, your family and the Green Bay Packers in that order.”
My mission would be the same only with a different football team at the end.
I tell this story with no embarrassment this morning because everyone that knows me would believe it to be true. Your life mission ultimately shapes how you will interact with the world around you for both good and ill. Your mission can either be who everyone else wants you to be or who God calls you to be.
I also tell this story to illustrate Dr. Branden’s point that self-esteem comes from living for something bigger than you. One’s personal mission should cause them to approach the world not with a sense of embarrassment or shame but rather with a purpose even when things get tough.
What Jesus had been hearing about in our Gospel lesson for today was all sorts of conflict. To quote: David Lose “People were fighting within families, synagogues, and the larger public arena”. Jesus kept hearing about all sorts of families being broken up because of their faith. So Jesus seeks to speak to these conflicts involving mission.
Let me tell you a story related to the Olympics this morning. This story was captured in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell was born in China the son of missionaries. As Liddell grows up, he becomes known as the fastest runner in all of Scotland. Liddell’s fame spread as a potential “gold medal” winner. Liddell is one of the favorites at the 1924 Paris Olympics in the 100 meters until he finds out that the prelims were scheduled to run on a Sunday. Eric Liddell refuses to run because of his faith. The British Olympic Committee and even the Prince of Wales try to convince Liddell to change his mind. Liddell’s sake of mission was stronger than any conflict, Liddell’s mission was stronger even than the pull of a potential gold medal.
Your mission in life will probably not be the same as Eric Liddell’s. Your mission like his and will inevitability run into conflict.
What Jesus is illustrating to the Disciples this morning is something very important “If someone says something nasty to you, don’t let this keep you from your mission.”
People certainly said nasty things about Dr. King; people denounced Bill W. as not having been properly trained in counseling; people have certainly made fun of the Minnesota Vikings for having empty trophy cases. The thing about mission is that it can keep a person going even in the midst of divisions and disagreements within your life. Jesus is illustrating potential conflict over life mission in Today’s lesson by citing family conflict as the harshest of potential examples of mission conflict.
Yet Jesus in our Gospel is encouraging people to hang on to mission in one’s hardest of times.
Why cling to mission in the midst of hardship? Let me tell a story about why mission can ultimately bring hope to a person’s life. Henry and Jeanette DeLange were married in 1953. Jeanette DeLange several years back was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Jeanette went into nursing home care in 2011. Henry kept coming to visit Jeanette even with her mind unable to remember (one, two, or three times a day).
For Henry DeLange, his sense of mission to his wife was more important than any personal convenience. Several months back, Henry is diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. The Doctors weren’t able to do anything more for Henry DeLange. Henry eventually ends up in the same nursing home room as his wife, Jeannette. Sunday, July 31st: Jeannette died at 5:10 PM, Henry died at 5:30 PM.
Here’s how their son Lee DeLange described both Mom and Dad’s deaths “mom and dad were Christians. They loved Christ. They wanted so badly to show their love for Christ that they loved one another. It’s natural what they do. For them to be able to be a witness in life, also in death…That’s cool. Really cool.”
For what Henry DeLange’s story illustrates is that mission will not always be easy to live out. Mission will probably cause you to have all sorts of conflicts within your life. Mission might cause you to debate whether to visit your Alzheimer’s ridden-wife or do something simpler with your time. When you sustain mission, it can carry people not only into the grave but beyond the grave itself.
“God gave you this particular mix of talents and abilities because they match up with the mission that he has in mind for you.” -Matthew Kelly.
For let me tell you this morning where many people go wrong in this life. Many people go wrong by spending their days obsessed worrying about how other people are going to judge them. Instead how we should be approaching life is looking towards why God put us in this following time and place. We need not worry about judging other people’s value; we need instead focus on defining our own.
Jesus’ words that we hear today are hard. No one wants division within their life, especially with their families. For plenty of people within our midst, these words that Jesus says about houses being divided hit close to home. No one likes to hear negative feedback in life, especially from one’s family. What these words also indicate is that Jesus understands your pain on this day. Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t have the words that will instantly heal every rift within this world in this instance. Jesus does have words to help deal with your conflicts. Define your mission! Look towards the cross!
Realize that you alone will not be able to fix all the problems that ail this world. Cling to the hope that there is a power out there that can forgive your past, can guide you in the present, and will save you in the future.
The following is a quote from Matthew 10:34 which parallels our Gospel lesson for today.
 The theme of “mission” in the sake of division comes from Ed Markquart’s sermon “Christ Brings Division” Pentecost 12: Year C. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Aug.9.2016.
 Dr. Branden’s book was originally published by Bantam publishing in 1994. It was republished again in 1995.
 Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit. Random House. New York. 2014. Paperback Print. Pg.66-71.
 Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit. Pg.67.
 Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit. Pg.68.
 Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit. Pg.70.
 Lombardi quote comes from 2001 Steve Molin sermon “Flashing Yellow Lights” found on lectionary.org.
 Lose, David. “Commentary on Luke 12:49-56”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 15. Aug.2010. Web. Aug.9.2016.
 Analogy idea taken from Zingale, Tim. “Cutting Edge”. Sermon Central. August 2001. Web. Aug.9.2016.
 “Eric Liddell”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 29.Jul.2016. Web. Aug.9.2016.
 Collen, Courtney. “ After 63 years of marriage, Platte couple dies 20 minutes apart.” KSFY News (Sioux Falls): ABC. 07.Aug.2016. Web. Aug.8.2016.
 Collen, Courtney. “ After 63 years of marriage, Platte couple dies 20 minutes apart.”
 Collen, Courtney. “ After 63 years of marriage, Platte couple dies 20 minutes apart.”
 Matthew Kelly is a Catholic Motivational Speaker. I got this quote from Saint Mary’s of Silver Bay Parish Secretary Cindy Rowlee.
 The idea for the hard sayings of Jesus came from Pastor Steve Molin’s sermon “A Strange Sort of Peace” copyright 2004 from Lectionary.org.
First Lesson: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Responsive Reading: Psalm 50: 1-8, 22-23
Second Lesson: Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16
Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 32-40
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Susan Webber tells the following story: A preschool Sunday school class was learning about Noah’s Ark. The Teacher to get the kids involved in the lesson decides to play a game.
“I’m going to describe something to you. Let’s see if you can guess what it is. First: I’m furry with a bushy tail and I like to climb trees.”
The children sat there in silence.
“I also like to eat nuts, especially acorns.”
Still no response, the game was a flop.
“I’m usually brown or gray, but sometimes I can be black or red.”
The teacher in an act of desperation decides to call on one outspoken young girl named Michelle. “Michelle, what do you think?”
Michelle looked at her classmates, unsure of herself. Michelle finally blurts out “ Well I know the answer has to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”-Hebrews 11:1
Today, we celebrate two major events in the life of our congregation. First, we celebrate our Vacation Bible School this week with the singing of our Little Fishes. Second, we celebrate the Baptism of Olivia.
As we consider the meaning of today’s lesson regarding faith let me point out something important. When Jesus is looking for examples of Faith to point to in the Gospels, he never cites religious scholars or authorities.
Jesus, in fact, accused one of his disciples Peter of having “little faith”. Who Jesus does cite as examples of Faith though is little children.
And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.-Matthew 18:3
Parents might hear these verses and think they don’t make much sense. Children from the youngest of ages seemingly need help with everything from feeding to dressing to getting to school on time to ultimately making wise decisions. Parents, it seems then should be leading the ways in things of faith. But what if our ways of thinking about faith are totally wrong?
What if we as Christian people misunderstand Faith because we associate Faith with intellect rather than trust. Perhaps this is why Jesus encourages us no matter how old we are to follow the example of little children.
Let me raise one of the issues with our understanding of faith. You ask a Christian whether an infant can actually believe and the answer is generally no.
To help understand the meaning of faith let’s look further at how the scriptures describe it.
John the Baptist is described as dancing and being “filled with the Holy Spirit” even when he was residing within his Mother’s womb.
John the Baptist’s story highlights a point later made by Saint Augustine “ You become a believer by being initiated into the faith, rather than by intellectual conversion.”
The Early Church did not see Faith as we often see Faith as merely a private set of beliefs that exists within one’s soul. Where we often misunderstand Faith is thinking of it as some preferred set of beliefs. Faith in the words of Ephesians is rather a gift. Faith given in Baptism is the means by which God declares us to be his adoptive children.
Peter Leithart makes the following point “Should we baptize babies is in fact a similar question to “should we talk to babies?” or even read to young children. Even if Babies can’t understand the conversation, this doesn’t mean that the spoken word won’t shape them for years after the event takes place.
When we consider the meaning of grace this morning, I want you to think of the following. Grace is not abstract; grace comes to us via real symbols of water, wine, and wheat. It is through these symbols that God connects himself to the imperfect situations that are our lives.
What I want you to do this morning is think of the following “How did you know as a young child that you belonged to your parents?”
I imagine that your parents probably hugged you and planted kisses upon you. Even when you weren’t able to understand them, your parents spoke words of promise and comfort to you. Your parents did this because they wanted you to a permanent part of your life though from this day forward. Declaring himself a part of our life moving forward is what God does on the day of our Baptism. God marks and seals us with the Cross of Christ and declares us to be his “forever.”
Let me tell you what’s happening to Olivia on this day. Olivia doesn’t have to do anything within the waters of baptism. Jesus says she’s ok now. Jesus says “I have adopted you as my child.” Olivia’s has faith because Jesus says so. Olivia has salvation because Jesus declared “It to be finished” as he hung upon the cross.
You see Baptism is not about any promises that we make to God. In a number of years, Olivia will hopefully stand before this congregation at her confirmation to confess the faith that we celebrate on this day. What Baptism is ultimately about is God’s promises to us. The following truth is why nowhere in the Bible does anyone ever give a reason (especially age) as why someone shouldn’t be baptized.
Why does Jesus cite Children as examples of faith? For everyone that’s ever been around a child, you know that one of their habits is they will just blurt out what’s on their mind whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate. It is these qualities of openness and trust that point to Baptism’s true meaning.
In the words of Peter Leithart again “All baptisms are infant baptisms; all baptisms call the baptized to childhood.” Childhood is the time in one’s life where people haven’t gotten to experience the brokenness and bitterness that consumes the world all around us. A child doesn’t view the world like an adult views the world. What we often fail to consider is how good a thing that this can be.
Let me tell another story about one of our Little Fishes. A boy was recently at a family event. Mom said that her kids were going to Vacation Bible School. One of the relatives didn’t care for this at all. Mom didn’t want to use this event to start a discussion about religion. The guy kept going on though about “When has God ever done anything good for me?” To which our Little Fish looked up at his uncle and said: “He sees to it that I’m alive.” The conversation was then over.
“But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”-Luke 18:16.
And as we gather on this day, we embrace the following hope. Pretty soon, everything that isn’t right today will be alright with the world.
Let me close with words from the Book of Isaiah: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”
 Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hanson, Patty Aubrey, and Nancy Mitchell. Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. Deerfield Beach, FL. Health Communications Inc. , 1997, Book, pg.220.
 Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hanson, Patty Aubrey, and Nancy Mitchell. Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul.pg.220.
 Matthew 14:31
 Matthew 18:3
 Luke 1:15,41.
 Leithart, Peter. “Infant Faith”. First Things. 15.Oct.2015. Web. Aug.1.2016.
 Leithart, Peter. “Infant Baptism.” First Things. 06. Aug.2004. Web. Aug.1.2016.
 Ephesians 2:8-9.
 Galatians 3:27.
 Leithart, Peter. “Do Baptists Talk To Their Babies?” Biblical Horizons. Sept.1996. Web. Aug. 1.2016.
 Leithart, Peter. “Do Baptists Talk To Their Babies?””
 Leithart, Peter. “Do Baptists Talk To Their Babies?”
 Newton, Emily. “Capon and Cupcakes”. MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries). 07. June.2016. Web. Aug.1.2016. Newton is quoting Robert Capon.
 John 19:30.
 Leithart, Peter. “Infant Baptism.”
 Isaiah 11:6.
First Lesson: Hosea 11: 1-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 107: 1-9, 43
Second Lesson: Colossians 3: 1-11
Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 13-21
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“The best things in life are free
But you can keep 'em for the birds and bees.
Now give me money (that's what I want.”- The Beatles-
In 2014 The Oakland A’s Baseball team was at a crossroads. Oakland had made the playoffs in half of the first fourteen years of the 21st century. Oakland had not made the World Series during these years. 2014 seemed to be Oakland’s best chance to make a run for years. Oakland decided to put all their cards on the table. Oakland had a shortstop in the minor leagues named Addison Russell. Russell was considered to be one of the best prospects in the game of Baseball. The thought was Russell would soon develop into one of the baseball’s best players for the A’s. Every Baseball team would love to have Addison Russell. The A’s decided to do the unthinkable by trading Russell though to acquire a couple of pitchers to help them hopefully win a title in 2014. Oakland’s risk didn’t work out at all. Oakland lost in the first game of the playoffs to the Kansas City Royals and they seemingly gave away Addison Russell for nothing. There is something we can learn from Oakland’s risk.
What Oakland did was proclaim something important to everyone else in the world about the game of Baseball even if their risk in hindsight seems foolish. The reality is “Flags Fly Forever.” What the fans of the Oakland A’s and any baseball team for that matter what more than anything else is something permanent to which they hold.
Baseball fans at the end of their life don’t want to say “you almost won a championship.” People want something that defines their experience as a success or failure onto which they can latch.
For a sports fan, they dream of a championship above all else. For many of us, we dream of a big bank account. We see these measures of success or failure as being that which ultimately defines us not only before each other but also before God.
Today’s Gospel lesson seeks to answer this question further of “What defines us?”
Today’s Gospel lesson begins with a young man approaching Jesus with a problem. The young man’s father had just died. The inheritance system in Jesus’ day was patently unfair. The older brother by the virtue of being born first would get a double portion of the father’s estate. The younger brother asks for Jesus to intervene in this family dispute. Jesus decides this family squabble teaching over money would serve as a chance to illustrate a point about the Kingdom of God.
Jesus tells a story about a farmer. The Farmer is not a bad guy. He has not gained his wealth illegally or by taking advantage of others. The Farmer is smart; he decides after a bumper crop that he is going to set some aside to use in future years. The Farmer isn’t doing anything different then what Joseph advised Pharaoh to do after a really good Egyptian harvest. The Farmer, in fact, isn’t doing anything all that different than you do putting aside savings account in the bank. So you hear this story it makes you wonder why the story ends with The Farmer being called a “fool.”
David Lose points out the problem with The Farmer though; let me read a couple of the key verses emphasizing certain words. “And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
The reason The Farmer is called a fool is that of how he defines his life merely regarding the possessions that he accumulates. The Farmer is a fool because he only saw life regarding his “I.” “I” did this and “I” earned that. When the “I” is at the center of one’s universe, then faith is merely an accessory. The Farmer thought that merely living life in the here and now is what guarantees happiness.
Here’s the catch as pointed by Phillip McLarty. “Money is not the root of all evil. What the Bible exactly says “The Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil-”1 Timothy 6:10.
Money ultimately has limited value. Money cannot embrace you. Money can not guarantee safety from all risk. Money’s value is finite rather than infinite.
There was a woman that recently died in Lindstrom. She worked as a telephone operator. Her husband worked as a custodian. They never had any kids. They lived in simple houses over the years. They never spent extravagantly. After the woman had been widowed, she moved into a basic apartment. She ended up living till one-hundred and four. People who knew the woman wouldn’t have thought she died with more than two cents to her name. Her estate ended up containing $1.4 million dollars. Her will gave away every dollar and cent that she sat on for years and years. No one could ever question whether this woman saw money as “defining” her in life.
Let me compare this to another story. A couple of weeks ago, a guy from in-town stopped me on the street. The guy had a request for me to do a send-off for one of his friends. His friend had alienated his family. His friend had alienated nearly every one of his friends. The last years of his life were spent in a nursing home with nary a visitor. The request that I was given was that he didn’t want a funeral, and hardly anyone would have come if he did. So we gather at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and go through the committal prayers before this man’s ashes could be dumped in anonymity. “To dust we are, and to dust, we shall return.” I don’t know what was in this man’s bank account, but what this encounter drove him to me is what Jesus is getting at in our Gospel lesson for today that a man’s life is not merely just defined by his possessions.
The foolish man is trying to make life certain through possessions rather than embracing faith.
Ed Markquart tells the following story from Fredrick Danker’s Book Jesus and the New Age:
“In 1923, a group of the world’s most successful men met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Assembled there were: the president of the largest steel corporation in America; the greatest wheat speculator; a man who was to be the president of the New York Stock Exchange; a member of the President’s cabinet; the canniest investor on Wall Street; a future director of the World Bank for International Settlements; and the head of the world’s largest monopoly. A few years later, this was their fate: Charles Schwab died in debt; Arthur Cutten died abroad in obscurity; Richard Whitney did time in Sing Sing prison and was blotted out of Who’s Who; Albert Fall was pardoned from prison in order that he could die at home; Jesse Livermore, Leon Fraser, and Ivar Kreuger, all committed suicide. .. All these people knew how to make money; none of them learned how to live. All the bulls became lambs, and Schwab’s bleating in 1930 was the most pitiful of all: “I’m afraid; every man is afraid. I don’t know, we don’t know, whether the values we have are going to be real next month or not.”
One of the major themes of Jesus’ parables is that of reversal of fortunes to paraphrase Ethan Richardson. The rich man dies only to end up in torment, whereas the poor beggar Lazarus ends up in comfort. The blind end up seeing and the lame end up walking. The Good Samaritan receives words of praise. The savvy farmer is called a fool. The Prodigal Son’s older brother hears that he is too responsible for his own good. Jesus invites to the party all the outcasts because the cool kids have better things to do with their time.
Here’s another key reversal from our parable for today: Wealth is fleeting, but hope it is eternal.
I went to Concordia with a guy named Vladimir. Vladimir grew up in the Soviet Union. What I will always remember about Vladimir is right after he started there, I was with him on a car tour of Fargo. We were driving down Fargo’s main drag called Broadway. As we were driving down Broadway Vladimir, keep seeing bigger buildings and kept marveling at how beautiful Fargo was.” Growing up around the Twin Cities having seen all kinds of big buildings, it took me a minute to realize the Vladimir was serious. Whereas others merely saw steel and concrete, Vladimir saw hope. Vladimir had been around hopelessness his whole life, so when he saw something that pointed to a bigger, better world being possible, Vladimir saw the hope. Perhaps Vladimir’s story has something to teach us.
Last weekend, I was driving around Duluth listening to the radio when I came across a preacher. The preacher made the following point: “When we look to define ourselves as a people of “faith”, one word shall come to the tip of people’s mouths and that word is “hope.” People may find our beliefs strange, people probably will disagree with us, but what if above all else Christians were known for bringing “hope” out into the world.
So this leads to the question if hope doesn’t come from possessions then where does hope come? Hope comes from faith. Hope comes from death. Hope comes from the promise of resurrection that guides us on days when everything in this life seems to be out of reach. In the words of Robert Farrar Capon: “He waits for us in our death. Quite literally, there s nothing that Christians need to do to inherit hope other than die”.
The Parable of the Rich Fool is about how a person responds when they are under duress. In duress, you can either be defined by all you can gather in this world or in duress you can embrace hope. Flags alone do not fly forever! Faith endures forever! Faith carries us into the darkness of the grave, only to see the light shining on the other side.
The question that Parable of the Rich Fool forces us to confront is what defines you on this day? Does wealth define you? Does pain define you? Or does the embrace of one's savior define you? Does this hope define you? Amen
 Luke 12:13-21.
 This plays itself out in the story of Esau and Jacob in Genesis 25 for example.
 Lose, David. “Commentary on Luke 12:13-21”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 01. Aug.2010. Web. Jul.27.2016.
 Luke 12:17-18.
 McLarty, Phillip. “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” Lectionary.org. 2004. Web. Jul.25.2016.
 Genesis 3:19.
 Markquart, Edward. “Bigger and Bigger Barns.: Pentecost 10: Year C” Sermons from Seattle. Web. Jul.25.2016.
 Richardson, Ethan. “The Gospel’s Steady Work of Reversal.” MBird(Mockingbird Ministries). 28. Apr.2016. Web. Jul.26.2016.
 Hornsby, Emily. “New Research on Wealth Confirms What Jesus Said 2,000 Years Ago.” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries).05. Sept.2013. Web. Jul.26.2016.
First Lesson: Hosea 1: 2-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 85
Second Lesson: Colossians 2: 6-15, (16-19)
Gospel Lesson: Luke 11: 1-13
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story, when I was eight years old, we all gathered at my great-grandpa’s house for a family Christmas. Before we start Christmas dinner, we were all supposed to go around the table and pray for something. So I have to think about the most important thing in the world to pray for at that moment. Finally, it's my turn to pray. My prayer was that the Vikings beat the Washington Redskins to advance to playoffs all to the laughter of my family at one of my first times praying in public. The story ends in a predictable fashion perhaps so God could teach eight year old me a lesson, two days later the Vikings lost in overtime.
Now if my prayer for the Vikings to beat Washington is wrong? What can and should we pray? The following question Jesus begins to answers in our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 11.
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”- Luke 11:9
For what should we pray?
For some of us, this might seem like an easy and obvious question. We pray the safety prayers for the physical health of ourselves and those around us. We pray the connection prayers for either new or more meaningful relationships within our lives. We pray the well-being prayers. We pray that our dream job or dream vacation falls into our laps. We pray the think big prayers. We pray to win the lottery so that the church can buy that rocketship that I’ve always wanted. What all these prayers have in common is one thing that is an acknowledgment of the World’s brokenness at the present moment, along with a longing for its restoration.
Every day for many of us we struggle with the question of “Whether these prayers work?” When I was growing up, my best friend was named Josh. Josh was/is a pretty intense guy. Josh was an excellent cross-country runner and all-conference hockey player nicknamed “The Animal”. Josh was attending North Dakota State at the same time that I was attending Concordia. One day, we’re driving back to school after Easter break. Being Northwest Minnesota, the weather starts to turn. Some snow soon becomes heavy snow. There are hardly any cars once we approach Alexandria on the road. I was driving way too cautious in this weather for Josh’s liking. Josh offers to take the wheel. Josh starts driving down I-94 at over 70 miles an hour because there was no traffic to contend. Josh’s driving works well for about fifteen miles. The car finally hits a patch of ice and begins spinning out of control. Josh starts cussing then he starts praying. The car finally stops in the middle of a desolate road. The following result would seem to be evidence of Josh’s prayer working. What if the prayer worked the other way, what if we spun into the ditch, what if Josh, I, or my sister Anne got injured or even worse? How can we interpret all this?
One day, Homer Simpson grows jealous of his neighbor Ned Flanders’ success. Homer asks Ned “What’s his secret?” Ned replies “hard work, clean living and a little prayer.” Homer wasn’t very interested in “hard work” or “clean living” but prayer seemed easy enough. Homer can’t remote until his prayer causes him to discover it magically. Homer prays that the Lord would bring him a delicious, new snack only to witness an accident between a bacon truck and a fudge truck. Homer quickly starts praying for everything that he could think of whether appropriate or inappropriate. Why were Homer’s prayers working? There was anyone else in the town of Springfield that was a more faithful Christian than Homer Simpson. Why would God answer his prayers, but not those of the most faithful neighbors around him?
I was reading an article by a guy named Andrew Wilson, who made the point that we often get the direction of prayers backward when we pray to God as a means to put him to test. If God does this for us, only then will we believe? What we often fail to remember about Prayer is that when Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, he does so in a way where the focus is not on us but rather building God’s Kingdom. The direction of the Lord’s Prayer seeks to remind us that God is not our personal butler. God’s will is not necessarily going to be our will. What prayer is a rather a reminder of is that God has already acted in our lives, God will continue to act, and one day his kingdom shall come forth.
How does God’s will work versus our own? Such pondering raises some interesting realities.
Perhaps God answers prayers only not necessarily as we would want. In 1978, there was a famous Psychology study that measured happiness. The study compared two types of people: lottery winners and accident victims. The lottery winners all won money that in today’s terms would equate to over a million dollars, whereas accident victims all become paralyzed as a result of their accidents. They then measured everyone’s happiness around one year after the life-changing moments. What the psychologists found was surprising that the crash victims self-reported similar happiness levels to the lottery winners.
Similar happiness studies have found that over the past few decades as standards of living keep increasing that people are no happier than before. What science has discovered is that months into the future, what might you think makes you happy merely disappoints.
The reason that I cite this study is that no matter how many times I read its results, I can’t believe its outcome. Life seems like it would be so much better if lottery-winning prayers were always answered according to our whims. You dig deeper under the surface though perhaps God’s plans for us are different then we can imagine.
When I graduated from seminary, I didn’t have a call for a while. I would spend nights praying for my job situation; I finally need to work a different job as a substitute teacher. The money was good, but I had never actually worked with children before. My dad before my first day questioned whether trying to manage a roomful of students with no experience would be a good idea. My first day was going to be spent working with junior-highers talk about jumping off the deep end. To be certain there was a lot of learning that needed to take place for me. Days after days of substitute teaching though gave me meaning. I’m a much better minister because of these days, so this story is perhaps another example of how God doesn’t answer prayer merely according to our terms. Maybe we can think of a thing from within our life, where we wanted one answer but got another instead. What if prayer isn’t about giving us what we want, what if prayer is rather about giving us what we need.
Soren Kirkegaard: “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
So how should prayer work? In 2010, there was a major accident at a mine in Chile. Thirty-three miners were trapped deep in the earth with seemingly impossible odds of rescue. Prayer warriors got to work. A miracle then happened. The Chilean miners bring us back to the big rub with prayer. Why a miracle in this case? Why not a miracle when a daughter prays for her mom to be healed of cancer? How can all sorts of people pray for peace on Earth with it never becoming reality? How do we deal with failed prayers? How do we deal with prayers that we shout out from the bottom of our souls that receive nothing more than silence? We take comfort in the fact that God does indeed listen to our prayers.
Pastor Steve Molin recalls the following story: Some years ago, Dan Rather was interviewing Mother Theresa. Dan Rather asked Mother Theresa? “How do you pray?”. Mother Theresa’s reply was “I listen.” Rather was confused by this answer, so he asks “Well what does God say?” To which Mother Theresa merely says “He listens.”
As Molin points out “Sometimes prayer changes our circumstances, more importantly, though prayer changes us.”
Whenever we pray, we are guided by a promise that comes from prayer. “His kingdom will come.”
For as Luther says in the Catechism: “The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer; of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.”
Jesus says in our lesson for today: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the ones who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
What prayer ultimately is a confession of our inability to shape the world. Prayer within the scriptures is way more than just asking, prayer is praise, prayer is questioning, prayer is arguing, and prayer is grief. When you understand prayer as more than just asking, perhaps then prayer’s purpose makes more sense. Prayer should not be about praying to receive that which we think we need; prayer should do with expressing our longing for Resurrection and New Life. We don’t pray hoping to change God; we pray hoping that God will change us. We pray that we remain patient as we deal with the Monday through Sunday struggles that we may draw comfort from God’s promises to change the Earth forever will one day come true. Amen
 This episode of The Simpsons is entitled “Pray Anything” written by Sam O’Neal and Neal Boushell. The episode first aired on Feburary 9th, 2003.
 Wilson, Andrew. “Our Prayer Instincts Are Backwards.” Christianity Today. 31. Dec.2015. Web. Jul.19.2016.
 The study was conducted in a paper written by Phillip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff- Bulman published in the Journal of Personality and Social Physcology, Vol 36(8). Aug 1978, 917-927.
 Simenge. “Science Behind the Factoid: Lottery Winners Are No Happie than Quadriplegics.” Science Tumbled Blog. This is blog is part of the Tumblr nertwork. 7.Dec.2013. Web. Jul.19.2016.
 Steve Molin in his sermon “Knock and Open” found on Lectionary.org uses a similar example from his 2001 sermon.
 Galli, Mark. “Hopeless Prayers: What the rescue of the Chilean Miners didn’t teach me.” Christianity Today. 13.Oct.2010. Web.
 Molin, Steve. “Knock and Open”. Lectionary.org. 2001. Web. Jul.19.2016.
 Molin, Steve. “Knock and Open”.
 Luther, Martin. Small Cathecism. 1529.
 Luke 11:9-10
First Lesson: Amos 8: 1-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 52
Second Lesson: Colossians 1: 15-28
Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 38-42
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“I woke up this morning looking for someone to blame. Someone to hate. Someone who I could make the single target of my fear about the officers killed in Dallas and the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was such a desperate feeling to want to discharge the uncertainty and scarcity. Then it dawned on me that this is the exact drive that fueled what’s happening right now.
Instead of feeling hurt we act out our hurt. Rather than acknowledging our pain, we inflict it on others. Neither hate nor blame will lead to the justice and peace that we all want- it will only move us further apart. But we can’t forget that hate and blame are seductive. Anger is easier than grief. Blame is easier than real accountability. When we choose instant relief in the form of rage, we’re in many ways choosing permanent grief for the world.” -Brene Brown.
“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”-Amos 5:24.
This morning, I want to tell you the story of a prophet who lived in uncertain times such as these. I want to tell you the story of the prophet Amos. Amos’ story begins with an unlikely path to the ministry. Amos began his life working as a migrant farm worker. Amos’ job was to puncture sycamore trees. Sycamore trees would require someone to puncture their fruit to make them edible. Sycamore trees produced the fruit of the poor. Amos hardly made any money in that job, so Amos then worked the second job of herding sheep. Amos had no formal religious education. Amos’ ministry was during the time of Israel’s division into two kingdoms of north and south. Amos was from the south, but he preached in the enemy territory of the north.
Telling people uncomfortable truths would mark Amos’ ministry. Much of Amos’ ministry would seek to address the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Amos’ greatest moment in courage was when he went to Bethel at a time when people were gathering to worship the Golden Calf rather than the God of Israel. Amos’ then made a prediction that such worship would soon bring about Israel’s collapse as a nation.
Amos ‘prediction would come true within a couple generations. The reaction to Amos’ words was such that he ends up being deported and seeing his career as Israel’s preacher come to an end.
Amos’ lived in a time where the standard of living for the people of Israel was like none they had ever known, yet society still kept decaying. People liked when Amos would preach against Israel’s enemies, but they would resist Amos when he would speak the truth about their people.
The central theme of Amos’ ministry was the shape of Justice in the world. Amos’ most famous words about “Justice rolling down like mighty waters” would be quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech over 2500 years later.
As we consider the course of the life of Amos and the calls for Justice in the world, let us consider three points in regards to Justice.
Point One: Justice is never easy.
Let me tell a story, Last season- My Dad and I were at a Vikings game against the Seahawks. One of the drawbacks of being at TCF Stadium is we were sitting on metal bleachers. When the weather is seven degrees below zero, and everyone has several layers, the row is a tight squeeze. So on the left side of me were a couple of Seahawks fans, both much bigger than me. The man probably weighed twice what I weighed. He would stand up every time the Seahawks made a play and made noise. The reaction to these Seahawk fans cheering from our section of Vikings fans was predictable. On this day, being the smallest one in the row, the Seahawks fans kept squeezing me “tighter” and “tighter” until my Dad whispers into my ear. “Stand your ground!”
How does standing your ground in the world look? Standing my ground “physically” would only end up with me getting hurt trying to confront someone much bigger than me. Perhaps standing your ground means something different than we often think it to be.
The events of the past weeks brought me back to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. King had all sorts of things going against him from the history of slavery to Jim Crow laws to resentment to people throughout the land. When people were protesting during the Civil Rights Movement, they knew that anger would merely produce a backlash. People would speak their voice through the power of silent action dressed in their Sunday best clothes. When people marched, they were subject to all sorts of nasty names and threats, yet they did not lose resolve. The Civil Rights Movement sought out with a seemingly impossible dream of bringing people who saw the world in entirely different ways to be able to achieve common ground. For when “police officers” or minority groups are automatically assumed to be “guilty,” we can never reach common ground. Finding common ground is never going to be easy because it causes us to admit that our way of viewing the world might have blind spots. Confessing the imperfection or our knowledge or sin is “never easy.” Justice not being easy, leads us into point two.
Point Two: Justice can’t be about settling scores.
My Grandma has a brother named Frank. Frank has lived in Kansas City ever since he graduated from college in the late 1950’s. Frank got into the banking business down there. Frank played a role working with the Truman Sports Complex where both the Royals and Chiefs play. Frank eventually becomes the President of a bank and does quite well for himself. Now when you do well, people tend to ask you for money. The thing about Grandma is she’s not afraid to ask anyone for anything. So Grandma asks Frank for $20,000. In fairness, Grandma has asked nearly everyone she knows for $20,000 at some point in time. Grandma doesn’t think “small.” Frank’s patience with the constant requests for money on this day ran out.
Frank tells Grandma “no,” Grandma tells Frank a not so nice place where he can go. Grandma and Frank haven’t talked to each other in the five years because of both their stubbornness. Making amends is often thought to be an act of weakness. So people like Grandma and Frank go through life never wanting to be left holding onto the somewhat shorter ends of the stick.
Here’s why this is a problem. At the end of World War I, emotion was running high. These feelings led to one of the most unjust events in all of human history in the German Holocaust. After the Germans lose World War I, the sides begin to try to chart out a way forward. For Britain, France, and Russia the way out was easy blame Germany for everything. Put together the Treaty of Versailles with Germany not in the room. Make Germany admit they’re the only ones responsible for the war. Make Germany pay all the costs in reparations. Annex German land into neighboring countries, turning the citizenry into captives.
President Woodrow Wilson feared this would be a terrible idea for a lasting peace. The results were horrifying. Germany goes into financial ruin because of war-related inflation. In the Mid 1920’s a war hero named Adolf Hitler begins his rise to power as an outspoken critic of the Treaty of Versailles. For as awful as Hitler was, he never rises to power if not for the terms of Versailles. There shall be no Justice in this world if people maintain the belief that Justice must come according to your exact terms. There is potentially another way forward.
Point number three: Justice must be about hope.
A quote from Martin Luther: “The sin underneath all our sin is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.
One thing that I often notice about Christian people is that they fail to differentiate judgment from Justice.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”-Matthew 7:1
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment”- John 7:24.
Judgment unto itself is a not a bad thing. Judgment is what acknowledges the condition of the world in its brokenness. Judgment is a conduit for the proclamation of grace. Judgment without hope is what is a bad thing.
My sister Anne as many of you know just graduated law school. Anne worked during law school in the public defender’s office. I will talk to Anne about the legal system as it relates to its problems for today: one theme keeps coming up again and again is the problem of armchair lawyers. Armchair lawyers who claim to know all about a case from what they can pick up via media narrative. The problem with these armchair lawyers is they are quick to come to judgment and to condemn. Armchair lawyers often fail to view “justice” in relation to hope.
Armchair lawyering is part of a bigger problem in how we view crime as a nation. People keep demanding harsher and harsher sentences all the time. In the last 40 years, we’ve seen a fourfold increase in the number of Americans residing in prison. America has the highest rate of criminal incarceration rate in the world, yet this hasn’t brought about any more peace.
Let me propose something this morning as it relates justice to hope. What if there was another way forward. As Lutherans our entire faith is centered on the twin concepts of Law and Gospel. The Law tells us all the ways that the world ain’t quite right, whereas the Gospel tells us that there is indeed hope out there in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the words of Criminal Justice advocate Bryan Stevenson: “I’ve come to understand and believe that each of us is more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if someone tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them; they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer.”
Stevenson’s words hit upon the reason that we must center all talk about Justice upon hope. I came across a story of a prison in Norway. The prison’s philosophy is a bit different than we're used to. The prison does not run by revenge for crimes, but rather the hope of redemption. This Norwegian prison has inmates upon release re-offend at a rate unheard of within American prisons. What if we don’t change by people by the power and misery but rather grace and mercy?
While the harshest of criminals might only respond to the judgment, grace will ultimately be the means to bring about “true hope.”
“Jesus dropped the charges against us.” Jesus dropped them on the cross. Our God brings about Justice that Amos longed for by way of mercy. God brings about Justice by way of forgiveness. All we can merely do in this broken world is listen and hope to piece it all together once again. For today, might not be the day of justice. Tomorrow might not be the day of justice. But one day, people from all of God’s Kingdom shall gather together at the River to celebrate hope becoming real in the person of Jesus Christ.
 The following quote came from Brown’s Facebook and Instagram page on July 8, 2016.
 Amos 7:14.
 Doyle-Nelson, Theresa. “A Dresser of Sycamore Trees.” Bible Saints.Blogspot. 28.Oct.2011. Web. July.11.2016.
 Amos 7:14.
 Amos 5:5-7
 August 28,1963 at the March on Washington.
 This story is told in John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut’s Compelling People on pages 50-51.
 This quote was found on the Gnesio Facebook page on July 11th, 2016.
 Stevenson, Bryan. “We need to talk about an injustice.” Ted Talks (www.ted.com). 2012. Mar. Web. July.8.2016.
 Heijmen, R.J. “ You Don’t Change People by Power: Grace in a Norwegian Prison”. MBIRD (Mockingbird). 26. Feb.2013. Web. July.11.2016.
 This comes from a comment made by Bryan J. in the “You Don’t Change People by Power” article.
First Lesson: 2 Kings 5: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 30
Second Lesson: Galatians 6: (1-6), 7-16
Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Back when I was in college, I worked summers selling flooring at Menard’s in Maplewood. I remember a hot day at the end of July. It was one of those days around 100 degrees with high humidity that we dread during Minnesota summers. On this day, word had come over the radio that one of the Minnesota Vikings best players Korey Stringer collapsed after practice due to heat stroke and had to go to the hospital. I went to bed figuring it to be nothing, as guys like Korey Stringer weren’t supposed to die. Stringer had just been in the Pro-Bowl; he was truly in the prime of life. The next morning, I turn on the radio as soon as I get up to hear Denny Green, Cris Carter, and Randy Moss just sobbing, Korey Stringer had died! It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Great warriors like Stringer just don’t die to a nasty roll of dice. Stringer’s tale brings us to a story of another great warrior named Namaan.
Namaan was the greatest soldier of his day conquering the people of Israel. Namaan seemingly had it all. The scriptures describe Namaan as a “great man” with “power and authority”. Namaan was best friends with the King of Aram. One day though Naaman's life takes an unexpected turn. His skin began to swell. The swelling became a rash. The outbreak became discolored. The discoloring develops into scales. Naaman started going to the finest physicians searching for answers and received no useful answers. Namaan kept developing more and more scales. Naaman was a leper!
Now to understand this story, you need to understand the meaning of Leprosy within Namaan’s day. Leprosy in Jewish culture was considered to be a cause of someone’s failure or sin. Such questioning can be found in John 9 when the Disciples ask Jesus “Who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind!” Lepers weren’t outcasts because they were contagious. Lepers were rather outcasts because their scaley skin seemed to point to some source of shame existing in their life.
Your family was hoping that other people wouldn’t notice. Lepers were the type of company that good people didn’t keep especially religious people. So Naaman was going to seek out any solution he could find. I imagine that if Naaman lived in 2016 that he would be googling “leprosy cure” like mad. Naaman finally hears of a cure from his wife’s slave girl.
How the slave girl fits into Naaman's story is interesting?
In Naaman's day, when soldiers would win a battle they would claim all the valuables that they could from the land, even people. So the slave girl who is not named was a daughter of Israel now working as Namaan’s slave in the land of Aram. Now to picture the slave girl, I want you to contrast her with Namaan. I picture Namaan as one of the biggest, strongest guys around looking like a football player, whereas the slave girl was probably tiny and timid. Namaan had bullied the slave girl in her capture; now Namaan is so desperate that he turns to the bullied for advice. The slave girl tells Naaman about a prophet named Elisha from her land of Israel.
Elisha is another unlikely character in Naaman's story. Elisha was known for his bald head. Schoolchildren made fun of Elisha when they saw him. In fact, people throughout the nation of Israel saw Elisha as a joke. Elisha was the voice of God of a country that Namaan’s army crushed in battle. When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house, he appeared to be a recluse and a quack. Elisha wouldn’t even come out to face Namaan; he sent a messenger out instead. Naaman didn’t like his advice with Elisha telling him to ‘Go wash in the Jordan River.’
As you picture the Jordan River this morning, I want you to think of the bluest lakes that you’ve ever seen, for a lot of us in might be Lake Superior which signifies that we’re home in Silver Bay. Now what I want to you to picture is a swamp, a mud hole. When you think of the mud hole now imagine the Jordan River. The Jordan River was nothing special; it was merely the boundary between Namaan’s people and the land of Israel.
Namaan surely thought that if he was going to wash that a more picturesque river would do. Elisha's advice was the water didn’t matter, it didn’t matter the amount of water, or how far Namaan dunked himself into the water. What mattered was Elisha offering God’s promise with the water.
Naaman finally decided to give into Elisha’s request. Namaan was the guy that had purchased everything he saw on a Late Night TV infomercial no matter how dubious it appeared. Any possible solution to the Leprosy problem he would try. Namaan figured it certainly couldn’t hurt anything if he dipped himself into the Jordan River. Naaman finally did what Elisha told him to do, not expecting that water could change anything. Water would soon change everything!
Naaman's skin quickly became like it was born-again. Naaman's skin looked like that not of a hardened warrior with leprosy, but rather like a young boy. Elisha’s promise had come true! Namaan was now a believer in the God of his slave girl!
You see the story of Naaman and Elisha isn't’ a story about Baptism, but it's rather a story that points to Baptism.
Baptism for many is thought to be something to be embraced (once we’re ready for it).
The thing about Baptism though is you are never really ready. Namaan would have never entered the Jordan River if everything had to be right within his life for him to receive it. Instead, Baptism serves as the great equalizer of the Christian faith. Baptism brings one back to the place of their birth, the place of their beginning. The Gospel breaks down walls of success and failure, beauty and age, money and poverty. What the Gospel says is that the very youngest baby is equal to the most powerful military commander in the eyes of God. There is no purer expression of our Gospel than Baptism.
Let me tell you a story this morning based on a true story about two girls that we’ll call Miranda and Heather. Heather picked on Miranda all throughout elementary school and high school. Miranda had no idea what she had done to make Heather so mad, but she began hating Heather right back. Heather was vicious calling Miranda every nasty name, pulling every sort of nasty joke, turning everyone that she could against Miranda. Miranda was grateful to graduate high school and hopefully never see Heather again.
About a year after high school, Heather tries contacting Miranda on Facebook. Miranda is immediately suspicious of Heather’s motives. Miranda decides to respond and they quickly discover they have a lot in common. After a couple of months, Miranda and Heather meet for lunch. Miranda figures that if Heather was Heather that she could tell her off and leave. Heather begins to apologize for all the misery that she had put Miranda through over the years. Heather didn’t know why she acted so harsh towards Miranda. Heather started to cry and beg for forgiveness, even though Heather knew she didn’t deserve it. Miranda did forgive Heather and they became the best of friends afterward.
For those that might seem different from you on this day: those who are always demeaning others like Heather are probably coming from a place of pain and isolation. People are more broken on the inside then they care to admit regardless of the masks they give to the world around them. When you get down to it perhaps Namaan, his slave girl, and Elisha weren’t that different after all and the washing in the Jordan River was what brought them together.
Namaan was changed in the Jordan River on this day. Namaan transformed from spiritual despair to a place of peace. Namaan was permanently changed in these might river waters. Namaan was in the prime of life, struck down, and born again. The reason, Baptism is so important for us as Christian people because in the end “everybody dies”, all accomplishments go with us to the grave.
Final story for today, a former professor of mine described going to a string of funerals and always went home disappointed. Every different preacher would go on and on with all the reasons that the deceased person should have hope beyond the grave. Every person that died the pastor would describe as a mighty hero like Namaan. The problem with Namaan though is the prime of life is fading. Even heroes die. The prime of life always fading is why our hope as Christian people must come from something that we can grasp onto whatever stage of life we’re currently in. The professor then attends a funeral in Western North Dakota. The preacher on this day was a guy named Joe Burgess.
Someone, I know described going to Joe Burgess's house this way: “You open the oven all that’s in there are books,” “You open up the fridge all that’s in there are books.” Joe was part of the International Lutheran-Catholic dialogues and perhaps the brightest person that I’ve ever come across. Joe gets up for this funeral sermon, the professor wonders what Joe might say with his encyclopedia of knowledge. Joe proceeds to read the following scripture passage from Romans 6:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Joe then proceeds to sit down. These three verses from Romans was all Joe needed to say. The professor starts shaking his hand in the air as it was the best funeral sermon that he had heard in years.
Elisha said to Naaman: ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be made clean.’ It seemed too simple; Naaman couldn’t believe this was true. Naaman couldn’t figure out the catch. Baptism there has to be a catch. Namaan would soon find out though there is no catch to God’s promises, God’s promises will indeed soon come true! Amen
 2 Kings 5:1
 John 9:2.
 2 Kings 5:2.
 2 Kings 2:23-24.
 2 Kings 5:10-11.
 2 Kings 5:12
 A really good sermon that I came across this week on Text Week was Christy Lohr Sapp’s “Dip Into Faith” preached at Duke Divinity Chapel on July 7th, 2013. Lohr Sapp does an excellent job of making the connection between Namaan’s healing in the Jordan River and Baptism.
 The story is based on a Reddit comment by a deleted poster from a post entitled “Former bullies of Reddit, are you sorry? Would you like to apologize to your victims?” Ask Reddit (sub-reddit). 20 May 2014. Web. Jun.28.2016.
 Deleted Poster. “Former bullies of Reddit, are you sorry?”
 Deleted Poster. “Former bullies of Reddit, are you sorry?”
 Romans 6:3-5
 2 Kings 5:10
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.