First Lesson: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 19
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a
Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 14-21
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
About a month ago, I was engaging in strategic planning for North Shore Area Partners. The presenter was a guy named Reid Zimmerman. Reid’s a former Lutheran pastor who now teaches nonprofit management at Hamline. Reid asked everyone in the room the following question “What would have to happen for North Shore Area Partners to accomplish its mission and shut its doors?” People were initially unsure how to respond to such a question. It seems obvious that there will always be senior citizens who long to stay independent and need help. For many this would be a tough question to engage.
As I thought about the following, a vision of sorts popped into my head. What if every neighborhood in Silver Bay assumed a mindset of the need to help uplift the community most senior members? We have people in town doing this already, what if everyone in town embraced this mentality. What if people didn’t think of providing assistance as an obligation rather than an opportunity? Now many will hear my words and feel them to be incredibly far-fetched, this is the right reaction! Because we want always to be dreaming big when it comes to the world around us.
So bringing Reid’s question closer to home, let me ask everyone here the following “How will our work as Sychar Lutheran Church be accomplished?” Could we ever get to a point where we feel that our mission as people is complete?
The following reflection leads to one of the most common questions that I receive in the ministry, and that relates to sharing our faith. These struggles affect people as they wonder how exactly do I talk about my faith to my children, to my grandchildren, to my friends, and my neighbors. The natural instinct is that such efforts will fail because they have failed before. How do we speak about our faith to those closest to us? This leads us into our Gospel for today from Luke 4.
Luke 4 tells the tale of Jesus giving his first sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus on this day is preaching a sermon to those at the place where he had gathered every Sabbath day for his whole life. As the people see Jesus get up to attempt to speak, they didn’t know what to make of the scene. Here was Jesus on this day preaching to people who remember him running around as a ten-year-old-boy, preaching to his friends, and preaching to his neighbors. This was the spot where Jesus dared to give his first sermon.
There was nothing unusual about the congregation in Nazareth. The synagogue in Nazareth probably looked like any other small-town congregation in Galilee. The congregation is filled with a mix of rich and poor, Roman citizen and devout Jew, healthy and sick, happy and distraught. I’m sure the Nazareth synagogue had its share of colorful characters. There was nothing unique about Nazareth to make it a special vessel for Jesus’ message.
So as Jesus begins, let’s be honest the congregation probably wasn’t expecting much. Jesus lacked any formal religious education, and he had been working as a common carpenter. This was how the people of Nazareth previously knew him. Jesus probably didn’t look like he would be much of a preacher. Then something amazing happened as Jesus began to preach. Jesus was able to read Hebrew well. Jesus was able to speak with poise and polish. Jesus then began to preach that all the scriptures they had previously heard would be fulfilled in his presence, and the congregation was amazed. Jesus had hit upon the greatest sermon that the people in Nazareth were ever going to hear.
What was the secret of Jesus’ preaching making it so effective? Jesus was not merely quoting scripture, Jesus was proclaiming scripture which is vastly different. Jesus is connecting the scriptures to the life of his congregation.
I can hear people this morning assuming they can’t preach like Jesus. This might be true. Preaching is not the key to evangelism. The key to evangelism is instead the ability to reach out to someone when they need it. The key to evangelism is connecting the reality of grace to people’s lives.
Let me tell the following story from Huck Finn. Huck’s dad was a drunk. One night Pap went all over town drinking, cussing, and carrying out till after midnight. Pap gets thrown in jail which was a relatively common occurrence. Things were going to be different though with this jail sentence.
The new judge vowed to Pap that things were going to be different this time. So the new judge took Pap and invited him into his home where he dressed him well and fed him some nice meals. The new judge saw Pap as something entirely different than the town drunk. Pap at seeing the judge’s behavior towards him finally breaks down. Pap admits to being ashamed to what he has become. Pap hoped the judge to point him towards a new way forward from his previous messed up existence. The judge had declared in Pap’s presence a declaration that Pap never thought he would hear. Pap is worthy to receive the good news!
We all misunderstand evangelism. We misunderstand evangelism when we make it about our knowledge. Evangelism is rather about the ability to forge meaningful connections with people just like Pap, who need them.
The calling of evangelism is to not to make people into perfect members of Sychar Lutheran Church, the calling of evangelism is to give people Jesus and allow them the opportunity to be a part of our supportive community of faith.
There are people out there that have been struggling with trying to find every coping mechanism with the battlefield that we often call life. These people might not find love within their marriage; they might be estranged from their children, they might be uncertain about the future of their job. We all know these people. What these people long for is a community whose love is unconditional whether they believe it is possible or not.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored all rejoice together with it.” -1st Corinthians 12:26
As Jesus is preaching on this day, his preaching goes way beyond those merely sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth; rather Jesus’ preaching extends to every single person within the community of Nazareth longing for hope.
Too often, we see the church like we see the world. We see a world divided between Democrats and Republicans, a world divided between black and white, a world divided between Silver Bay and Two Harbors. These are the distinctions that Jesus is compelling us on this day to let go. Christ is not interested in our divisions, Christ is not interested in our excuses, rather Christ is interested in setting free those living with a paralyzing bondage as they go through their days.
What people don’t need to hear today is a Jesus, who promises to make their lives easier, this is a quick fix to much a bigger issue. What people rather long to hear is that no matter what you hear in any sermon today, there is a much bigger picture of faith. The big picture of faith all centers on what is yet to come.
We are not optimistic this morning by past results, we are rather optimistic by God’s big promises.
I want to close this morning with a story. The following is a story of a mother and a daughter. Mom is currently in the hospital hooked to nothing but machines and totally unresponsive. Daughter is freaking out. The daughter would give anything at that moment for Mom to wake up and respond to her. You see the daughter needed mom in her life. The daughter needed an event such as this to admit it. The daughter as she saw her mom lying in a hospital bed came to admit how much she had failed and disappointed her mother over the years. The daughter recalled her years of teenage rebellion trying to fit into the world that didn’t know any better: drinking, smoking, piercings, and attempting to find approval in the wrong people. The daughter recalls taking every opportunity to tell her mom how awful she was. The daughter even cursed her mom for bringing her into this world. The daughter could see her mom breaking with nearly every word out of her mouth.
Her mom’s response is significant. You see we as a people often greatly misunderstand love. Many people think of love as an emotion, we want to love others and have others love us. We assume that love should be easy and natural because of this. The thing about love is that it goes way beyond fairy-tales of human relationships. Love requires patience and self-control when people disappoint you and love require selflessness to bestow grace upon those who have fallen short. So how did mom respond to her deadbeat daughter?
Mom kept preaching “love” again and again. Over and over and over. Daughter knew all the ways that she had disappointed mom, yet mom would not waver in her response. The daughter was now terrified as her one light in the midst of darkness began to flicker. The daughter needed her mom’s presence because of this more than she was ever going to admit. The story of the daughter mirrors many of our stories when it comes to things of faith. People often go through life not quite sure of what exactly it is they need without others to guide them.
We have people from our congregation and community that come from a bad place this morning. These people are struggling with hurt, rejection, and disappointment. Plenty of people’s messes will come to our door. What shall our words be at times such as these, our words shall be that we do not judge you on this day because deep down inside we are a people of the resurrection. We believe connection is possible because our scriptures promise that “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come The old has gone, the new is here!
As long as people need to hear this message, we shall have a purpose as a people. We shall not gather here because we believe that we have the power to change ourselves into problem-free people, we rather gather here because we believe that Christ can change us by one-day making alive, what was once dead! Amen
 Luke 4:14-21
 Harrisville, Roy. “Luke 4:14-21 :Commentary”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 24.Jan.2010. Web. Jan.20.2016.
 Reese, Ruth Anne. “Luke 4:14-21 :Commentary”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 24.Jan.2016. Web. Jan.20.2016
 Bender, Micheal. “Bridging the Empathy Gap: Pap’s New Judge and a Man from Nazareth”. Mockingbird Ministries (MBird). 19.Dec.2013. Web. Jan.20.2016
 Bender, Micheal. “Bridging the Empathy Gap: Pap’s New Judge and a Man from Nazareth
 Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher: A Life-Changing Epiphany”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 24.Jan.2016. Web. Jan.20.2016.
 Larkin, Lauren. R.E. “I Love You, Child, As I Have Been Loved”. Mockingbird Ministries (MBird)19.Jan.2016. Web. Jan.20.2016
 The full story comes from Fliss, Jennifer. “Blink If You Can Hear Me”. Brain, Child Magazine. 24. Nov.2015. Web. Jan.20.2016
 Merritt, Jonathan. “Andy Stanley gets surprisingly real about love, sex, and dating”. Religion News Services. 15.Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2016.
 Larkin, Lauren. R.E. “I Love You, Child, As I Have Been Loved”. Mockingbird Ministries (MBird)
 2 Corinthians 5:17
First Lesson: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 62: 5-12
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 14-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
NPR tells the story of a guy named Jason Comely1. Comely recalls one Friday night sitting in his apartment alone. Comely was trying to spend this Friday night distracting from his personal pain. Comely’s wife had left him a number of months earlier. She had found someone taller, richer and seemingly just all around better than Comely believed himself to be. Because of this rejection, Comely went through life, not wanting to interact with anyone. Comely feared interacting with strangers, especially women because he believed that they were going to hurt him just like his wife. This Friday night, Jason Comely just snaps. He breaks down crying, feeling devastated by the weight of the world. Comely though on this evening realized something that would eventually be life-changing.
Many of Jason Comely’s fears were irrational. If all that he had to fear was another person’s rejection, the worst thing that rejection was going to bring was leaving him exactly where he already was.
Jason Comely decides to challenge himself. He was going to get rejected by someone, nearly every day. He began this quest by going to his local grocery store, approaching a complete stranger to ask for a ride across town. The response was a predictable “no”.
Jason kept at it, day after day, looking to make an outrageous request to get turned down. “Barter for a discount before purchase” “Ask a stranger for a breath mint” “Ask an unapproachable girl on a date.” He soon figures that it isn’t a successful day unless someone turns him down. The change in approach changes Jason Comely’s life. He becomes much better at interacting with people because he becomes indifferent to their response.
Jason Comely eventually comes up with an idea to make a deck of cards with different challenges inviting rejection. Slowly, the rejection game becomes a cult phenomenon all over the world. What Jason learned from all this is something about the nature of fear?
We tend to overstate most fears. Think of the city slickers who visit the North Shore, who believe they’re going to get attacked by a bear after spending five minutes in the woods. Think of the media fear-mongering from such low-grade risks as Ebola or Swine-Flu. One of the easy things as human beings is to envision the worst case scenario.
You might think Jason Comely is a nut, you’re probably saying to yourself that you would never act like him. We’ll get back to why his story matters a little bit later this morning.
Today’s Gospel Lesson is a story that we all know2. It’s Jesus calling the first disciples in Simon Peter, his brother Andrew along with their friends James and John.
The thing that you need to know about this story is that Simon, Andrew, James, and John’s lives all revolved around fishing. We all know people like Simon, Andrew, James, and John. They fished all day, and their fathers probably fished all day. They probably envisioned the rest of their life being spent fishing all day.
You should probably know a little bit about where our scene for today takes place the Lake of Galilee. The thing about Galilee where Jesus lives is that looks nothing like Minnesota3. You don’t have a choice of lakes to fish; you are going to fish one lake in the Lake of Galilee. Fishing the Lake of Galilee was these men’s jobs and if they weren’t catching fish, then they were ending up like Jason Comely depressed and dejected on a Friday night.
Jesus notices these men as he is preaching along the lake shore. Jesus sees two boats with these men, washing their nets. Jesus knew their life needed to change. These men knew their life needed to change. So Jesus walks over to these men, steps into Simon Peter’s boat, and asks to be cast out a little way from the shore.
Jesus' request stumped Simon. Simon Peter was a professional Fisherman. Simon Peter had fished this lake his whole life; he knew all the best spots on it, where as Jesus was just some preacher dude.
Simon figured though what do I have to lose. So Simon casts down the net, and so many fish come into it that his net begins to break.
“Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17
For once the Disciples saw this miracle of fish there was no turning back. Sure, the Disciples could have come up with all sorts of legitimate reasons, not to act. Perhaps, tomorrow they would make it big like Forrest Gump in the fishing business, or perhaps their kids won’t know what to make of Dad always talking about God. Truth be told like Jason Comely, you can always find an excuse not to act.
For what the Disciples were being asked to do was not going to be easy. There were going to be times that they feared for their lives. Many of Jesus’ earliest followers would even die for their faith. The Disciples encountered all sorts of individuals to say “no” to them. They kept on keeping on.
I want you to picture an individual in your head this morning. I want you to picture the best salesman that you know. The one thing that makes any salesman great is they aren’t distraught by the possibility of hearing the word “no”.
For what prevents us from being great missionaries/evangelists is fear. We fear anger, we fear rejection. We keep this mindset, and things stay exactly the same.
This week, I read an article by writer Rod Dreher reflecting on the state of the church and the culture within America4. Dreher’s fears are that we are a generation or two away from American Christianity looking like European Christianity where few people identify as Christians and even fewer sit in a church on Sunday morning. It’s becoming increasingly uncommon where the children are more religious than the parents. Sychar Lutheran is not a unique church, the only real difference might be the time-frame.
We’ve heard the solutions before to follow the model of another church that is supposedly having success. The problem is marketing a church like any other business, takes away from its unique witness to the world around it.
Dreher’s suggestion is that we not that we need to blend Christianity into culture; we need to go radically against the culture.
Gerhard Forde was one of the most influential voices of American Lutheranism in the second half of the 20th century5. Forde wrote a famous article in 1987 where he stated that the future of American Lutheranism exists in being more radical about what we believe6.
We need to get on the mountain tops and proclaim Christ “dying” and “rising”. We need to say don’t come to this church because we can make your Sunday mornings a little bit better. We instead need to say that the old self and old way of life, the only way of life that you’ve ever known will be put to death. Only to proclaim that you shall rise in Christ as a new creation7. We don’t preach too much forgiveness as Christians; we often fail to preach enough forgiveness as Christians.
For we live in a nation that often gets the Christian religion wrong.
When I was working down in Lamberton, I knew a guy named Stan. Stan was an amateur clown. Stan had a neighbor who wasn’t a church-going man. Stan suggested that he watch our church service on public access, Wednesdays at 4. The man watches the service. During the service, I talk about how I personally don’t drink alcohol not for religious reasons but rather reasons of taste and health. Stan’s neighbor gets mad. I believe this guy liked to have a cocktail. He goes over to Stan to start yelling about his preacher. What he told Stan I said is that “Anybody who drinks is going to Hell”. Stan and this guy then started yelling at each other over the point of my sermon, and he got nowhere closer to any religious truth.
For this Man heard what he wanted to hear. He identified a problem within Christianity.
For Robert Farar Capon says it best “We’ve talked so loudly about should and shouldn’t s that it has eclipsed the forgiveness of sins”8.
I find that much of the opposition to Christianity has its roots in ignorance about Christianity. People often have too narrowing an understanding about Christianity. People like Stan’s neighbor have heard anything but the Gospel and use it to define Christianity.
For there will always be people out there who believe that they know a better way forward. We will not reach every soul, to whom we reach out.
Jesus himself said that there will be times that we just need to shake the dust off our feet and move on9.
“Those who think they are well do not go to a doctor”-Matthew 9:12.
So what can we do here as the people of Sychar Lutheran Church? We must be brutally honest about the world out there.
Too many people have this image of the American dream in their head. Life is supposed to look a certain way with an above-average wife and above-average kids. The thing is the world will break your heart. It might not happen for years, or it might happen way too soon. We must begin to claim this darkness as our own. We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people.
The thing about rejection is Life will show it to you just like it had Jason Comely. What rejection does is point you to the day that you will hear that “Yes”, and it will sound like nothing that you’ve ever heard before in your life.
The reason that we evangelize is because The Cross is God’s yes, to our no. The Cross is God’s acceptance to our rejection, failure, sin, doubt, and despair. On that day on the Lake of Galilee, nets were breaking. The Disciples could have believed their situation was hopeless, yet it wasn’t. Christ was in their midst. Soon without knowing they would become Fishers of Men. Amen
1 Spiegel, Alix. “By Making A Game Out Of Rejection, A Man Conquers Fear.” NPR: Your Health Blog. 16.Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2015. An interview with Comely also took place on the second episode of NPR’s new show Invisiblia
2 This is the Year B text which is Mark 1:14-20. Other versions of this story are Matthew 4:18-22, and Luke 5:1-11.
3 Markquart, Edward. “Fishing for Christ: Gospel Analysis” . Sermons from Seattle. Life of Christ Course. Web. Jan.20.2015
4 Dreher, Rod. “Making Christianity Weird Again”. American Conservative. 18. Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2015
5 Further information about Forde can be found at www.crossalone.us
6 Forde’s article published in Lutheran Quarterly is entitled Radical Lutheranism. The point of this article is that we need to distungish Lutheran witness from various other forms of Protestantism. Lutheranism is so much an German/Scandavian ethnic movement, but rather a radical way of understanding the Gospel.
7 1 Corinthians 5:17
8 H.T. to my Facebook Friend and LCMS Pastor from Webster, Minnesota Donovan Riley on this one.
9 Matthew 10:14