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
First Lesson: 2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20
Second Lesson: Galatians 5: 1, 13-25
Gospel Lesson: Luke 9: 51-62
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
July 2010: The city of Cleveland got dumped by the girl of their dreams with the entire world watching. LeBron James, the best Basketball player in the entire world, wanted to hang out with prettier friends in Miami. Cleveland’s reaction to being dumped was somewhat predictable. Kids would tear James’ poster of bedroom walls. People would burn James’ jerseys in the street. People were saying every kind of nasty word that they could about LeBron James. While we don’t live in Cleveland, we can understand “Cleveland.” Factories and plants were shutting down. People were losing jobs. Cleveland had gone “46 years” without a championship in any sport (Football, Basketball, Baseball, or Hockey). Talks of Cleveland’s curse grew “louder” and “louder.
June 2016: The Cleveland cause was again looking hopeless. The Cavaliers basketball team was down 3-1 to the greatest NBA regular season team of all-time in the Golden State Warriors. They were going to need to win “three straight games” to have a chance at the long awaited title. LeBron James though after running back into Cleveland’s arms one year earlier, would play three of the greatest games any NBA player ever played. Six years had changed everything! So many people on this championship night flocked to downtown Cleveland to celebrate that the authorities had to stop allowing people to gather “downtown.” People were dancing in the streets, people wearing hugging complete strangers, and people were running with joy that didn’t know that they could run. The Prodigal Son had come home, only instead of celebrating with a fattened calf they were hoisting a NBA championship in Cleveland.
Cleveland had their hours of heartbreak. Cleveland had gone through 145 years seasons of receiving an answer of “not now, but someday”. People’s faith in a payoff would be tested. Six years earlier! The most unlikely of stories of a city’s redemption had become reality.
The story of Cleveland’s redemption leads us into our Gospel lesson for today. Today’s Gospel reading is a tale of pain and rejection with seemingly the whole world watching. The disciples James and John had gone into a Samaritan village. James and John went into this village expecting to change the world. James and John experienced nothing but indifference. James and John left this village mad. Their sales pitch was shot down. James and John wanted “God to bring the thunder down from Heaven upon this village.” James and John wanted the Samaritan village “wiped out”. James and John weren’t in this moment acting like calm heroes of the Christian faith but rather like children throwing a temper tantrum only after a few more decades on Earth. James and John went to Jesus with their problems. James and John were hoping that Jesus would give a blessing to their anger and revenge. Jesus’ advice to these men was simple; Jesus suggested finding another village instead.
What’s going on in James and John’s life at this moment is this, they could recall the past; they were experiencing the present, but they could only imagine the future.
The sixteen-year-old boy dumped for the first time can believe that they stand no chance of meeting anyone ever again. The boy remembers the past, is experiencing the present, but can’t imagine the future. The person who loses their job in the present moment can’t imagine that their pain could be part of God’s master plan. They can only see their wallet getting squeezed tighter and tighter in the days ahead.
James and John couldn’t believe that God might send them into a Samaritan village to experience dead ends. James and John couldn’t believe that God is using this experience to set them up for something else. The Disciples would rather wallow in anger and revenge than hope.
Let me tell you a story about why we need to embrace hope. Eric Thomas grew up with a defeatist attitude because his father abandoned him. When Eric Thomas was sixteen, he got in a big fight at home and ran away. Thomas spent the next two years of his life living out on the streets of Detroit. Thomas spent nights figuring that the world would possibly be better off if he were dead. Thomas one day by circumstance encounters a preacher who tells him “That he has the gifts that could save lives.” Thomas decides every breath he had moving forward was going to be about saving lives like his own. Thomas goes back to school. Thomas gets a GED degree. Thomas then spends twelve years working towards a college degree. Thomas begins a youth program to help similarly troubled kids get their GEDs. Thomas becomes a preacher. Thomas gets hired by Michigan State University. Thomas obtains a Masters than a Doctorate.
What kept Eric Thomas going on those nights sleeping on the street, above all else was that he had a vision. Thomas was going to become the father that he never had for his future children. Thomas today is one of the most in-demand motivational speakers in the country.
How does Jesus seek to calm James and John in the midst of their anger about the present? Jesus encourages James and John to embrace a vision and look towards the future. “Bury the dead and move on.”
These words that Jesus gives almost seem cold, but here’s the purpose. Jesus wanted James and John from that day moving forward to focus their energy not on changing the past which is impossible, but rather on changing the lives of others which is possible. Jesus wanted James and John to know that the Christian faith is not about your past sins, your present reality, but the Christian faith is rather about all sorts of future resurrections.
The future does not promise to be easy. Jesus will soon face hostile religious leaders and crucifixion. James and John are about to have their whole lives turned upside down. James and John are about to start a religion that seems destined for death, yet forces from above will breathe life into their journey. What Jesus is seeking to do for James and John is preach a sermon about the power of faith. Faith is about clinging to a hope of “life” when nothing but death is seemingly all around you.
Faith is not an easy thing to grasp when you hear news of cancer diagnosis. The reason that we cling to faith is that life is that in life, we are more likely to face uncertainty than certainty. James and John left this Samaritan village today with nothing more than faith. James and John would soon be traveling all over the earth in frightening and uncertain circumstances. Faith is that whereas death will mark the past, Resurrection will mark the future.
So how can we tie this all together.
How do the stories of Lebron James, Eric Thomas, James, and John relate to our lives today?
Let me suggest something this morning. I want you to stop thinking of life regarding “buts.” Think of all the excuses of why God can’t change the world or your life or the lives of those around you.
I want to reflect a little bit this morning upon the life story of Ulysses S. Grant. In the early days of the Civil War, the South had the upper-hand. Union generals much like James and John dreaded failure and rejection. They were more concerned with avoiding risks then seizing opportunities. Southern General Robert E. Lee couldn’t compete with manpower or firepower, but Lee was able to act with tremendous conviction of leadership. Now what made Ulysses S. Grant up to the task of standing up to Robert E.Lee, it certainly wasn’t his resume. Grant lacked a high education or any unique talent for the art of war.
Grant had previously been kicked out of the military for drinking and brawling. Grant probably wouldn’t have been let back into the army, if the Union wasn’t so desperate for soldiers. What made Grant dynamic though as a leader is uncharted waters didn’t faze him. Grant knew that clinging to the status quo was a death sentence.
In our lesson for today, Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, a Jerseleum rife with uncertainty in the weeks ahead.
This last week, we have had heavy storms hit the Northland. Tornadoes, large hail, and damaging winds struck the land. Homes were damaged, and people lost their lives. People woke up the next morning searching for answers. In the storms of life, we need to cling to faith.
Let me close by invoking one of the more famous stories from within our Christian scriptures.
We always talk about the Prodigal Son, when the key character in the story is the Prodigal’s Father. It’s the Father who like Eric Thomas waits day after day by looking not towards the past, not embracing the reality of the present, the Prodigal’s Father is only looking towards the future. The Father believes that someday his son might come home, and he and his son will celebrate with the fattened calf together. I’m sure the Father had his nights of frustration. The Father had his nights of wondering whether it was time to give up hope. The Father though kept imagining the future of receiving his long-lost son into his arms. The Father’s belief that one day his whole world could change kept him going looking for his chance to proclaim grace, forgiveness, and mercy to his son who had run away.
Six years ago, a championship dream was thought to die as Lebron James left Cleveland. A couple of decades ago, life was believed to be ruined as Eric Thomas ran away from home. Nearly two thousand years ago, James and John walked into Samaritan village, failed and walked out angry seeing themselves as failed evangelists. James and John’s story though would soon change. They would encounter the Resurrected Lord. They would receive words that had the power to give “life” to the dead. They would travel to the ends of the Earth. They would experience “Resurrection” from all anger, all pain, and all despair. Who is to say that the same can’t happen to us Today! Amen
 The title is taken from an ESPN 30 for 30 that aired on May 14, 2016.
 Posnanski, Joe. “Titles and Tears.” NBC Sports Online. 20.Jun.2016. Web. Jun.21.2016.
 Posnanski, Joe. “Titles and Tears.”
 Luke 9:51-62.
 Luke 9:53
 Luke 9:54
 Luke 9:55.
 “Eric Thomas (motivational speaker). “Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July.2004. Web. Jun.21.2016.
 Rose, Lisa. “Mission Accomplished: The Truth of Eric Thomas.” Empower Magazine. 29.Feb.2012. Web. Jun.21.2016.
 Luke 9:59-60.
 Stanley, Andy. The Next Generation Leader: 5 essentials for those who will shape the future. Multnomah Publishers. Sisters, Oregon. 2013.Print. P.87-88.
 Stanley, Andy. The Next Generation Leader: 5 essentials for those who will shape the future. P.88.
First Lesson: 1 Kings 19: 1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
Responsive Reading: Psalm 42 & 43
Second Lesson: Galatians 3: 23-29
Gospel Lesson: Luke 8: 26-39
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”- Galatians 3:28
When I first moved here 4 ½ years ago, I was told that there was something I needed to understand “Two Harbors is a rail town and Silver Bay is a mining town”. I was told this was why these towns have difficulty working together and how this divide will exist even beyond the rest of my life.
While it took me a few years to understand the difference between a rail town and a mining town, such divisions are nothing new under the sun. Growing up in Lindstrom, I never remember a time when Dad wasn’t on the City Council. He is currently serving his sixth two-year term as mayor. Now growing up, the town that I never heard anything positive about was “Chisago City” which sits about three miles west on Highway 8. Lindstrom has the Karl and Kristina Oskar statue. Chisago City has a tribute to The Emigrants author Vilhelm Moberg. Lindstrom has the Coffee Pot water tower. Chisago City has the Stairway to Heaven which I’ve heard Lindstrom residents deride as “The stairway to nowhere.” When they merged Chi-Hi (Lindstrom and Center City) and Chisago City into Chisago Lakes High School in 1970, there was controversy with people saying that it could never work.
Earlier this spring, a middle school student was supposed to do a history project and made Grandma the subject. Grandma’s nursing home is in Chisago City because there is no nursing home in Lindstrom. The student made a nice project complete with pictures of her and Grandma; there was just one problem the project said that Grandma lived her life in Chisago City.”
Every time, that I’m in Grandma’s room visiting her, whenever she turns her eyes to the project, Grandma reacts! Grandma will always tell me of her anger towards Chisago City no matter how many times I’ve heard it before and how she should the throw the “stupid” project in the trash. Grandma though is not unique in her thinking on this issue though.
People tend to go through life thinking by their tribes (Vikings versus Packers, Lutherans versus Catholics, Republicans versus Democrats, Lindstrom’s Swedes versus Chisago City’s Swedes, Mariners versus Agates).
Let me give an example of how ingrained our tribes are for us. Some years ago there was an experiment conducted by psychologists within the United Kingdom. They recruited fans of the Manchester United soccer club for this study. Here is how the experiment went down. The physiologists gathered the soccer fans and had them write essays about how much they loved their favorite team. They would then escort these fans outside to another building where the soccer fans saw a runner slip on a grass bank, where the runner fell down holding his ankle and screaming in pain. Here’s where the experiment gets interesting. What percent of Manchester United fans helped the injured runner? If the runner was wearing a Manchester United t-shirt 92% of fans helped the runner and if the runner was wearing a t-shirt of Manchester’s rival Liverpool FC only 30% help.
So this story leads us to our lesson for today from Galatians 3. Paul had heard things like I’ve heard about Two Harbors or Chisago City. Paul was encountering people with loyalty to their team that put the Manchester United fans to shame. The division in Paul’s case were Jews versus Greeks and slaves versus free.
Paul was writing a letter to a church divided in Galatia. Let me give you the backstory for the Galatians on this day. Paul started the Church in Galatia. The Church was made up of people from every stripe of life. The founders of the Galatian church are very strict Jews the kind that circumcise on the eighth day, ate all the right Jewish foods and quoted Moses’s words like people quote Baseball stats.
For many people this would have been the perfect church, Paul though thought differently. Paul then started bringing in Pagans. People that ate whatever they wanted to eat, people who lived however they wanted to live. For Gentile pagans being circumcised at thirty-five didn’t hold a lot of appeal nor did giving up bacon cheeseburgers. The divide Paul was facing went beyond what rules to observe. Paul had slaves and slave owners within the church. Paul was bringing in men and women in a culture that often divided them into categories of inequality. Trying to sort out all these factions was not going to be easy nor was it going to be smooth.
Paul wanted to live with this tension, though. Paul thought Viking and Packer fans could stand being in the same room during football season or the equivalent in 1st century Galatia. The only problem was Paul left to start other churches. Other leaders take over. These other leaders though don’t share Paul’s ideas. They wanted those new Gentile converts in Galatia to a play copy-cat. “Be like Abraham,” “Be like Moses,” “Be like Me” rather than “Believe in Christ Crucified.”
Paul hears about what’s going on in the Galatian church and writes his letter in response. Paul’s passion for seeing the world differently we can find in his life story. Paul had previously viewed the world the way that the other Jews had. Paul loved tradition and he loved the laws that governed it. The Road to Damascus though turned Paul’s world upside down regarding “How the Kingdom of God would work?”
One of Paul’s lesser known books is called Philemon. In Philemon, Paul writes to Philemon urging him to accept his runaway slave Onesimus not in the former distinction of slave or free. Paul rather pleaded with Philemon to take his runaway slave as a brother in Christ. Paul wanted his fellow believers to see others not as they are, but rather as what they shall be. Paul wanted to preach that no matter how much you disagree with the Pagans ways both currently and formerly that “No one is outside the possibility of grace, hope, or forgiveness.”
What do Paul’s words have to say to us today? The big news shooting this week was the shooting in Orlando. The reactions to it were predictable depending on which tribe people belonged to: gun-control, immigration, or gay marriage, Trump or Clinton, Muslim or Christian. The problem with the discussions on the news is none of the discussion centered upon the reality of evil. No one after Orlando wanted to talk about the realities of sin, death, and the power of the devil. I do not believe that men like Omar Mateen act in ways they do with such little regard for human life if they are not being led by Satan to act the way that they act. It is Satan who makes us see the world with violence being the only way out. It is Satan who breeds hate in those different from us. What the tragedy in Orlando reminds us is that Satan glorifies lies and conceals the truth. People often wonder is there such a place as Hell? I believe in Hell because I believe in the words of the Book of Revelation that one day death and Satan will be tossed into the lake of fire. Those who can’t see the light will remain in darkness. People inevitability see the world in our image. What we always need to remember is that we are full of sin, full of pride, and our way of looking at the world is flat our wrong, this is why we look towards the cross! What Orlando should remind us of is our brokenness as a people. We are not God! In the words of Craig Koester as “We must continually draw the distinction between what God has done for us and what other people do.?”. On this day, we do maintain hope because we are children of all stripes of an all-loving God.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”-Galatians 3:28
What Paul saw in Galatia was an opportunity to expand his tribe. Paul’s passion for the Gospel was strong because it stood in such sharp contrast to his previous way of looking at the world. Paul saw his tribe as way broader than before. Paul wanted his fellow Christians to think the same way. Paul believed that a focus on what brought them together in Christ Jesus could begin to soothe the origin of their divisions.
Back to the earlier experiment that I cited about the Manchester United Soccer fans. The psychologists later conducted the experiment again, only this time with a slight twist. The psychologists before encountering the injured runner had the soccer fans write another essay. This essay wasn’t about why they loved Manchester United, but rather why they loved soccer. What do you suppose happened after they wrote an essay about what they had in common with fellow soccer fans. In the second version of the experiment, Manchester United fans helped 80% of their own, but 70% of fans of their biggest rival Liverpool F.C.
Do not see others for their differences; rather see others for what they might bring to the body of Christ.
“The Kingdom of God is like a new net thrown into the sea that gathers in fish of every kind.”-Matthew 13:47.
The final story, a few weeks ago, I was at the Section 7A track meet in Esko. The last Mariner runner to try to qualify for state in the Girls 200 Meter was Jocey Russell. Jocey was a softball player who was so fast that they gave her a chance on the track team. Jocey was fast, but had only attended four track practices all year. Jocey would have been a relatively unlikely state qualifier. The favorite for the event was Jessie Junneman from Two Harbors. Junneman wins the race. Jocey though ran fast on this day. Jocey ends up coming in second in a photo-finish for a spot at state. Jocey’s biggest support giving her a hug at the end of the race and on the medal stand is Jessie Junneman, the pride of the Agates. It was Two Harbors giving our kids access to their track and functional hurdles so Silver Bay could send two kids (Gunnar and Alexxa) to State in the hurdles. Sitting in the Silver Bay section last Friday down at the state meet, Mariners were cheering for Agates like they were their own.
I’ll admit that it took me a minute to wrap my head around this as someone you could never cheer for the Green Bay Packers unless it benefited the Minnesota Vikings.
The Gospel can make possible what was previously thought to be impossible. Paul’s message to the church in Galatia was that your former divisions will not remain forever. The power of the cross stands to conquer what ultimately separates us as a people. Walls shall soon come a crumbling down!
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”-Galatians 3:28.”
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take. Penguin Books. New York. 2013. Print. P.226.
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take. P.226.
 Galatians 3:23-29.
 Koester, Craig. “Opportunity to Do Good: The Letter to the Galatians.” Word and World. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 2.Sept.1989. Web. Jun. 15.2016.
 Revelation 20:13-14.
 Koester, Craig. “Opportunity to Do Good: The Letter to the Galatians.”
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take. P.226.
First Lesson: 1 Kings 21: 1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
Responsive Reading: Psalm 5: 1-8
Second Lesson: Galatians 2: 15-21
Gospel Lesson: Luke 7: 36 - 8:3
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story about with story about Grandma. Grandma was one-time hosting a dinner party. Grandma put out her best napkins, finest china, and the sterling silver. Grandma then invites the guests to gather around the table. Everyone wondered what Grandma was going to serve? Grandma proceeds to place boxes of Girl Scout cookies on everyone’s plate. People were unsure how to react. The answer to what would be the main course on this day people would soon receive as Grandma proceeded to sit down and open up her box of cookies. Now what I love about Grandma is I know very few people who would ever think of doing what she did here. Grandma always keeps people guessing. Grandma refuses to look at the world like other people look at the world. What I want to talk about today is why our judgments of “How the world should work?” often need to be abandoned especially when it comes to forgiveness.
Many of us know the story of a woman that I’ll call Sarah that lived in a town in Samaria called Sychar. Sarah had been married five times before and was now living with another guy. Sarah was one day out fetching water when she encountered Jesus. Sarah and Jesus meeting each other would have been a scandal on three different levels. 1. Jesus was going to be talking to a woman that wasn’t his wife. Such a form of outreach would have been unheard of for a religious leader within Jesus’ day. 2. Sarah was a Samaritan, Samaritans and Jews were long-standing rivals. Samaritans were considered to be “sell-outs” or “phony” Jews on account of their marriages to a foreign woman and worship of foreign gods. 3. Besides being a Samaritan, Sarah had an extremely questionable reputation besides this. There would have been no reason other than grace for Jesus to interact with Sarah from Sychar. Sarah’s past didn’t stop Jesus from offering her “living water” which sprung forth from the spring of forgiveness. We know this story of Sarah. But maybe what we haven’t considered is what happened to Sarah after she encountered Jesus. Did Sarah backslide in her relationships and her faith? Did Sarah maybe get married a few more times? How did people respond to Sarah after she encountered Jesus?
What I want to do this morning is tell you the story of a woman who very well could be Sarah. I want to tell you the story of a lady who had nowhere to turn in the world until she encountered Jesus. A woman who was so moved by her previous encounter with Jesus that she had to see him again. She would even go so far into break into a dinner party uninvited to see him. I want to tell you the story of the sequel to the woman at the well in Sychar.
Simon was a successful and serious man. Simon never missed a Sabbath day at the synagogue. Simon was generous towards others with his income. Simon’s language was always wholesome. Simon was never a drunkard. Simon was a good and faithful husband. Even those who knew Simon best couldn’t say anything bad about him. Simon had heard about Jesus and wanted to invite him over to dinner. Simon’s invitations because of his place in the community where always accepted. Sure, Jesus was becoming quite well-known as he joined Simon for dinner. Word had been spreading about him raising The Widow of Nain’s son throughout the countryside.
As Jesus walked into Simon’s house, though, he noticed something about Simon’s greeting. Simon was friendly, but Simon was cold. Simon offered no sort of embrace or touch towards Jesus. Simon was failing to make eye-contact. Simon didn’t offer Jesus any traditional amenities given to guests such as a basin to wash his feet or oil to wash his hands. Simon was acting like he was the one doing Jesus a favor by inviting him over for dinner.
On the other side of town was a woman like Sarah from Sychar. The woman with the questionable past heard that Jesus was eating at Simon’s house. She was impulsive and decided that she had to see Jesus right away to “thank him” for what he had previously done for her. She like Grandma didn’t tend to do things though the way that ordinary people do things. She wasn’t going to wait for the next day. She wasn’t going not to make a dramatic scene. She was going to break into Simon’s house uninvited. She was going to fall at Jesus’ feet. She was going to pour ointment upon these feet, and she was going to dry these feet with her hair. Simon would watch this whole scene in shock.
Simon would never dare to have a woman like Sarah from Sychar in his house. Simon was embarrassed in front of his friends. Simon looked at this woman and saw a mess. Her wardrobe was showing off in Simon’s mind too much skin. Simon looked at this woman’s behavior and deemed her to be nothing but a “sinner” with criminal tendencies.
Jesus had to say something now to Simon. Was Simon wrong in his assessment of the woman like Sarah from Sychar? No, but there was more to this story then Simon was considering.
Jesus started talking about money. Jesus talked about money quite a bit because he knew people like successful Simon would understand it.
A certain creditor had two debtors, one owed five hundred days wages, and the other fifty days wages. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now, which of them will love him more?”
The whole scene in our story from earlier begins to make sense finally with Simon being so cold to Jesus and the woman like Sarah from Sychar being so warm. Simon understood the meaning of Jesus’ words regarding the depths of forgiveness.
Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he, who is forgiven little, loves little.
And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
You see forgiveness is not conditional; forgiveness is final. We can’t grasp the unconditional because everything else in the world is seemingly conditional. The same terms for Simon and Sarah from Sychar, it just doesn’t make any sense.
Frank Lloyd Wright is considered to be the greatest American architect ever. What you might not know about Wright is his career contains more twists and turns than you could imagine for someone of his status. From the years of 1924-1933, Wright’s career fell apart. Wright was unemployed after having been at the top of his profession. The only person that would hire him was his cousin. Wright was struggling to buy groceries. What happened was Wright took advantage of everyone he came across, because he believed that he was so talented that he could. In the year 1932, Wright decided to undertake a complete change in philosophy as Wright took in more apprentices to assist him. After Wright had come to terms with his weakness, his career began to turn as he begins to work with others in designing the Fallingwater house which is considered the greatest triumph in American Architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright was in many ways like Simon. Lloyd Wright couldn’t shake from his head that he was better than those around him by his accomplishments. The biggest problem with Lloyd Wright’s thinking though is pride ultimately does cometh before the fall. Falls are inevitable. What forgiveness says to us though is there can be a way forward.
When Thomas Edison was working on the light bulb, there is a story that you might not know. The light bulb in its initials stages was such a complex project that it took a team of men twenty-four hours to put it together. When the first working version got completed, Edison handed it to a young boy helper to take it up the stairs. The helper had spent hours watching the team work together and feared to let Edison down. As the helper walks up the steps, his worst possible scenario becomes reality. He dropped the light bulb, and it broke upon the floor. Edison’s team has to start the process over again for another twenty-four hours. What’s interesting though about the story is not that the light bulb broke, it’s rather “Who do you suppose Edison had carry the bulb up the steps next time?” Who was more grateful either the one who owed five hundred days wages or the one who owed fifty days wages? Who was more grateful Sarah from Sychar or Simon?
You see forgiveness truly does have the power to change the world. In 2012, Chandler Gerber was driving down a remote Indiana Highway on the way to work. Gerber figured that he was safe to text his wife. Gerber didn’t see the Amish buggy on the road ahead of him causing a crash at 60 mph. The scene was bad: the crash destroys the buggy, the horse was injured, and a three-year-old and a five-year-old child were dead. Weeks after the accident Gerber received a letter from the deceased children’s parents which I read this morning:
Trusting in God's ways, how does this find you? Hope all in good health and in good cheer. Around here we're all on the go and trying to make the best we can. I always wonder if we take enough time with our children. Wishing you the best with your little one and the unknown future. I think of you often. Keep looking up. God is always there.
Martin and Mary Swartz.
For many people such a response is unfathomable. Who did Chandler Gerber think that he was? How ignorant are Martin and Mary Swartz? The thing though is we often get forgiveness wrong. We too often believe forgiveness as being a form of weakness. If Simon compared himself to Sarah from Sychar, then he has to admit that he’s just as messed up as she is. Forgiveness though is not about weakness; forgiveness is rather about hope and promise. Forgiveness is about extending a claim that the past does not have absolute power over your life. Once Sarah from Sychar encounters Jesus, her life was never going to be the same again because Jesus sought to take away the past’s power. Forgiveness says the world will not remain full of poison and despair forever. Forgiveness ultimately points us towards the cross. Forgiveness gives life to the dead. A woman at the well in Sychar was spiritually dead; Jesus gave unto her living water. Simon couldn’t make sense of this until Jesus offered him that same water too. Amen
 Church Tradition has never identified the identity of the “sinful woman” from Luke 7. Common tradition has identified her with Mary Magdalene. Less common tradition associates this woman with the woman taken in adultery from John 8. My version of the story is more creative tying this woman in with the Sychar woman.
 Text study courtesy of Markquart, Ed. “Anointing of Jesus’ Feet with Oil: Gospel Analysis.” Sermons from Seattle. Pentecost 3C. Web. June.7.2016.
 Markquart, Ed. “Anointing of Jesus’ Feet with Oil: Gospel Analysis.”
 Luke 7:41-42
 Luke 7:48
 Luke 7:50
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take. Penguin Books. New York. 2013. Print. P.67-72.
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take.
 Zingale, Tim. “are forgiven”. Sermon Central. 11. June.2007. Web. June. 7.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “are forgiven”.
 Pomeroy, Ross. “The Power of Forgiveness.” Real Clear Science:The Newton Blog. 27. Aug.2013. Web. June.7.2016.
 This letter was read in the You Tube video entitled “From One Second to the Next” by Werner Herzog placed online on Aug.7.2013.
 Pomeroy, Ross. “The Power of Forgiveness.”
 Pomeroy, Ross. “The Power of Forgiveness.”
First Lesson: 1 Kings 17: 8-16, (17-24)
Responsive Reading: Psalm 146
Second Lesson: Galatians 1: 11-24
Gospel Lesson: Luke 7: 11-17
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Luke 7:11- I want to tell you this morning the story of a woman that I’ll call Joanna who lived in a town called Nain. Joanna’s life was nothing special. She lived in a conventional home of stone and mud-brick. She spent her days like any other woman around: grinding wheat, fetching water, cooking meals, and cleaning clothes. During the Galilean harvest, Joanna would help gather olives. One thing you should know about Joanna is that a few years ago, she had become a widow. Joanna’s husband’s was a good and kind man who she missed every day. The thing about death though is it seems to be so certain that life has to go on as normal. Joanna’s life was now in the care of her son that we will call Jonathan. Jonathan was Joanna’s only son. Joanna was unable to conceive any additional children. Another thing that you need to know about Joanna is that her entire existence was dependent on being cared for by the men in her family. While this might not make much sense today, this was the reality of the world in which Joanna lived. Women in Joanna’s day were not able to get jobs as a way to pay the bills nor were they able to inherit the land. Joanna never saw this as a problem because she had her young strapping son taking care of her. Everything seemed to be going well until one day. Jonathan grew ill, at first, it appeared to be nothing. Jonathan’s condition kept growing worse until he breathed his last breath. Joanna screamed out at agony upon witnessing Jonathan’s death. Joanna was going to be forced to bury her own child. Joanna was going to be living every parent’s worst nightmare!
Luke 7:12- Jonathan’s funeral procession took place the very next day. Such a practice was the Jewish custom. Jews from all over Nain came to grieve Joanna’s loss. People were sad not because they knew Joanna real well. Joanna was like a movie character who even though you don’t know them, you weep for their circumstances. Joanna was the woman who had a tornado destroy her home, only to have no insurance to rebuild it. So Jonathan’s funeral procession began to march away from the city gate to bury Jonathan. At the same time, Joanna began to walk away from Nain, a large crowd that appeared to be at least a dozen people is approaching the city. The funeral procession soon meets the traveling party. Joanna knew nothing about who was in this crowd. Both groups exchange eye-contact but no answers appear to be forthcoming.
Luke 7:13- A man steps from out of the crowd approaching Joanna. The man didn’t look out of the ordinary. Joanna had no idea why this man would approach her. There would seem to be no reason for this man to care especially about the fate of Jonathan. This man begins to speak “ Do not weep.” Who is this guy, Joanna wondered? How can I not weep, I am alone, and I will live the rest of my life as a charity case. These words initially struck Joanna as “insensitive” or “thoughtless.” The man from the crowd though had compassion upon Joanna. You see compassion is a funny thing. Compassion is not merely issuing beautiful words of comfort. Compassion is action when the action doesn’t benefit you in any way, shape, or form. Compassion is a Samatrian man helping his natural enemy who lies beaten on the side of the road. The man from the crowd for his act of compassion was going to approach Jonathan’s body.
Luke 7:14- I should tell you a little bit more about this man and the funeral scene. Jonathan did not lay in a box or a coffin like they do today. Instead, Jonathan was being carried out in the open for the entire world to see. The man from the crowd does something shocking and unexpected as the people look on. The man from the crowd touches Jonathan’s body. The man from the crowd’s touch was shocking and in violation of Jewish customs. “Whoever touches the body of a dead person shall be unclean for seven days,” says the Book of Numbers.  The man from the crowd though expressed a comfort level in the presence of death like no one else that Joanna had seen before. The Rabbis would never dare do such a thing as the man from the crowd did. The man from the crowd touched death. The man from the crowd reached to feel death’s reality. The man from the crowd attempted to bring the dead back to life. “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
People wondered upon hearing these words, who was the man from the crowd to be able to demand such things. Tension began to build within the group, wondering what might happen next as soon as they hear these words. Hundreds of people were now quiet enough that you could hear a pin drop. Honestly, people weren’t expecting much. Death was the team losing 44-0 with two minutes left on the clock. No amount of motivational speeches would turn around a hopeless situation.
Luke 7:15- Yet then it happened! Imagine the most shocking thing that you have seen in your life and multiply it by eternity. It was the man from the crowd’s touch and words that Jonathan rose back up to life like nothing was even wrong in the first place. Jonathan leaped off the funeral bier into Joanna’s embrace. The crowd cheered like the Twins had just won the World Series! Exuberance was all around! There was still an important question left to answer. Why would the man from the crowd do such a thing? You see the man from the crowd had made a habit in his life of seeking to reach those who were powerless and felt invisible. Later in his life, he would encounter a short man named Zacchaeus who was the least popular man in town. The man from the crowd would even dare step into Zacchaeus’ home regardless of what anyone else thought about it. Why Joanna? Why Jonathan? No real reason at all. Joanna never asks for Resurrection. No one would cite Jonathan as a model of faith. Joanna doesn’t know the man from the crowd’s name. By the way, his name was Jesus, in case you were curious. The man from the crowd sought to bestow grace on this day to both Joanna and Jonathan. People will define grace all sorts of different ways. I like to describe grace as what God does for us. Grace is a healing of the obstacles of sin and death that we cannot overcome on our own. Grace would come down from heaven to earth in an even more dramatic fashion later though within the man from the crowd’s life.
Luke 7:16- The crowd was amazed at what they had seen. “A great prophet has arisen among us.” There had been great prophets who performed miracles before. Moses parted the Red Sea. Elijah had called down fire from heaven. Both Elijah and Elisha had raised widow’s sons from the dead. What had happened on this day though was different. The man from the crowd doesn’t pray to God to act. The man from the crowd invoked God by himself. It was almost as if this ordinary looking man from the crowd was God or something like that. The man from the crowd would soon do what neither Moses, Elijah, or Elisha had done before him. The man from the crowd would soon overcome the grave on his own. He would walk out of his only tomb like nothing was wrong in the first place just like in the story of Joanna and Jonathan. “God has truly come to help his people.”
Luke 7:17- Word of this miracle in Nain began to spread throughout all the land. Even John the Baptist heard this story as he sat in prison. The point of the story of Joanna, Jonathan, and the man from the crowd is this. Brokenness is in the world around us. There is no greater sign of this brokenness than death. What we see today in the story of Joanna and Jonathan is brokenness is not God’s intention for humanity. God does not will cancer! God does not will poverty! God does not will suffering! The main point of our story is that there will be times in our life when we feel like Joanna. We will lose people that we dearly love. We will have moments where we long for the smallest signs of hope. We will wish that there is a prophet that comes out of the crowd to touch the dead and bring them back to life. What our story reminds us is that Resurrection can happen at any moment. The man from the crowd can bring hope in the midst of your great brokenness. The following story is our Gospel lesson of Jesus healing the Widow of Nain’s Son. Amen
 Luke 10:25-37.
 Numbers 19:11
 Luke 19:1-10
 Buchanan, Rev. Dr. Kimberleigh. “ From Procession to Party.”. Day 1. 10. June.2007. Web. May.30.2016.
 Exodus 14:21
 1 Kings 18:38
 1 Kings 17:22, 2 Kings 4:34
 Zingale, Tim. “Jesus’ Loving Heart”. Sermon Central. June 2007. Web. May.30.2016.
 Romans 6:23.
 Zingale, Tim. “Jesus’ Loving Heart”
 Lind Hogan, Lucy. “Commentary on Luke 7:11-17”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, Minnesota. 05.June.2016. Web. May.29.2016.
 Luke 7:11-17.
First Lesson: 1 Kings 18: 20-21, (22-29), 30-39
Responsive Reading: Psalm 96
Second Lesson: Galatians 1: 1-12
Gospel Lesson: Luke 7: 1-10
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“It takes nothing to join the crowd. It takes everything to stand alone.”- Hans F Hansen
Let me begin by telling the story of Albert Einstein before E=MC squared. When Albert Einstein was growing up, his parents feared that he had a learning disability.
Einstein didn’t speak until he was three years old. He didn’t speak fluently for more than several years after this. Einstein couldn’t read until the age of 7. Einstein had teachers describe him as “slow”. Einstein in school was considered to be nothing but a foolish day dreamer. I’m sure other kids called Einstein “stupid” and probably bullied him. Einstein was socially awkward. He would go out of his way to avoid other children. Einstein dreaded human touch. Einstein today would probably be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. When Albert Einstein took a test to get into secondary school, he failed. When Einstein applied to a Ph.D. program at Bern, he got an answer of “no”. Albert Einstein never got to completely determine the circumstances of his life, yet this would not deter him.
Albert Einstein was the definition of different and yet it made all the difference in his life. No one ever changes the world by trying to be average or ordinary in as many areas as possible. No one ever changes the world trying to copycat everyone else.
In 1841 Scottish journalist Charles Mackay published “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.” One of the examples that Mackay cites about the madness of crowds has to do with European Witch Trials in the 16th and 17th century. What would happen is that something bad would happen to someone, and their enemies would then be declared to be a “witch.” To be declared a witch in these days would be the equivalent of being declared a “bigot” or “racist” in our day. So as soon as someone would hurl the witch accusation, people would stay silent fearing to be associated with witches.
The only problem with all this was is that no one was proven to be a witch, yet thousands of people would die because of the mere accusation. Peer pressure is a powerful force whether you’re a four year old or one-hundred and four years old.
There are potential dangers in standing alone. Such risks bring us to the story of Elijah for today. Elijah stood alone. Elijah was the guy walking into Lambeau field dressed from head to toe in Vikings gear.
Elijah’s story takes place during the reign of a wicked king named Ahab. The Scriptures describe Ahab as doing more to provoke the Lord’s anger than all other kings before him. Ahab was married to a woman named Jezebel who was pulling the strings. Jezebel came from the land of Phoenicia and with Jezebel’s reign came the worship of Phoenician gods like Baal. Wanting to play it safe by following Israel’s king and queen, the people soon began to worship Baal rather than God.
Baal was a half-man plus half-bull deity. Baal worship included orgies and child sacrifices. Worshiping Baal was thought to bring rain to the Earth. People loved worshipping Baal because Baal promised sex and money. Baal worship revolved around the cycles of nature necessary for prosperity and survival. People followed Baal to receive lots of grain along with lots of children. So Jezebel and Ahab built a temple so that the people may worship Baal.
Since people hadn’t heard from the God of Israel for a while, they assumed that he was staying silent. Baal worship though quickly began to disappoint. Three years pass, no food, or no rain. Great suffering had come upon the land of Israel.
So God tells Elijah to approach Ahab with an offer to intervene. Ahab gets mad at Elijah’s presence. How dare Elijah stand apart the crowd? Troublemakers stand apart from the crowd.
Ahab’s anger would not deter Elijah. Elijah wants to get Ahab to see he’s wrong. Elijah doesn’t care if he’s the only person who thinks this way. So Elijah gives Ahab a very simple proposition. “Why don’t you invite 450 priests of Baal along with 400 priests of Baal’s female counterpart Asherah” to Mount Carmel. 850 to 1. .
The people of Israel were wavering at this time between who to follow between the prosperity-promising Baal or the seemingly silent God of Israel.
So Elijah sets forth a challenge in the simplest of terms for Ahab’s Kingdom “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him”- 1 Kings 18:21.
The challenge at Mount Carmel was going to settle not which God was better, but rather which God was true.
To resolve this issue, Elijah proposes a test. Elijah and the Prophets of Baal would set up their altars with bull sacrifices to burn. But they would set fire to neither offering. Instead, Elijah and the 850 prophets would try to invoke their Gods to act. Whoever set fire to the offerings first was going to win the duel. Everyone agreed, and the test began.
So Elijah told the Prophets of Baal to first. Baal’s prophets start to dance and jumping around the altar trying to compel Baal to act. Morning passes, afternoon passes, Elijah tells them to yell louder, and louder. Baal’s prophets yell louder then begin cutting themselves with knives and swords until blood gushes out. Evening comes with no response.
So now it’s Elijah’s turn. Elijah sets up his Altar. Elijah does something different, though; Elijah dumps water over the wood upon it. Elijah dumped three gallons of water making the wood soaked. Elijah wanted to prove to everyone that if the fire came down, it would be no accident. Elijah was going to bring fire down from heaven.
When the spotlight shines on Elijah, he prays a very simple prayer.
“ O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.”-1 Kings 18:36-37.
As soon as Elijah’s prayer is over, fire came down from heaven! Those watching this act, fell upon their knees begging for God’s mercy and grace.
What can we make of Elijah’s story on this day? Elijah stood alone against all the prevailing wisdom in Israel. It was easy for people to believe in the lure of Baal worship as they felt that God wasn’t coming through for them in the years beforehand.
All Elijah had to go on as he went to the top of Mount Carmel was faith. Elijah’s situation was no different than his ancestor Abraham who went up on a mountain carrying his only son “Isaac” guided by the belief that “Lord shall provide”. If God hadn’t acted in Elijah’s case, religious faith might have become extinct within the nation of Israel. Elijah would have been executed like so many prophets that went before him. The Lord did provide as in the case of Elijah.
When Elijah attempted to summon fire from heaven, the crowds thought such a thing was impossible. Who was Elijah they say?
The whole situation between Elijah and the Prophets of Baal highlights a problem with how people often look at the world. People in Elijah’s day saw the struggles of the present. Elijah saw these struggles himself as he spent a lot of his life on the run from Ahab and Jezebel. People knew pain! People knew trouble! People’s faith would be challenged more and more every single day as they longed for prosperity. Elijah’s God wasn’t getting the job done to other people’s satisfaction. So pretty soon the Snake Oil salesman promoting Baal were getting rich. Baal worship made the past a problem of approach. If only “we” apply different techniques to life then “we” will achieve unlimited success in this life. Human nature is such that it will embrace any quick and easy solutions . Faith demands something different though!
I read a book a few weeks ago by author Angela Duckworth titled Grit. Duckworth defines “Grit” as one’s perseverance in achieving long-term vision in the midst of temporary hardship. Duckworth tells the story of Cody Coleman . When Coleman was growing up, his mom was declared “insane”, his father was in prison. Coleman’s grandmother attempted to raise him, but her body and mind was not up to the task. Coleman was one of the poorest kids at one of the poorest schools in the state. Cody Coleman was living life as nothing special: he wasn’t good at sports, he was in remedial English class, and was at best an average math-student. If Cody Coleman followed his peers who knows what path his life would have taken. Coleman’s life change when his brothers proclaim to him the “power of faith”. Coleman stopped looking at the past as defining him, but rather looked towards the future. Coleman by his junior year of high school was earning straight A’s. Coleman eventually gets accepted into MIT graduating with a near-perfect GPA.
Cody Coleman’s outlook on life was like Elijah’s. The past can only take as much power from us as we’re willing to give to it. There were plenty of days in Elijah’s life where he could have easily given up. Elijah could have thrown in the towel. Elijah could have said “I am too old for the struggle.” Yet, Elijah believed in the power of the future. Elijah believed that if he kept embracing the faith to which he clung his whole life that his God would eventually deliver. Elijah believed that Resurrection could indeed come to the Earth. Elijah believed that God indeed could deliver fire from heaven.
Our great hope for today is this. Our God promises to remain alongside you when everything else in the world seems to be against you. When your faith might be nearing its breaking point, our God will deliver. Just remember that crowds aren’t always right. The crowds thought Albert Einstein was too stupid to amount to anything. The crowds thought Cody Coleman was destined to end up in jail. These same masses don’t believe that Our God can indeed bring down fire from Heaven! Amen
 Kultirecity.org.“All Children have potential regardless of their diagnoses.” Facebook. 16.May.2016. Web. May.16.2016. taken from Mateusz M Facebook page.
 Kultirecity.org. “All Children have potential regardless of their diagnoses.”
 Kultirecity.org. “All Children have potential regardless of their diagnoses.”
 “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July.2004. Web. May. 17.2016.
 1 Kings 16:33
 1 Kings 18:1
 1 Kings 18:19
 1 Kings 18:24.
 1 Kings 18:26-29.
 1 Kings 18:30-35.
 1 Kings 18:39-39.
 Genesis 22:14.
 Inspiration for this section comes from Mateusz. M. “Vision”. You Tube. 26.Oct.2013. Web. May.18.2013. Section comes from Eric Thomas running from 1:00 to 3:25.
 Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Scribner Publishing. New York City. 2016. Print. P.220-221.
 Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
First Lesson: Acts 2: 1-21
Responsive Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b
Second Lesson: Romans 8: 14-17
Gospel Lesson: John 14: 8-17, (25-27)
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
One of the big recent news stories in England and most of Europe has been the Leicester City Soccer team. Leicester City recently won the Premier League title. Leicester City’s win was unexpected. The Premier League has a system where bad teams can get demoted to lower leagues. Leicester City was so bad in 2004 that they were out of the Premier League for ten years. Before this season started Leicester City’s odds were five-thousand to one among gambling authorities in Britain, similar bets paying off at five-thousand to one: are Elvis Presley being found alive, someone finding the Abominable Snowman or Christmas being the warmest day of the year in England. Leicester City despite having nothing going for them heading into the season, despite their opponents having way more money, ended up the Premier League Champions in what some are calling the greatest underdog story in the history of sports.
There is something about great underdog stories that capture the imagination. One of my favorite stories is that of Lysander Spooner. Spooner in the 1840’s though U.S. Post Office Rates were too high. Spooner believed that the Government was abusing its privileges. Spooner was not content to just sit around talking with no intention to act. Spooner had no background in the mail; he was merely a lawyer and not a very good one. Spooner decided that he was going to take on the behemoth of the U.S. Government. Spooner decided to open his company called “The American Letter Mail Company.” Whereas the Government was charging twelve cents for Stamps, Spooner would charge six cents. Spooner’s business was quickly a hit! Spooner sets up offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. The U.S Government starts to perceive Spooner as a serious threat, so they take him to court. Legal fees along with congressional action begin to cause Spooner’s business to crumble. When Spooner closed shop in 1851, he had forced the U.S. Post Office down to three cents a stamp from twelve cents several years earlier.
What I want people to remember is underdogs can affect significant change in the world around them.
I want to tell another underdog story on this day. The story centers on Jesus’ disciples. The Disciples after Jesus’ Crucifixion go into hiding. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times because he fears how the crowds might respond to him. The Disciples sit around in the upper room waiting for something to happen. All the Disciples had to go off of was faith that God might come through. Our lesson for today has God finally coming back. The wind starts to blow almost like the heavens were roaring. Fire starts to burn upon the tongues of the Disciples. All we know is that whatever was happening quickly started getting all sorts of attention. Pretty soon people from all over town start to show up. Jews living in Jerusalem from all over the Earth come to see what God is up to on this day. Peter takes the pulpit and begins to preach. Peter’s last experience being called on to speak didn’t go so well. Once Peter gets going, he is so good that three-thousand people from all over the Earth become followers of Jesus on this day.
Pentecost was beyond a five-thousand to one shot coming to fruition in real life. We know this story about Pentecost, yet what I want to do today is reflect upon its meaning for our lives and our congregation.
We might wish that it is easy for us as it seems to be for the Disciples on this day. Three-thousands convert after one great sermon. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a church that was so effective?
As you hear this Pentecost story, consider how unlikely a story that the birth of the Christian church is? The Disciples begin with eleven men then they add Mathias. The Disciples were walking into a world where everyone seemed to be against them. The prominent religious authorities had just put their leader to death. The political authorities tended to view their emperors as gods, not dead guys. The Disciples had recently lost their great teacher. The Disciples had no concrete proof or evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. They only had their experiences. The Disciples had experienced Christ being alive. The Disciples had encountered forgiveness within their broken lives. Now the Disciples are being asked to preach to take their five-thousand to one shot on the day of Pentecost.
Perhaps what Pentecost reminds us is that what happened on that day could happen within our day.
I was reading a book last week written by Adam Grant on original thinkers and how they move the world. Grant pointed out how we often get the personal characteristics of great change agents wrong. We assume that great change agents are super-smart, super-dynamic, super-confident individuals who get by in life with transcendent talents and abilities. As Grant points out, such beliefs would be wrong, as great change agents have fear, they have doubt, and they have anxiety.
There is truth that the greatest evangelists out there are not those shouting on the street proclaiming the end is near, nor are the greatest evangelists those that can amaze others with their knowledge of theology.
Perhaps the best evangelists out there are merely normal people who tend to fit in rather than stand out from the crowd.
One time, while I was working down in Lamberton, we were putting together a youth service. As we were meeting with the Luther League, I asked the kids what they wanted to do. Courtney piped up. Courtney was in seventh-grade and not really outspoken at this time. Courtney asked if she could say the words for Communion?
Courtney’s mom was even hesitant whether this was a good idea. So Courtney and I get together to practice. Courtney worries that she’s going to get nervous when she’s standing in front of the congregation.
To which I say “Don’t worry, I still get nervous.” Courtney responds “That only makes me feel worse that I’m always going to feel this way.”
Courtney did something very important being willing to stand in front of the church. Courtney questioned the default of all the ways and reasons that God couldn’t possibly work through her. People might not want to listen to a seventh-grade girl give Communion. Courtney was able to see the ways on that day that God could work through her regardless of whether it had been done that way before.
The thing about great change agents, as Grant points out, is that they question the default. They question that things will remain like they currently might be today. They question that the kid whose parents just tossed him out of his house is a lost kid. They question those who say that the drunk who can’t control his bodily functions can’t ever possibly find grace. They question whether the person who has sworn off religion for good might, with patience, be open to hearing about the power of forgiveness yet again.
For great change agents, the biggest fear is not failing; the biggest fear is failing to try to impact the lives of others when the opportunity presents itself.
Thomas Edison failed a whole bunch of times, yet we know him best for inventing the lightbulb. Not everything ever written by Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart was a masterpiece instead most of their work lies to the dustbin of history.
I came across an excellent story by Angela Duckworth this week about a guy named Bob Mankoff. Bob Mankoff submitted two-thousand cartoons to The New Yorker before his first one ultimately gets published. Now almost forty years later, Mankoff is the Cartoon Editor for The New Yorker. What this story reminds us is that things will happen in God’s time rather than our own.
Back to the story of Lysander Spooner, Spooner failed in his efforts to bring down the U.S. Government and the Post Office. Spooner was going to keep on challenging the “status quo”. As great is the story is of Spooner and the Post Office, it is not where he made his biggest impact. Spooner’s biggest claim to fame is his work as an abolitionist. Spooner challenged the idea that the text of the Constitution allowed slavery regardless of its author’s original intent. Spooner’s writings before the dawn of the Civil War started a great debate amongst the U.S. Congress. Lysander Spooner’s cause of freedom for the slaves took decades to achieve. Spooner’s setbacks, disappointments, and failures could have crushed him. Spooner though ultimately believed that the cost of inaction was greater than the cost of action.
The Disciples interpreted Pentecost as the sign that they were no longer to remain inside their homes. The Disciples were going to travel now to every corner of the Earth.
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the Ends of the Earth.”-Acts 1:8
What we often misunderstand is how the Early Church started. The Church didn’t start with pastors. The Church didn’t start with people who had backgrounds in public speaking. The Early Church rather began with fishermen and farmers. The Early Church began with parents and grand-parents. The Apostles would go from town to town starting churches. The Apostles would then merely appoint whatever commoners they could find to tell people about Jesus. The Apostles didn’t believe that the Church was going to get going because it could only choose perfect candidates; the Church would stay on fire because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
Whenever I go into the pulpit, I do not preach the word “alone.” Whenever we seek to teach a “child” in the faith, we do not teach that child “alone”. Whenever we gather to pray in cold, hospital rooms, we can often be overwhelmed by indescribable warmth from above. So even if we can’t name the Spirit’s exact ways, the Spirit’s presence keeps on burning around us.
Too many people out there have grown “cold” and indifferent to God’s purposes in this world. We have all kinds of people whom you know in your lives who wake up every morning, longing for hope. People are longing to receive the fire the Disciples and three-thousand people received on the day of Pentecost.
Many people hear the story of Pentecost today and think it seems far-fetched. They might believe that it appears impossible. Three-thousand people from every corner of the Earth converted by a mediocre preacher! The thing is as long as the Holy Spirit is present within this world. As long as the Word of God is being preached, as long as the Sacraments are being administered, as long as sins are being forgiven, Pentecost could be just around the corner. Some of Jesus’ disciples before this day probably thought it was impossible. They maybe felt they were consigned to spend the rest of their life exiled into a lonely upper room. The Holy Spirit was able to come into that room to take the Disciples’ gifts, and now nearly two-thousand years later, twelve men have become a billion followers of Jesus Christ. Pentecost is a reminder that the Holy Spirit can turn the whole world upside down at any given moment. Even more unlikely events than Elvis being found alive can indeed take place! Amen
 Markazi, Arash. “The Longest Shots”. ESPN.com. Bristol, CT. 12. Feb.2016. Web. May.11.2016.
 Acts 2:1-21
 McLarty, Phillip. “When the Fire Grows Cold.” Lectionary.org. 2007. Web. May.11.2016.
 Grant’s book is entitled Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.
 Grant, Adam. “The surprising habits of original thinkers.” Ted Talk. Feb.2016. Web. May.12.2016.
 Grant, Adam. “The surprising habits of original thinkers.”
 Story posted on Angela Duckworth Facebook page on May 12,2016. Duckworth expands the story in her book Grit.
 McLarty, Phillip. “When the Fire Grows Cold
 Acts 1:8
 McLarty, Phillip. “When the Fire Grows Cold.”
First Lesson: Acts 1: 1-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 47
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1: 15-23
Gospel Lesson: Luke 24: 44-53
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Jarred and Chase,
As you may know, there are three types of students in school.
The first students out there are “A” students. A students always have a book. A students tend to stay up late night studying. A students use Red Bull as a study aide. A students stress out whenever they get a “B-plus” on a test. A students are always going through life taking careful notes of what other people think and say. A students don’t mind bringing their teacher an apple. A students put all sorts of pressure on themselves. A students tend only to see the world through the lens of achievements and awards. We assume that we should want to be like the A-students.
The second type of students out there is “C” students. C students are always often the life of the party. C students are more concerned with the latest Three Days of Grace album than books. C students don’t quite bring the Nick like Jeopardy intensity to life. For C students success in school is not defined so much by grades but rather how many different girls you can meet. C students just want to get by in school, and they’re all chill after that.
The final type of students is “F” students. No one wants to be an F student. F is synonymous with failure. We never want F’s on our permanent record or so the saying goes. F students seem to be on the road to a dead end in life.
The question for this morning is should you strive to be an “A” student, “C” student or an “F” student. I’ll get back to this question in a little bit.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Luke 24. Our tale for today is the story of the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry with his ascension into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the father. Today’s lessons has the Disciples needing to head out into the world alone apart from everything they had learned in the past few years. The Disciples are now called to be witnesses to Christ’s ministry in the world that surrounds them.
So I want to reflect upon lessons that can we take from this event in Jesus’ ministry.
As you go forward from this day, I should reflect upon the question of how a Christian’s life should look even after Confirmation. You might assume the answer that I might give is to go through life seeking to become a straight “A” religious student so that maybe you could be a Pastor some day.
You might assume that I’m going to get and lay a bunch of rules upon you: Don’t drink too much, don’t smoke, don’t gamble too much, don’t have too much fun with Girls, don’t shoot Heroin at night clubs in Winnipeg. Although I don’t want you to think of Christianity as merely a series of “no’s” or “do this” or “don’t do this?”
“Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”-1ST Corinthians 7:17.
The whole of the Christian’s life instead should be centered upon living one’s vocations out within the world around them.
A Christian’s vocation is seeking to be the best husband, best father, best son, best worker, best student, best friend, best hockey player, best whatever that you can be. A Christian’s life is always centered on being the best neighbor to everyone whom you come into contact.
When you play Hockey, you should check “hard”, but always check “clean.”
When you meet a young woman, there’s nothing wrong with finding her pretty as long as you see her as much more than that. Remember that whatever young lady you meet may be destined to someone else’s wife or mother regardless of the role that she may be destined to play in your life.
When you hang with friends, there is nothing wrong with having a lot of “fun” as long as you watch out for your own well-being and the well-being of others.
God might be calling you on this day to the seemingly ordinary rather then the extraordinary. To illustrate what this means: I came across a great quote this week that said “David didn’t kill Goliath because he sought to slay giants. He set out to give sandwiches to his brothers and Goliath got in the way.”
This quote begins to explain what might living out this Christian life look like in more practical terms?
“The World needs more Elk-Hunters.” –Roy Harrisville.
The world needs men of courage and conviction. The world needs men who are bold enough to stand apart from the crowd.
One of the manliest men to every live was President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a sick child, asthmatic, and near-sighted. Roosevelt didn’t look at his difficulties though as defeating him, Roosevelt rather saw his obstacles as motivating. Roosevelt began boxing and lifting. Roosevelt would hike mountains in all kinds of nasty weather. Roosevelt sense of vocation took him to Harvard where he joined the rowing team. When Roosevelt was told to take a boring desk job because of his health, he decided to hike the Matterhorn and work as a North Dakota rancher. One time while campaigning for President and riding a train. A man shot Teddy Roosevelt in the chest. Roosevelt’s response was to check his mouth merely to make sure there was no blood. Roosevelt figured the bullet hadn’t struck his lung, so he needed to keep going. Roosevelt proceeded then to stand before an auditorium with 10,000 people proclaiming himself stronger than a “bull moose” as he spoke for 90 minutes before finally agreeing to go to the Hospital.
Roosevelt’s life philosophy was best summed up in his “Man in the Arena” speech where he points out:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Jarred and Chase, my goal for you today is not that you become the world’s greatest preachers. Perhaps your course in life is to twenty years from today become preachers with Steph Curry like three-point skills. Being a Pastor is not everyone’s course in life though. Instead, I want you rather to become Elk Hunters. Become the type of men who are unafraid to wrestle bears in your underwear. Become the type of men that those who come after will admire and look to as role models no matter what course God leads you down in life.
To do what I’m asking you to today is going to include a challenge to live life differently. Do not obsess your life with the thoughts or opinions of others. Because in the words of the wise philosopher Taylor Swift “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate!”
One of the more famous Bible stories is the tale of Samson. Samson was one of the last judges to help rule over Israel. Samson was known for his long hair and incredible feats of strength such as defeating a lion with his bare hands. Samson might was such that he was able to bring down a giant temple with it. Samson stepped into an often dark world with temptation around every bend. Samson did have times in his life when everything went amiss. These stumbles were never easy. Through it all, Samson had a God, who never left his side in waging all of life’s battles.
As in the case of Samson living out a Christian’s vocation is not easy. Vocation is fighting every instinct in a given moment not to unload every nasty word about your neighbor of which you can think. Vocation is where we fight our harshest of battles with the powers of sins.
As you go forth from this day as confirmed members of Sychar Lutheran Church, the years ahead will contain their share of challenges. The thing about this life is that progress will often seem small or non-existent within it.
I had a friend growing up named Ira. One time, Ira got frustrated with how things were going at school so he punched a brick wall as hard as he could. Ira soon came to learn via way of the cast that his way was the wrong way to view the world. Don’t punch brick walls, but instead, be patient and have faith. One morning you will wake up and everything all around you shall be changed! Resurrection will be shouting out Hallelujahs all around you!
Praise the ……….
I began this morning by asking if you want to be an A-student (an achiever), a C-student (a chiller) or an F-student (a failure). The problem you often run into with “A” students is that they’re so obsessed with the judgments of others and themselves that it eats them alive. While it’s cool to be a chiller, you don’t want to be so chill that you live your life without care, courage, or conviction. Lastly, we get to the dreaded “F” students, the ones who others might think to be failures.
The truth of life is you will have your share of F’s. The road ahead will be frustrating; you will fail. What I want to you to do on this day is think of the grade or letter “F” in a different way on this day. I want you to think of “F” as standing for forgiveness.
The ones who in our lesson today hear Jesus speak today were far from perfect individuals even as they followed him throughout the course of his ministry. In his last hours, they stood by as cowards and failures as he was led to his death. Jesus is able move past this and hands them the keys to his kingdom. The message that Jesus gives to his disciples on this day is what is meant by our vision at Sychar that “We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people.”
The greatest of spiritual truths is you will never be as good as you want to be in this life, embrace this and remember that “F” stands for forgiveness. The focus of the Christian’s life is not following anybody else’s path to get there, but rather an end of Resurrection to New Life!
 Luke 24:44-53
 The following quote comes from the Sundries Facebook page on May 3, 2016.
 This quote came from a Friday afternoon gathering by Dr. Harrisville when I was a student at Luther Seminary.
 McKay, Brett and Kate. “Lessons in Manliness: The Childhood of Theodore Roosevelt”. Art of Manliness. 04. Feb.2008. Web. May.3.2016
 McKay, Brett and Kate. “Lessons in Manliness: The Childhood of Theodore Roosevelt”
 McKay, Brett and Kate. “Lessons in Manliness: Theodore Roosvelt on Living the Strenous Life”. Art of Manliness. 21. Feb. 2008. Web. May. 3.2016.
 McKay, Brett and Kate. “Lessons in Manliness: Theodore Roosvelt on Living the Strenous Life”.
 The following is an except from Roosevelt, Theodore. “Citizenship in a Republic”. Given at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23rd, 1910. I was referred to this speech by Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly.
 Judge 13-16.
 Tranvik, Mark. “Commentary on Luke 24:44-53”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 12. May.2013. Web. May.3.2013.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.