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the sermon for

the Second Sunday after Pentecost

18 June 2017

Matthew 9:35Matthew 10:8 [9-23]
Redemption begins deep in the "guts" of god!

06182017When I, first, looked up the word, earlier this week, I expected something different. Something a little more... a little more refined... Something a bit more sophisticated. Something that sparkled, that shined. More an ideal or a virtue. Attractive. Appealing. To tell the truth, I thought it would be another word altogether. Sympathéō! That was the word I expected. It's what we get our word sympathize from. To be affected with the same feeling as another. Sympathéō! It's the greek forerunner, the greek counterpart, of the latin word compassion. When I, first, saw the word in the gospel, I figured it would be something we could sing about. Like that tie that binds. That often for each other flows the sympathizing tear. That's where the image on the screen comes from. I was looking for something we could cross-stitch or embroider and hang on the wall. Sympathéō! But, for some reason, just in case, I thought I better check out my assumption. When I did, in one way, I was glad. In another way, I wish I hadn't.

What I found was nothing like I'd imagined. It wasn't, nearly, as pretty. The word was rough and unpolished. More primal. Visceral. And it wasn't easy to say. Sympathéō rolls off your tongue. It tastes good, feels good. The word that was written was splangchídzomai! Splangchídzomai! We translate the word as having compassion. But it means, quite literally, being moved in one's bowels! Being moved way down deep in your guts! You see what I mean. It's not nearly as poetic as it could be! It's uncouth! Coarse! In fact, at the last minute, I thought about changing the image on the slide for the sermon. Instead of an eye with a tear, having a clip art of the digestive system. But after looking at the collection of pictures, I decided against it. It would be too crass for a Sunday morning.

But back in the day, it was the bowels that was the seat of feelings. Not the heart. Not the head. It was the guts. Compassion – back in Jesus' days – compassion wasn't the thought or ideal that it is in our own. It was one of those baser, earthier emotions. Splangchídzomai! And that's the word Matthew uses, this morning, in the gospel. When Jesus sees the crowd, he doesn't, simply, have compassion for them. Not up here. Not in the heart. In the head. He had "compassion" for them down here in his bowels! Where it mattered! Where it counted for something!

Five chapters from now, when Jesus goes to that deserted place and the crowds run ahead to meet him, he sees them and, once again, is moved here in the guts! Deep, down inside! A chapter after that, he sees the crowd, one more time, and, again, he is "splangchídzomai"-ed! Moved way down deep! Finally, in chapter twenty, he sees two blind men sitting at the side of the road. They shout, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy!" And Jesus is moved! Moved to pity! Moved to compassion! Moved deep at the very center of his being!

Four times Jesus is moved like that! Moved to compassion, we read. And not once, not one time, does the word sympathéō appear. It's always – always and forever – "splangchídzomai"! He was moved not in the heart or in the head, but in the guts! In the bowels! True, it's not what we expect. But somehow, it's fitting. And interesting enough, Jesus in the gospel is the only one to feel that way! Jesus is the only one to experience it! In a real way, it becomes THE defining feature of the messiah! THE defining feature of the savior! Being moved way down deep inside! Jesus sees the crowd and he's moved! Not on the surface! Not in shallow, superficial ways! Moved way down deep... like an earthquake... like a volcano...

Jesus sees the crowd and he's moved... in the nucleus... at the very core... It's not some sentimental tear he sheds. A tear that leaks out when we're watching a movie on the Hallmark Channel. Sound and fury signifying nothing! It's a messy, powerful kind of thing – complicated and chaotic – that has a way of changing us. Radically. Dramatically. The kind of thing that motivates, that inspires. That's what it means when Jesus is moved to compassion. Something possesses him! Drives him! A hunger! A possession! Jesus sees and he's moved deep, down in his guts. Moved deep, down in his being, in his soul.

And it's that "compassion" that leads him out... It's that "compassion" that drives him to teach, to preach... that forces him to cure every disease and every sickness... When he sees the crowds, he's moved deep down in his bowels, because he sees them as they are... helpless... harassed... like sheep without a shepherd...

Right after these verses, Jesus tells the disciples to ask the Lord for more laborers. He, even, sends out the twelve. He gives them authority to do what he has done. Teach. Preach. Cure. Yet not once... not one time... does he ever mention compassion! Being moved deep inside! But it's that compassion, that churning, that urgency, that's the source of the gospel's power! A compassion, a churning, an urgency, that begins with god! That's who god is! That's what god is! Splangchídzomai! The one who is moved! Each time Jesus sees the crowd! Every time Jesus looks our way! God feels it! And god reacts! God sees it and hears is and god is moved! Moved and responds because of it! Going about! Teaching! Preaching! Curing! All along, god feels it deep, down inside! And god acts! Suffering! Being crucified! Dying! Being buried! Descending! And on the third day, rising! Rising to do it all over, again! Over and over! Again and again and again! Not merely sympathéō, but splangchídzomai! Not just feeling our pain! Not simply sharing our suffering! But being moved way down deep in his very bowels!

But then, I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised. God's love for us has never been candlelight and soft music. It's never been goose bumps and butterflies. God's love for us has been a cross! A body broken and blood shed! Innocent suffering and death! That kind of love, my friends... That kind of love doesn't come from the heart... and it doesn't come from the head... That kind of love can only come from the guts! Only from deep down inside! Splangchídzomai!

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the sermon for

The Holy Trinity

11 June 2017

Matthew 28:16-20
The Great Commission begins not with our love for god and for others,
but with god's love for us all!

04302017Matthew. Chapter 28. Verses 16-20. Better known as "The Great Commission". You, probably, aren't aware. But these six verses I just read have been, for the last decade and a half, for us, among the most important of scripture! Not so much for us as a congregation, as they've been for us as a synod. You see, this passage has served as a kind of mission statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church across Northern Texas and Northern Louisiana. Making Disciples! That's what we've been about! Making disciples of all nations! Baptizing! Teaching! And this book has been our guide! Reclaiming the Great Commission: a practical model for transforming denominations and congregation. It was written nearly twenty years ago, now, by an Episcopal bishop from down around Houston. And for a while, it was mandatory reading.

And I have to admit, I tried! In fact, I started this book three or four times! But after a dozen or so pages, I get bogged down and hit a wall and, finally, give up! But I really tried! But I read enough to get the gist. The church is dying. It's going extinct. (the book's words, not mine) We're graying. Shrinking. Getting smaller. And the end is in sight. All we have to do is look around. The signs are everywhere. Gloom! Despair! Agony! Deep, dark depression! Excessive misery! That's the reality of being church at the end of the Twentieth Century, at the beginning of the Twenty-First!

And as the writer sees it, we have three options. First, simply ignore it! Pretend it doesn't exist! In which case, we die... Second, we can worry about it! Wring our hands! Pace the floor! Knowing, all the time, there's nothing much we can do! In which case, we, also, die... Or we can change! We can adapt! We can do things we've never done, before! Or at least, do things we haven't done – things we haven't had to do – for a long, long time! The answer? As you might guess, Matthew 28 . 16-20! Reclaiming the Great Commission!

Book of Faith. Remember that? Get back to the bible? Reading the New Testament in a year? That was a part of reclaiming the Great Commission.

God's Work, Our Hands Sunday? That one day of ministry in September, each year? That's a part of it, as well!

PowerPoint! Projection Screens! Praise Bands! Love Songs to Jesus! It's all a part of the program to connect with unchurched and seekers! Getting out of the rut! Stepping out of our comfort zone. Miracles! Transformations! Only a few of the concepts and principles and strategies of implementing the vision! Making disciples of all nations! Baptizing! Teaching! And it all starts by looking beyond these windows, beyond these walls, through these doors and entering – in the name of Jesus – into the world around us! Making disciples! Baptizing! Preaching! It sounds so good! So simple!

Today, we're supposed to be celebrating, we're supposed to be commemorating, God! The Holy Trinity! Father, Son, Spirit! Three-in-one! One-in-three! Unfortunately, after the last fifteen years, all I see is the commission. And so, I pulled this book from the shelf, wiped away the spider webs, blew off the dust, and, one more time, I started reading! And good news! This time, I got to page eighty-three before I hit the wall! One-third of the way through! But this time around, I understood! Understood why I gave up! Understood why I quit reading!

You see, ever since 9/11, we've been experiencing a transformation of our own! Thinking outside! Getting out! Stepping beyond! Here are two hundred forty pages of how-tos not once... not once in the eighty-or-so pages that I've read... is the cross ever mentioned! Think about that! Not one time! And only a handful is Jesus even alluded to! When he is, he's nothing more than a guru dispensing wisdom on some distant mountaintop. More footnote, annotation, than anything.

Love God, they say! Love others! Change the world! That's the mantra used throughout the book! Just like the slogans and jingles on marquees all over the city! But nothing about Jesus or about the cross! Nothing about how god feels, about what god thinks, about us! I agree that the church falls short! I agree that the church misses the mark! Things need to be changed! Things need to be different! But we aren't the ones to do it! We aren't the ones to do it, no matter how good our intentions! That is why there's god! It's god's prerogative, god's responsibility! After all, we're what got us into this mess, to begin with! And god's the one who must get us out! Love god? Love others? It seems to me, that's the very thing we confess, most Sunday mornings! We haven't loved god without whole heart! We haven't loved our neighbors as ourselves!

That's why God! Father! Son! Spirit! Like Luther reminds us, we believe god has created us! We believe god has given and still preserves! God daily and abundantly provides and protects! We believe god has redeemed us, purchased us, set us free! We believe god calls us through the gospel! Enlightens with the sacraments! Sets us apart! Keeps us! It's all god! From start to finish! From beginning to end! And nothing – NOTHING – is ever left to us!

We believe god loves us! All of us! Loves us with all god's heart! Loves us with all god's strength! Loves us with all god's being! Loves us in sorrow and in joy! Loves us in plenty and in want! Loves us in sickness and in health! Loves us to the cross, to the grave, and beyond! God, for us, isn't a god of Sinai! Commanding us to do better! Exhorting us to try harder! For us, god is a god of calvary, a god of the cross! God is a sacrifice! An offering! Broken and bleeding for each and every! For one and for all! It's not what WE think! It's not what WE say! It's not what WE do! It's god! Always! Forever! And that commandment? That commission? There's not two! Not baptize or teach... Not love god or others... The commandment is to love! Just love! Love just like Jesus loves! Pressed down! Shaken together! Running over!

So, my friends, it's not so much reclaiming the great commandment as it is being reclaimed by the good news of god's unearned, undeserved, unconditional love! God loves you! Without reason! Without excuse! Loves you without regret! God is with you! Here beside you! Here behind you! And no matter where you go, god is already there! Waiting! Arms wide open! God loves you! Now, go! Go and, simply, live your life!

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