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the sermon for

the Resurrection of Our Lord

16 April 2017

topical: baptism
God loves not, simply, in spite of;
but even more, god loves because of!

04132017It had been a Sunday morning, pretty much like this one. It might, even, have been Easter, but I can't remember that, any more. During my first call, St Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, Carlsbad, New Mexico. A young couple in the congregation had had a baby girl and she was being baptized... just like Paisley Jo! Jill Marie was her name! And I guess everything went smoothly because nothing stands out about it in my memory. That only happens when something goes wrong.

Anyway, just a few weeks later, I had what you might call... a learning experience. It involved Jill's mom. The season of Pentecost, that year, had twenty-eight sundays after. And I, being a new pastor, thought it would be fun to do a series of sermons on the Augsburg Confession – one article per week! The Augsburg Confession is a statement of faith, from Luther's time, unique to us Lutherans. It describes what, exactly, we believe and what, exactly, we stand for. We must have just started the series because Jill's mom got a little... irate, shall we say... about article two, original sin.

Now, it's one thing to talk about original sin as we do during the confession and forgiveness. Believing that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. Sinning in thought, word, and deed. By what we've done and by what we've left undone. Not loving god with our whole heart. Not loving our neighbors as ourselves. It's a kinder, gentler way of defining it. Needless to say, five centuries ago, the reformers weren't interested in being either – kinder or gentler! They, simply, wanted to tell it like it was! So, in article two of the Augsburg Confession, they wrote this...

It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam [everyone who is] born according to the course of nature [is] conceived and born in sin. That is, [everyone is] full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers' wombs and [is] unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.

Let's just say, the first thing I learned, that morning, was not to read those words when a month holding her newborn daughter is sitting in the congregation! The only part of the conversation after worship that was etched into my memory is, "If that's what Lutherans believe, I don't think I want to be Lutheran!" And me being single and childless, at the time, wasn't something in my favor, either!

So, ever since that morning, I've never used that phrase "full of evil lust and inclinations!" I've stayed with the brief order of confession and forgiveness from the hymnal, instead! It's safer! But like I said, I learned something. Or at least, that morning put me on the path to learning something. And there hasn't been a baptism I've been a part of, since, when I didn't remember that morning. Oh, in case you're wondering how it all turned out... we've remained friends, over the years, and she's still Lutheran!

But thing is, I know why the reformers said what they did about sin! Why they said it the way they did! It's their way – our way – of emphasizing god's amazing love for the world! Their way – our way – of lifting up god's grace, god's charity! The more undeserving we are, the more unable we are, the more astonishing, the more astounding god's mercy! It's how we highlight, how we underline, god's free, unearned, undeserved, unconditional, unending love for us all! If we don't and can't and won't, and god, still, does and can and will, then there's only one reason for it! God! God alone! We're not saved by anything we do! We're not saved by anything we believe! We're saved by god and by god alone!

On the surface, it sounds so humiliating! Being full of evil lust and inclinations! So embarrassing! So shameful! But that's not why we say it! In order to make us feel small and insignificant! We say it so everyone can understand that god's love for us doesn't rest on us! Our thoughts! Our words! Our deeds! We say it in order to help us recognize the sure and certain love of god for us! But with that said...

With that said, I've been thinking about it ever since that morning in Carlsbad. And I realize we have a phrase that isn't much different from the one about evil lusts and inclinations. And I've been guilty of saying it throughout most of my ministry. And I don't know if I really believe it any more. I say, "God loves us IN SPITE OF ourselves!" God loves us IN SPITE OF ourselves! I know why I say it! I know what I mean! But, you know, it just sounds so wrong! It makes it sound like god loves us not for whom we are, but for who we aren't! It makes it sound like god needs to love someone so badly but can't find anyone. So god settles. God makes do! God loves us in spite of ourselves. But, I wonder, if there isn't something in us, something about us that attracts god – that draws god – to us!

Paisley Jo was baptized just a few minutes ago. God said, "From this moment on, you belong to me and I belong to you!" But why? Why? I used to believe it's because god, simply, loves her in spite of herself! I think god loves her because of who she is! God loves her, precisely, because she's Paisley! God admires HER! God respects HER! God dreams of who she IS, of whom, one day, SHE will be! Isn't that the way we love her? Her parents? Her grandparents? Her aunts and uncles and cousins? The rest of us? Do we love her IN SPITE OF herself? Well, sure, there are those moments. Changing diapers. Two or three o'clock feedings. Crankiness/ But those aren't the things that make her Paisley! Those aren't the things that define her! Any more than those evil lusts and inclinations! Not in our eyes! Not in god's eyes!

Are there things that try our patience! Of course! Things that wear on us, that drive us crazy! Absolutely! But we overlook them! We look past them! And we see the person as she really, truly is! And that's the way, I believe, god does it, as well! There's a part of all of us that god loves us IN SPITE OF! But for the most part, god loves us for who we ARE! No ifs, ands, or buts! No strings attached! God, simply, loves us! No exceptions! No excuses! God, just, takes us as we are! For god, that's enough! For god, that's more than enough!

Here in the church, we should know better! Unfortunately, I guess, that's one of our IN SPITE OF kind of things. We forget people are people! Just people! Plain! Ordinary! Run of the mill! Not angels or saints! Not paragons of virtue! We make mistakes. Sometimes accidentally; other times, on purpose! We make foolish choices! Take risks! Do dumb things! But god still loves us! Not IN SPITE OF, but because we're us! Call it mercy! Call it forgiveness! Call it life! And if this day stand for anything, it stands for living!

So, once again, it's Easter! We break out the alleluias and the lilies! But best of all, we put a bowl full of water, center and front! That is Easter! Being joined to the dying and rising of Christ! Born children of a fallen humanity full of evil lust and inclinations; reborn children of god and siblings of Jesus! We can talk about it in so many ways. But the clearest is love! Love – sometimes – in spite of ourselves! But more often, love because of who, because of what, we are! Today, Jesus rises! Today, he comes back from the grave! Today, one more time, he returns! Returns not in spite of, but returns because... there is no other place he'd rather be! Returns because... there is not one else he'd rather be with! Today, Jesus – once again, for the very first time – comes to us! And he says, "I love you! Forever and ever! Amen!"

 
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the sermon for

the Memorial Service for Gene Alan [Gordon]

15 April 2017

Matthew 27:57-61
On Good Friday, Jesus dies. On Easter, Jesus rises.
On Holy Saturday, he rests.

04152017Today is the first time I've, ever, had a memorial service on Holy Saturday. Yesterday was Good Friday, tomorrow Easter. But for now, Jesus is in the tomb. He rests. And to be honest, I wasn't quite sure what to do, how to handle it. You see, the last thing we did on Thursday night was to strip the altar. We removed the cup and plate we used for communion. Took away the candlesticks, the fair linen, the hangings. It's something we do every Maundy Thursday evening to foreshadow the crucifixion of Jesus, when he was stripped before being nailed to the cross. The church unadorned. Bare. Empty. Stark. And usually, this is how it stays till Easter morning. Suffered under Pilate. Was crucified. Died. Was buried. Descended to the dead. That's what all this symbolizes, what all this represents.

Anyway, my first impulse was to get the ladies on our altar guild together and decorate for Easter morning, a little early! Have the resurrection happen just a few hours ahead of schedule. Break out the white hanging, the linen, the candlesticks, even the lilies! So that by the time y'all came in, this morning, it would look a little more like church-as-usual! But the more I thought about it, the more I decided against it. In fact, I figured it would, actually, be better just to keep it the way it is.

After all, today isn't Easter, no matter how much we want it to be. It's Holy Saturday – the day the disciples mourn... the day Jesus lies in the tomb... And this is the way we decorate for it. This is what that day in between looks like... and sounds like... and feels like... That day in between Good Friday and Easter... in between the dying and the rising... in between yesterday and tomorrow... in between what has been and what is yet to be...

But even more than that, I thought I'd just keep it the same because, you see, this – for Jesus – is a day of rest! This is his seventh day! For a whole week, he's been preparing a new creation. And this is his Saturday, his day of rest! And I thought that's something that would be important for Gene, as well! Finally... at last... a day of rest! A time to do absolutely nothing! Not build ten-feet-tall, bear proof and squirrel proof, bird feeders! Not, even, do any fishing – if you could consider fishing work! One life over, another not yet begun. This is that day in between! All the achievements, all the accomplishments that lie behind. Medals and trophies scattered along the way. Describing him. Defining him. All that lies ahead waiting, unknown. But for now, just resting. No appointments to keep. No therapy! No treatments! This is Saturday! The Sabbath! The day in between! When we rest! When we get ready! But for now, .safe and sound, out of harm's way! Wrapped up in god's love like a quilt! God behind! God beside! God before! God beneath! God above!

First glance, at all of this, it seems like something's missing, that something's wrong! But look again and we realize everything we need – everything any of us needs – is right here! Family! Friends! The memories! The dreams! It's not what's outside that matters, not at times like this! It's what's on the inside! That's the decoration! The adornment! And we don't need to cover it all up! To clutter! To confuse! This is good, this is very good, just the way it is! Te good fight has been fought! The race has been run! And a life, a life has been lived well! After that, comes the rest! The well deserved rest!

In baptism, as we were reminded at the start of the service, we were joined to the dying and rising of Christ. But what I never realized until this morning... we were joined, as well, to this day! This Sabbath! This day of holy rest! And far from somber... and far from stark... this is a day full of faith and hope and love... Especially of love! Gene's love for us! Our love for Gene and for one another! Most of all, god's love for all of us! Every Sunday, I was told, is a celebration of the resurrection! That means that every Friday commemorates the cross! And every Saturday... every Saturday is this! The day of rest that lies between the two! No, there is no better time than this to commend someone to god's care! No better time to lay them to rest! And for us to rest alongside them!

So, I was tempted. Tempted to skip over, this day. And if I had, it would have been wrong. This moment is important. Even essential. This day between! Between Good Friday and Easter! This day between the cross and the resurrection, between the dying and the rising! This holy day of rest! This day of holy rest! If I had leaped right over it, it would have been unfair to Jesus! It would have been unfair to us! It would have been unfair, most of all, to Gene! So, my friends, remember this day! Remember this holy Saturday! And rest in it! Rest in it, forever!

 
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