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the sermon for

the Third Sunday after Pentecost

25 June 2017

Matthew 10:24-39
The one thing the world forever fears... is love!

06252017You may remember, it was a crazy time! Back at the turn of the new millennium! Y2K they called it. And everybody who was anybody was concerned. How would the computers react to the change not just of years, but of centuries. Gloom and doom was prophesied. Global catastrophe. Armageddon. On the more hopeful side, however, were all those lists. The top innovations of the past ten centuries. The top accomplishments. But the one that caught my eye – especially, as a Lutheran pastor – was the list of the most influential people of the last thousand years! And Martin Luther's name was always there, hovering somewhere among the top then. And he was in some pretty impressive company.

There were articles about him, everywhere! Written about one part of his life or another. But there was one reporter, in particular, that I recall... There were so many articles about the good doctor being written, he wanted to do one from a different angle. He wanted to write an article about the church names after Luther. And nearly two decades later, I still remember his frustration. "If Martin Luther was so exciting," he said, "why? Why are Lutherans so damn dull?" His word, not mine! "If Luther was so exciting, why are Lutherans so boring?" And you have to admit, he has a point...

We're so plain, so ordinary. Unexceptional, really. We are so moderate, so middle of the road, we just blend into the background. But you know, there was a time... There was a time like the scene I just showed! A time when we stood before emperors! A time when we changed the world! It was the last scene from the movie Luther that came out about a decade and a half ago and was coproduced by Thrivent Financial! It imagines an event that occurred on this very day in 1530! Martin Luther has already nailed the theses to the church door. He's been excommunicated. Declared a heretic. Condemned as an enemy of the state. He's put in his time at the Wartburg. Translated the bible into German.

Among his first supporters was a man by the name of George. George, margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. A prince, of sorts. That's his picture at the beginning of the sermon. He was at Wörms that day in 1521 when Luther was asked – commanded – to take back everything he believed, everything he taught, everything he written. He heard the reply. "I cannot... I will not... God help me. Amen." It was the printers who would add the words, "Here I stand!" Anyway, George listened to the sermons. He read Luther's bible. He, even, corresponded with the reformer himself. George initiated the reform in his own territory and he became an advocate for reform throughout Germany. All the time, rejecting armed resistance against the emperor, even in self-defense. George the Pious he was called.

Anyway, Charles the Fifth, both king of Spain and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of Germany, called a meeting of the princes of the empire, in part, to deal with the consequences of the Reformation. It must have been a dramatic moment. Stakes couldn't be higher. The future of the reform hung in the balance. The Lutheran princes, for their part, hoped to be able to present their statement of faith. If only the emperor heard, surely he would understand. But there was no guarantee.

At the start of the assembly, Charles made three demands. The first was that there would be no Lutheran preaching. The princes refused. Second, no more reading the bible in German. The princes said, "No!" And finally, everyone was expected to take part in the Corpus Christi procession the next day, following a wafer from the mass – the Body of Christ – to the cathedral and take part in worship, as they said, "in the Roman manner." To this demand, the Lutheran leaders, also, said no. Now, whether it happened like the movie portrays, I couldn't find anything to confirm or contest. He may, very well, have kneeled and bowed his head. But it was George – George the Pious – margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach who stepped forward and said to the emperor, "Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God, I will kneel and let him strike off my head."

"Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God,
I will kneel and let him strike off my head."

In the end, when all was said and all was done, the Lutherans were permitted to present their confession. The Augsburg Confession. That was four hundred eighty-seven years ago, today! For some, it's October 31st – the day Luther stood at the door of the church in Wittenberg with his theses – that marks the beginning of the Reformation! That's what we celebrate, this year, as the five hundredth anniversary! Other's, though, consider this day – the Twenty-Fifth of June – the day the Augsburg Confession was presented to the Emperor, as the real beginning! We might be dull, now. Even boring. But there was a time! A time when Lutherans were a threat! When Lutherans were a danger! When Lutherans changed the world forever! And the heart and soul of it all was grace! Free! Unearned! Undeserved! The heart and soul was charity! Love!

This week, as I read through the gospel for this morning, I couldn't help but think of George! Of George and of all our ancestors there in Augsburg, that day. The words conjured up their images...

What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light;
And what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

The foundation, the cornerstone, of the Confession, of the Reform, is there in Article IV, Concerning Justification. "Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ's sake through faith [- out of grace for Christ's sake through faith - ] when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and through for his sake our sin if forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us."

Grace! Charity! Love! That's the Reform, in a nutshell! It's all a gift! A gift from the goodness and greatness of god's own heart! Pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, Luther calls it! And that is what caused all the uproar! That's what shattered the church for generations, for centuries, to come! That's what George the Pious was willing to die for! That's what George the Pius was unwilling to live without! And when you get right down to it, not much has changed in the half-millennium since then!

God still loves us! Loves us with all god's heart and with all god's mind, with all god's strength and with all god's being! God still loves us without limit and without measure! God still loves us without apology and without excuse! God still loves us no matter and in spite! And it's that love... that love spoken in the dark... that love whispered through words, and water, and bread and wine... week after week... Sunday upon Sunday... It's that love we still tell in the light and shout from the housetops! It's still that important! It still matters that much!

So remember that final scene from the movie... the one in Augsburg... June 25th... 1530... And remember those words! Those calm, confident words... "Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God, I will kneel and let him strike off my head." My friends, that is who we, once, were! But, even more, that is who we still are! Threatening! Dangerous! Changing the world! For you see, we, still, believe god loves!

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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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