The text for this sermon is Matthew 5:36-48
What wondrous love is this that God loves me. I know what you are thinking, of course God loves you Karl. Surely, I have to be one of God’s best products to come out of the 1964 model year. I have been married 28 years to the same person, raised a family responsibly, generous with my money and time to people in need and generally not a burden to society, plus, I am a pastor for goodness sake. If anyone has an inside track on divine love it has to be me.
What wondrous love it is that God loves all of me, not just the good stuff that I put on my resume, but the bad and the ugly parts of me, too. Believe me, I am a mix of all three. Some of you here could tell the rest more than a few bad things about me. And unfortunately, there are a few people who know some truly ugly things about me. There was this guy at my last church that hated me. We never got in a fight, he simply didn’t find my arrogance, self absorption and condescension as charming as others have. There is truly a laundry list of things not to love about me. I lust regularly. Take me to Roosters and you will see what gluttony looks like. Vanity? I can’t pass a mirror without worrying about my hair being out of place. That’s right, even bald guys worry about their hair.
This is what grace looks like, God loves me, delighting in the good, and in spite of the bad and the ugly. God loves me not just when I am lovable, but even when I am despicable. This is the nature of God. This is what God does. God loves.
God loves not just me, but Craig Wood, too. He is the 45 year old assistant gym teacher and middle school coach in Missouri that is accused of kidnapping a ten year old girl and killing her. We don’t know all of the details, but how can they be anything but horrific? We don’t know yet much about Craig Wood or if he is guilty. If guilty, he might be a tragic character even sympathetic, done in by his addictions or mental health battles. We may find out that he has fought his entire life against homicidal urges and lost the day he convinced Hailey to get into his father’s white pick up truck. Or, we might find out that he is pure evil, spreading pain and death in every community he has called home.
The crazy thing is that Craig Wood’s story does not determine God’s love for him. God has loved Craig Wood since the moment he was born. God has loved him celebrating the good in his life and in spite of the bad and now this act which if true, ugly seems to fall short of describing. God has blessed Craig with sunny days, full bellies, relationships and wealth. God loves him not just when he is loveable, but even when he is despicable, too. This is the nature of God. This is what God does. God loves.
God’s gift of love is in no relation to anything that I have done to deserve it, or you, or Craig Wood, either. In very real ways, a case can be made against loving any of us. When we abuse God’s creation in horrific ways like Craig Wood might have, or in stupid ways like I keep doing to my body at Roosters, we are enemies of God. We are destroying what God loves: us, others or the creation. Yet, God loves us in spite of the desolation to the world that our sinfulness causes. God loves enemies and friends alike, and in our lives we all alternate between the two.
This is the nature of God and as people made in the image of God, Jesus’ hope is that it become our nature, too. Our love for friends and enemies is to reflect God’s wondrous love that we first received. The wisdom of this world says this is crazy, and they have a point. Love is not a great strategy to conquer our enemies. Kill them with kindness! This might work if you are a waitress with a really grumpy customer, but all the kindness in the world is not likely to stop an invading army. Martin Luther King Jr. relying on this teaching was able to achieve monumental change, but his enemies killed him in the end and others died, too. Three civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi in 1964 trying to sign people up to vote and four little girls were killed when their Birmingham church was bombed. The hatred that an enemy has for us is real, dangerous and cannot be ignored.
Loving your enemies is crazy. It is a teaching from a guy that would eventually be overcome by his enemies and nailed to a cross. His love for the men who condemned him, didn’t stop them from finding a way to execute him publicly. His love for the men who whipped him, didn’t make any of the strikes hurt less. His love for the men who nailed him to that cross, didn’t stir the heart of any of them to bring him down before he breathed his last. His love was not a weapon, a way to manipulate someone else to get what he wanted. His love was simply his nature, his divine nature, his Godly nature and God wants it to be our nature, too.
In the waters of baptism, we have died to the wisdom of this world and embraced the wisdom of the Kingdom of Heaven. We have thrown off our old nature and put on our new nature, God’s nature, God’s essence, God’s Spirit resides within us now. Let that nature shine in our world, casting a reflection of God, God’s grace, God’s love. Be perfect as our God is perfect.
Loving our enemies looks like respecting the image of God they are made in, even if they have failed to respect that image in others. Loving our enemy might mean allowing an insult, a slap in the face to pass, rather than responding with words that can break their spirit or hurt them, even though that was their intent for us. Loving our enemy might mean walking away from a legal fight, even letting our opponent win both our shirt and our coat. Loving our enemy might mean going the extra mile for someone who will not appreciate it or even acknowledge it. Loving our enemy might mean sharing our hard earned money with someone who has squandered their own. Loving our enemy will always make us vulnerable and will always be risky. It will look crazy to the world and most often not well received. It might mean advocating that Craig Wood not be executed by the state for his crime but rather be kept in prison for life so that he can’t harm others. Imagine travelling to Springfield, Missouri tomorrow to advocate for the rights of Craig Wood.
Don’t shrug off today’s lesson, saying I guess that is why God is God and I am not. Instead, embrace it, love an enemy by real actions that demonstrates grace, an undeserved love. God’s grace is not only a gift God hopes you will bear to the brother and sister in your home or the brother or sister in Christ in the pew next to you. God’s grace is not just a gift God hopes you will bear to the sweet older neighbor next door and the scary teenager with the piercings and tattoos next door to them. God’s grace is a gift God hopes you will bear to even someone who hates you, wants ill to come to you, would destroy your life or spirit if they could. This is the kind of love God has. This is the nature of God and from the waters of baptism it can be our nature, too. Let your love cast a true reflection of God in our world. Amen
So, I was going start today’s sermon about Joseph, Mary’s betrothed with a joke. However, it feels like we are in a different mood from the time I outlined this sermon on Thursday, wrote it Friday morning and sat down Saturday afternoon for a final edit. Yesterday, I marked my original sermon unused and put it in a file. Then spent the afternoon trying to have my faith speak to what happened yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If our trust in Emmanuel, God with us, is going to mean anything of value for our lives, it must have something to say not just in the midst of joy, but great tragedy, too. Continue reading Sandy Hook Elementary, Why and What Now
The text for this sermon is Luke 21:25-36.
A common complaint of modern Christians is that God just doesn’t speak to us like God did back in the bible days. If only we had an angel like Gabriel tapping us on the shoulders to tell us what God wants, we would know what to do. We would react or act appropriately. I don’t buy it. I have never had the angel Gabriel or any other angel hand me a written message from God or spoken one either. Yet, daily I have the opportunity to see and hear messages from God. It is all about listening and trusting. Continue reading Raise Your Head, Your Redemption is Near
The text for today’s sermon on Christ the King Sunday, is John 18:33-38.
When I was growing up in the late 60’s and early 70’s my family went to church every Sunday. Sunday School for us began with all of the kids meeting together in one big room to sing songs with motions. Some of you might remember those songs, Zacheus was a wee little man…, and I may never march in the infantry, ride in the calvary, shoot the artillery. I may never fly over the enemy, because I am in the Lord’s Army. Yes, sir! Continue reading Christ is No Earthly King
Martin Luther lived with the guilt of being a disappointment to his father. His dad had pulled his family into the middle class by his hard work as a merchant. He wanted even better for his son Martin. He wanted him to move into the ranks of the educated elite and become a lawyer. Luther was on his way to fulfilling his father’s dreams, when a bolt of lightning during a storm caused him instead to promise God a life of service as a monk, a career any peasant could aspire and far short of what his father hoped for Martin. His father never forgave him. Continue reading Stories of Grace
This sermon is using the scripture text, Mark 10:35-45
James and John have been taught since they were children that God would send a Messiah to save Israel, God’s chosen people, to rule over God’s Promised Land. The Messiah would be from the line of David but have even more success than David. The Messiah would be crowned king! The disciples, including James and John, believed this and they believed Jesus was the guy, the Messiah. With all of their heart, mind and life they believed this, so they left everything behind to follow Jesus and become his disciple. They have embraced a life of hardship, living on the road away from family, of poverty, having to accept food and money from strangers, of isolation, separating themselves from their faith to follow the radical Jesus. Continue reading The Best Reward of All
The text for this sermon is Mark 9:38-50.
So, this guy dies and goes to heaven. He meets St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter asks him what church he belonged to on earth. The guy says I was born and raised a Presbyterian. St. Peter smiles and says, Aahh, our Presbyterian heaven is wonderful, let me take you to it. So, St. Peter starts walking him down a long hallway. As he is walking, the guy can’t help but look into the rooms on either side. In one room, he hears oompha music and sees people drinking beer and singing. What is that? Oh, that is our Lutheran heaven. In another room, he sees people dancing and drinking wine. And that? That is our Greek Orthodox heaven. Then, St. Peter turns to him, and says sternly. I really must ask you to be quiet though as we pass this next room. Why? Well, that is where we put a church that thinks they are the only ones who were saved. We just hate to ruin heaven for them and tell them there are others up here, too. Continue reading Who is in and who is out?
The text for this sermon is Mark 8:27-38
Evan is being baptized this morning at our 9:30 service. After reading this text, my initial reactions is what are we getting Evan into?
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
Welcome to the church, it is all about self denial, cross bearing, and what’s the third thing? Oh, yeah, losing your life. Attendance and participation in our churches are down. At first glance downer texts like these seem to be a problem. I don’t claim to be a marketing genius, but I did sell shoes in High School, so I know a thing or two about closing a deal. Maybe, if Jesus had been a better salesman back then, we would be doing better now. C’mon Jesus give us a few promises, like a guaranteed tripling of any money put it in the offering plate, or absolutely no one who says I believe will ever suffer from baldness. That’ll sell. Continue reading Finding Life in Dying
This is the fourth of five sermons based on the book Making Sense of the Christian Faith by David Lose. This sermon uses the themes of the seventh chapter on the church.
We have talked about the nature of our God, which is creator. Our God takes great joy in creating and in what has been created, especially you, especially me. God has given each of us an Original Blessing, a stamp of approval, an invitation to be co creators, junior partners in the firm. All of us, have a God shaped hole within us that when filled with God, fills us with joy. We were created to be dependent on God for fulfillment. Continue reading The Church