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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Apostles with Guts and Eyes

Christ’s gut-wrenching love for the world embraces us and sends us out with the same kind of visceral love and a call to be Christ.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 11, year A
   Texts: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8; Romans 5:1-8

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Jesus was torn up inside over the crowds, because they were harassed and helpless.

He felt his love for them in his guts, his insides, because they were sheep without a shepherd. That’s what Matthew says. We heard, “he had compassion on them.” That’s accurate. Empathy, pity, this word can mean that. But for the Greeks, the root word of this verb is innards, bowels. That’s where you feel compassion. Viscerally, in your guts.

That sounds so much more like Jesus. He looked at these people longing for his help, following him everywhere, with needs more than he could count, and he felt their pain in his bowels.

This is the heart, the guts, of Christ that shapes the rest of this story. This pain inside, birthed by love for people in great need, people with nowhere to turn, people who had no guidance, who were harassed and helpless, this gut-wrenching love Jesus has causes him to do something very important.

We should pay attention, because it directly affects us.

This love of Christ changes everything.

It is our hope and life, that God’s love for us and this world is that visceral. Paul says God’s love for us is proved by Christ dying for us even while we were sinners. That’s how deeply Christ felt the pain of love for humanity.

So this is the grace we have received freely: you are loved by God to the depths of God’s guts, when you are lost, frightened, even when you are sinful, complicit.

And the Triune God looks at this whole world, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and is torn up inside. God sees the injustice of our society that means if you are a person of color, you can be killed by the police and your fellow citizens will rule that it wasn’t wrong. God sees the injustice of our society that means that if you make the laws you get full health care coverage but if you don’t have a job that pays fairly, or you’ve had medical crises before, you now face losing your health care. God sees the injustice of our society that believes that as long as the stock market is growing everything must be fine for everyone.

God sees all this and feels it in God’s very guts. Love for Philando and his family. Love for those falling through health care cracks. Love for those who struggle every day for food and shelter.

Christ’s death on the cross is God’s answer of love for these things. God enters human suffering to transform it through resurrection life. But this transformation only happens when God’s gut-wrenching, sacrificial love is shared, so it’s known everywhere. We see this plan born in today’s Gospel. Christ’s sacrificial love will not only embrace people, like you, like me, it will send them out as Christ to love the same.

Jesus, who loves us viscerally, commands us this: Love one another as I have loved you.

Feel what I feel in your guts, and act on it, like I did. See what I see, and do what I did. You received my love freely, without payment. Now give it freely, without payment.

Jesus changes his followers from disciples to apostles right here. So far, they were in it for themselves. They were drawn to Jesus, to the love of God he bore. They’d been healed, graced, changed. They found a shepherd to follow.

Now in two short verses, Matthew says Jesus summoned twelve disciples, and then says, “these are the names of the twelve apostles.” The followers are suddenly those who are sent.

Jesus looked at these followers and sent them as Christs like him, because of his deep love for the harassed crowds. He gave them the authority over unclean spirits, to cure every disease, and raise the dead. Like he did. He commanded them to go to as many villages as they could and proclaim by their presence, like he did, that heaven’s reign was near. That God’s love was with these people.

This is the place we can get stuck: the place of knowing we are loved deeply by God, forgiven, transformed, and realizing we’re being sent to others with the same good news of love. Realizing it’s not all about us.

So don’t be distracted by the specifics of this story, and stay stuck. Look at the greater call.

For example, here Jesus only sends twelve men. There were lots more disciples, women and men. So, maybe we’re not sent, just those original twelve, we think. But Luke says that later Jesus sent 70 out. And we just celebrated Pentecost, where all of them, women and men, over 120, were filled with the Spirit and sent. So no, it’s our new role, too: apostle.

But they did things we can’t, we say. We can’t raise the dead, heal the sick. Maybe we don’t have the same call.

Well, we don’t know we can’t do these things. Miracles do happen. But even if we aren’t given that particular authority, it doesn’t matter. The overarching command, love as I love, is for all, and can be done by all. The first command to these twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near!’, is for all, and can be done by all.

Go, now, and share my guts, feel what I feel, Jesus says to the twelve, and to us. And then, do what I do. Be love. That’s the rest of the sending.

The pain of the world is real, and God feels it deeply. To reach all corners of the earth, God needs us to be apostles, sent ones, to witness to what joy we’ve known, to what love is real for us and the world, and bear it in our bodies and lives. It’s what Pentecost means for us. It’s what was declared at our baptism, as it will be for Owen today.

What would it be for your life if, each day, you said, “I am sent as Christ”?

That’s the only question. What if we grasped how real this calling is, so that our first thought every morning was, “I am sent. Where should I go? What do I see? How can I let people know God’s reign of love and grace and justice?”

So, as sent ones, what can we do for our African-American sisters and brothers who cannot find justice, who face a society and a system that’s killing them? We could notice, and care like Jesus cares, in our guts, for starters. Enter their pain however we see our call, by joining protests, or demanding legal change, or simply listening and learning and standing with our relatives, our neighbors. We are sent to be Christ. So we figure out a way to go be Christ.

As sent ones, what can we do for all the other things that make God lose sleep at night? The same thing. Wake up each day and ask, “Where am I sent? What do I see? What can I do?”

Listen: if Christ is sending you and me out of such visceral love, to bear Christ’s visceral love in the world, we’re not going to be left without guidance. Trust that. We are sheep with a Shepherd, and Christ will constantly guide and advise and lead. This world, these harassed and helpless ones, matter to God more than we can imagine. God won’t abandon us when we’re sent to be Christ’s love. God’s got too much invested.

And we’re still disciples. We’re still learning and watching our Good Shepherd for cues and direction. We always will. But from now on we’re not only disciples, we’re apostles, sent ones.

Love as I love you. Now, go. That’s Christ’s word to us today.

You have Christ’s guts, you have Christ’s eyes. You see what he sees, and it makes you toss and turn, and feel it in your insides. So go and be Christ.

And don’t worry about tomorrow’s answers. Just deal with today’s sending, today’s vision. Pay attention to your guts: what things make you feel what Jesus feels, twist you up inside, make you want to do loving action, make a difference? What activates your compassion, your guts of love? That’s a good place to start serving.

It would be easier if we just could come here and be loved for ourselves. But God’s guts won’t let that happen. And, honestly, neither will ours. We’ve already been changed. We can’t look away anymore, we know we’re needed.

So you are sent now. Go with Christ, as Christ, and let your world know God’s love has come near, and there is hope.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, June 11, 2017

With You

God’s very essence is a relationship of grace, love, and communion, which means relationship is the essence of the whole universe. Our promise and joy, that we are also in this relationship, that all belong.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The feast of the Holy Trinity, year A
   Texts: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20; Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit are with all of you.” That’s it.

That’s all we need to know about the nature of the Triune God. Not Greek philosophical terms or centuries of systematic theology attempting to define the boundaries of who and what God is, and driving out those whose definitions don’t fit.

No, only twenty years after the resurrection, Paul blessed his friends in the Corinthian church with these words that say everything. Paul names the Triune God by naming three blessings we know: the grace of Christ Jesus, the love of God, the communion of the Holy Spirit. Paul offers the blessings we have received from the Three as the truth about the one God and the signs that God is with us.

Paul starts with the grace of Christ Jesus, the only place to begin.

It was Jesus who put together for us the hints the Hebrew scriptures had given. Jesus, whom his disciples came to recognize as the Son of God, connected himself to the Creator, whom he called Father, in a profound way. He said he and the Father are one, that the Spirit is from them. That to know him is to know God.

And Jesus taught us of God’s endless grace, revealed God’s constant forgiveness and welcome for all who stray. Christ’s entering our suffering and death, the grace of loving us even when we rejected that love, all that we have seen at the cross and empty tomb, is our entry into the life of God.

We could not imagine such grace. Only God could show it to us in the Son of God who gives us life.

This grace we meet in Christ leads us to the heart of God.

Looking at the cross of Christ as the Scriptures show it leads to no other conclusion than the center of the heart of the Triune God for us is love. We have tried to claim God needed a substitute for punishment, needed appeasement, had a wrath that couldn’t be quenched except by death. But that is not what Jesus showed us, nor what Paul proclaimed so powerfully.

The grace of Christ Jesus fully reveals the undying, self-sacrificing love of the Triune God for us. This is how much I love you, God says at the cross. I will die to show the universe my love. And my love will break death’s power forever.

So the grace of Christ leads us to the love of the Creator for you. For us. Beyond our hope, we find that we are beloved of God. All creation is.

And this grace and love are meant to be shared with God and each other and creation in a communion.

The communion of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised we would not be orphaned, the Spirit would come to us. But here is the real joy of the Ascension: Christ returns in bodily form to the life of the Triune God so that we are not bound to see God only in this one human person. Christ ascends so we can finally recognize the Spirit of God moving in our lives and in the world, creating communion in the creation.

Just as the Creator and the Word have been moving in the world since before time, so has the Spirit. Now that we’ve met God’s Son, the Word made flesh, now that he’s died, risen, and ascended, we are ready, as the early Church was, to see the Spirit’s life in us and the world.

In the Holy Spirit, the new life that gives birth in us and in the world is a life of relationship, communion, shaped by this grace and this love that the Triune God has poured out on the world.

The Holy Spirit is how God keeps the promise to be with us always.

This communion of the Holy Spirit shows us that the very essence of the Triune God is relationship.

There is this strange line we heard in Genesis 1 that now makes sense: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” God says. God uses a plural pronoun because God exists as relationship, the Creator, the Word, who is Christ, and the Spirit, all present before the dawn of time, as we prayed today, all at creation, all still living and moving in the world. God’s Oneness is in the relationship of the Three, the place where the Three move and relate and live and love, what the ancients called a dance.

If this is true, and God creates in God’s image, that means the essence of the universe, the blueprint of all things, is also relationship. That is the image of God placed on all creation. The oneness of creation is also in relationship. Outside of relationship – with the Triune God, with each other, with the creation – we cannot exist.

Grace can only be received and given in relationship, not alone. Love can only be received and given in relationship, not alone. And communion, fellowship, by definition is only relationship. It’s not communion when it’s just one.

The joy of Paul’s blessing is that we are in this relationship, too. “The God of grace and love and communion is with you,” Paul says. Now we understand why God created the universe. If you’re a God who is at your core a relationship, an internal dance, you live to have relationship. God makes the creation, makes us, to be with us, to have more life join the dance, join the relationship that is grace, love, and communion.

If the Triune God’s relationship is also the blueprint of the universe, then our path is clear.

We cannot live apart from relationship. But God’s true nature teaches us the challenges of this.

First, God always shows us that relationship means risk and vulnerability. If, as we claim, we see the depth of God’s truth at the cross, then the Triune God is chiefly known to us not as almighty but as all-vulnerable. To be in relationship like God is to be open to being wounded, to risk for the other. Once again we see the cross not only is where we find life, it is, as always, the path we walk to live the joy of abundant life in relationship with God and the creation.

Second, God shows us that relationship involves responsibility. The Scriptures tell us that God’s love for us and the creation is such that God cannot walk away. Will not walk away. No matter how angry, frustrated, disappointed God might be, God’s love means God stays with us. God is responsible for us.

We can’t avoid the responsibility that relationship brings. The only way to be irresponsible is to break relationship. If the other person or part of creation isn’t related to me, I don’t have to be responsible for it. But once you matter to me, and I to you, once we belong to God and each other and the creation, all things matter, too.

But this is our joy as we celebrate God’s true nature on this day.

We matter to God. We matter to each other. We matter to the creation. We belong to God. We belong to each other. We belong to the creation. And in that relationship, that communion, shaped by God’s astonishing grace and infinite love, all our hope and life, and the hope and life of the whole creation, exists.

It really is all we need to know about the Triune God. The deeper mysteries of God’s nature, how the Trinity exists within Godself, we can never know.

But that this God is with us in grace and love, calling us to communion with God, with each other, with the creation, that’s everything. And it’s enough. It’s more than enough.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Amen

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Olive Branch, 6/7/17

Click here to read this week's issue of The Olive Branch.

With this issue, publication of The Olive Branch goes on summer schedule and will be published every other week.

The next issue will be published on Wed., July 21, 2017.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Indwelling

You are, we all are, the dwelling place of the Holy and Triune God: we are precious, beloved Temples of God, moving in the world and bearing witness to God’s love for all creation.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Day of Pentecost, year A
   Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 (also quoting 1 Cor. 3:16); John 7:37-39; Acts 2:1-21

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

Five hundred years before Jesus’ birth, the second Temple was built by returning exiles, replacing the one Babylon destroyed. It was magnificent. But missing from the Holy of Holies in that second Temple was the Ark of the Covenant, with the tablets of stone inside, Aaron’s rod, the pot of manna, and other things lost when the first Temple was destroyed.

In the Talmud the rabbis say the second Temple also lacked the Shekinah, the dwelling, settling, divine presence of God, the holy Spirit of God, as the Hebrew Scriptures named it, which lived in the first Temple, in the Holy of Holies.

So after exile, God’s people still waited for God to fulfill the promise to return and dwell with them once more.

These words of Paul from earlier in his first Corinthian letter, then, are stunning. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” he says. Paul looks at Pentecost and sees the in-dwelling Spirit of God poured out into each person. Paul looks at Pentecost and says, “God has come to live with us again.”

Not in a Holy of Holies. In God’s people.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 

The idea of God’s Spirit inspiring people wasn’t a new thing. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the holy Spirit of the true God moves, pours into prophets and lawgivers, blesses and guides women and men. But the dwelling of God, the place where the Spirit of the one, true God lived, was the Temple.

Paul names Pentecost as the same movement of God’s Spirit as into the Holy of Holies in the first Temple, taking Pentecost further than any could have expected. Now we are the dwelling places of God’s Spirit, God’s temples moving in the world, bearing God’s Holy Spirit into every corner of the creation.

When we lay hands at baptism and ask God’s Spirit to dwell in that person, we are asking God to create another Temple. When we lay hands at confirmation and ask God’s Spirit to stir up in that person, we are asking God to move in that Temple and be known, make a difference. When we say, “Come, Holy Spirit,” we are naming that we are God’s dwelling.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 

How can we know this is true? How can we be sure? Paul helps with this.

First, look at your faith. Paul says today, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” So, do you trust in the God who came to this world in Christ and gives you life and love and salvation? Any faith in Christ, Paul says, even the smallest amount, tells you the Spirit is in you.

Likewise, the Spirit creates fruits in us, Paul says, visible things. Jesus said the Spirit was like the wind: you can’t see wind, but you can see where it’s blowing by what’s moving. So, too, we see the Spirit by the fruits that result. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Do you have any of these, in any measure? They, too, show the Spirit is in you.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 

What if you believed this? If you woke and slept, worked and played, lived and spoke and loved and dreamed as one who carried the Holy Spirit of God? Doesn’t this change everything you thought about yourself?

For one, you are not your own anymore. As God’s dwelling place, you are a holy place, but you do not own yourself. All the things you thought you had, you don’t. Wealth, possessions, time, energy, they aren’t yours to grasp. But what would it be like if you really lived free from self-ownership, free to be God’s home of grace?

And then there’s this: this means you are beloved beyond expectation, a precious dwelling place of the Triune God, a holy of holies. You are. In you God lives and moves and has being.

What if you believed you were that valuable? Worthy to be God’s cherished home in this world? What would your life look like?

But go further. It’s not just you, alone. “You all are,” is what Paul says.

You are God’s precious dwelling place. And so am I. And so are we all. So what would our lives be like if we looked at each other and rejoiced in God’s Spirit we saw there?

Consider this: we love this building. In here we are fed by God’s grace, filled with God’s Spirit. From here we are sent to bear God’s love in the world. This holy house of God is dear to us and precious because we meet God here. We’re doing a capital appeal right now to care for this gift others gave us, that it might be a blessing to those who follow us.

What does it mean, then, that each of us, each of God’s children, is truly the Temple of God? What if we looked at all of God’s children and loved them as we love this place, seeing them as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, the place where we go to meet God?

How could we ever let another human being be hurt, these temples where God lives and moves and has being? This changes everything, that as we pray to see the Spirit in our world, God turns our eyes to each other, to people all over the world, and says, “See. I am making all things new. See, my dwelling place.”

What if we took Pentecost seriously in how we live with others, look at others?

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Today Paul fleshes out this indwelling. Each of us, he says, is given different manifestations of the Spirit for the common good. So every temple is different. Every dwelling of the Spirit has a purpose, specific gifts. Each of God’s beloved, each of you, has a place, everyone fits.

Your gifts are yet another sign of the Spirit’s presence in you. The gifted love that looks different from person to person bears the image of the same Spirit. The world is diverse beyond belief, because God needs all sorts of dwelling places, all sorts of gifts to benefit the common good.

Because that’s God’s dream. That we are each the dwelling of God for the common good, for the life of the world, for the healing of the nations. We are portable temples of God, moving in the world, bearing God’s presence, to all who need God’s love, healing, hope. To all who do not yet know that they, too, are the home of the Spirit of the Living God.

Now we see how God’s salvation will embrace the whole world.

Now we know what Pentecost really started.

Now we realize the world will never be the same.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen
 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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