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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sermon by Vicar Leslie Mahraun

Jeremiah 4:1-10
1Corinthians 13:1-13

One of the first questions we are asked when we begin the process of starting seminary is “Will you tell me about your call?” Sometimes it can be phrased differently, like, “What do you think your call is,” or, “When did you first know you were called?” The question is asked over and over again during the process of seminary and hopefully continues to be asked throughout the ministry of Word and Sacrament. This question of call is something I think about every day. I may not spend specified amounts of time on it, but I do pray that God will continue to make my call known to me through the questions and statements of others, and in this way my prayers to God are prayed diligently and earnestly.

Understanding one’s sense of call is important. Just ask anyone who has been called by God to ministry. Each will tell you, in their own words, what it was like, what it is like, and what it has become like. Very rarely will you ask this question and be turned down the opportunity for a story…. Jeremiah’s call story tells us that God spoke to Jeremiah and told him, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” (Jeremiah 1:9) How much encouragement this must have given to Jeremiah—a young boy who clearly felt inadequate. And for me, your vicar, on internship at Mount Olive, one of many vicars who have stood here at this pulpit trying to find the words to express what God has called each of us to do in your midst, I too feel blessed to know that God was and is and will continue to be with me as I prepare for this call to ordained ministry.
When I consider my call, one part of it is to share the truth about how much God loves us. We know this from Scripture, John tells us that God so loved the world that God gave us God’s own Son, Jesus. Part of my call is to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is the ultimate way we know of God’s love.

Recently I received an email in which the question was asked, “What does God’s love mean to me in my life? Really, what difference can it make to me?”

When I read and re-read this question, I realize that this is one of the most important questions we could ever ask another person, because it is imperative to our relationship with God and with one another in the world. This question has been asked by lots of people through the course of their lives, I would expect that it will be asked many times in my own life.

“What does God’s love mean to me in my life—really—what difference can it make to me?”
I believe that God’s love comes to us in many ways, through many people, many experiences. There will be many times in life that we will wonder how God’s love for us is happening, or how we might even know that God does love us, or if God loves us. When those feelings come, and they surely do, it can feel overwhelming.

When I was a little girl, I loved to go with my parents to any store that had a home improvement theme, especially if there were books of wallpaper samples! I would ask if I could go and look at the books. I would run pell-mell to the big table and pull out a heavy chair and begin by opening the beautiful books, chocked full of colors and textures. I loved to find the series of samples that were all alike except for the colors—the patterns were exactly the same page after page, but the colors had been changed. The best part of these series for me was “the companion paper.” Not one for lots of patterns myself, I would try to imagine what a room would look like if one wall was covered with the big-patterned paper, and then three other walls with the medium size, two of which were only at the top half, because the wall was divided with a matching border. And then the fourth tiny pattern was on the bottom half of those two walls. Sometimes it would make my head hurt with all the possibilities. I imagined that if anyone really did this they would lose their way in or out of any room.

This is how I imagine the world without God’s love. Perhaps it would look like it does, but it would be chaotic…things coming from all directions, impossible to know what was what.
It is difficult to imagine that we are loved unconditionally by God, because when we think about love, our frame of reference is our love for one another, and how others love us. Human love is not the same as God’s love for us—God’s love for us is perfect.

Paul tells the Corinthians about love—not a romantic sort of love, but of a miraculous love—one that lasts forever in its perfection because it comes from God. Paul tells of this love because Paul wants to let the Corinthians know that this love from God, this perfect love, is what makes unity—this love unites people to one another because it united us first to God. And when love is at the very core of us, we are united. So the difference of God’s love for us is not just a nice feeling or a happy glow—it is life-changing.

The love of God, for us is perfect, never-ending; it is Christ—the love of God is made know to us in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who has come to us from God—the perfect gift of love. This perfect gift of love from God given to us will not be taken away. God has loved us so deeply and perfectly that God has sent us God’s own Son to live and die for us—to take away our sins and to free us from burdens. God loves us perfectly—and from this miracle of love, we are to love one another—imperfect as we are, broken as we are. We bring God’s love to the world by caring for those who suffer, or who are in pain or grief, or who are in crisis or who live in chaos.

Our prayers have been with the people of Haiti these past few weeks as we watch with horror the reports of the catastrophes suffered there from the earthquake. In time of disaster, it is possible to talk about coming together to make a difference for others—to gather as a community to care for those who are in need. But I would like to push that a bit and ask us to wonder together about the catastrophes in our own lives and in our own community—what is stopping us from sharing God’s love with one another? What is keeping us from looking a little more deeply into the eyes of God’s beloved children in our own neighborhoods, or work places, or at school?

I believe this is at the very heart of the question I was asked. “What does God’s love mean to me in my life? Really, what difference can it make to me?”

When we take a little more time with one another, when we listen a little more deeply, when we linger over coffee with friends, or hold the door for a stranger, or wait with a colleague at the end of the day so they are not alone in the parking lot, when we encourage a child to do well in school, when we attend a sporting event or a concert to offer support and recognition to our children, these moments deepen relationships in our community. We make a difference to one another, and this difference is what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Corinthians about love—that when we apply loving-kindness to our daily lives, we will begin to know a tiny bit what it means to be loved by God.
God’s love does make a difference and we make a difference because of it.

And this difference doesn’t stop here—it goes out into the world—just as we, God’s beloved, go out into the world to remind one another of God’s love for us. So, if someone asks “What does God’s love mean to me in my life? Really, what difference can it make to me?” Remember what Paul says about love:
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

The difference that God’s love makes in our lives is that there will be patience where there is chaos, there is peace where there once was envy and arrogance, there is kindness where once there was injury, there is justice and truth where once injustice and lies were the priority and where there is hope and faith and love, love will go on and on.
Each one of us, in our Baptism, were given new birth by God to be God’s own child, and united into the body of Christ. In this, God has claimed us as God’s own, promised us that we are unconditionally loved, given newness of life, forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. These promises are signs of God’s gracious love – so listen, God is answering the question, each of our voices are free to answer as well, go and tell others the difference God’s love has made in your life!

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sermon: How Do We Hear?

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 & Luke 4:14-21

My youngest son is hearing impaired. He has a severe to profound hearing loss in the high frequencies, which means he only hears about 60% of spoken language, however due to the miracle of hearing aids he can hear get up to 90% of spoken language. His hearing loss was found when he was three years old, so he has been wearing hearing aids for twelve years now. Quite a few years ago a father with four children asked me, “So what is it like to have a child with a built in excuse not to listen to you?” I thought it was a funny question. I laughed. Then I told him the following story: my son, with the hearing loss, attended a pre-school for children who were deaf and hard of hearing. He was in an “auditory class” which meant they were primarily communicating through speaking, there was another class for children who were deaf where they would communicate through American Sign Language. Periodically these classes would get together for events to which families were also invited. One such event was a trip to Como Zoo. Now some of the children who were deaf also had parents who were deaf. I remember a group of us were out by the giraffes when a mother who was deaf was trying to communicate with her son who was deaf. She started to sign in his face and then he would look away. She would stop signing grab his face and turn it toward her and start signing again and he would look away again. I watched this a few times and thought, even children who are deaf don’t listen to their parents.

How do we hear?

Scientifically this is how we hear: “Sound waves are collected by the outer ear and channeled along the ear canal to the eardrum. The impact of sound hitting the eardrum creates vibrations that cause three bones in the middle ear — the malleus, incus, and stapes (hammer, anvil and stirrup) — to move. The smallest, the stapes, fits into the oval window between the middle and inner ear. When the oval window vibrates, fluid in the inner ear transmits the vibrations into the hearing organ, called the cochlea.

“In the inner ear, thousands of microscopic hair cells are bent by the wavelike action of fluid inside the cochlea. The bending of these hairs sets off nerve impulses that are then passed through the auditory nerve to the hearing center of the brain. This center translates the impulses into sounds the brain can recognize.”

That is how we hear through the physical mechanism of the ear. But hearing is much more than a physical mechanism, will and emotion also affect our hearing.

Have you ever tried talking to someone who refused to listen to you? Even if their ears a physically working they will not hear. Sometimes people do not hear because they are busy thinking about what they are going to say next, other times people do not hear because they only want to hear what they want to hear. In the Scriptures we have an example of this when God was speaking through Moses to release the Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh willfully did not want to hear because he didn’t want to lose his slaves.

Have you ever tried talking to someone who was emotionally upset or overburdened and realized they never heard a word you said? Hearing is an emotional process. We can generally hear well when we are relaxed, but if we are experiencing some type of crisis or stress or strong emotion we may not hear so well. I have noticed this also when someone has experienced a lot of shame in their lives, their shame gets in the way of what they hear. There is an emotional aspect to hearing, remember Lazarus’ sister Martha talking to Jesus after her brother died?

21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:21-27). But later when Jesus is at the tomb and asks for the stone to be rolled away Martha says, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days” (John 11:40). She was grieving, her brother was dead and he was going to stay dead, she didn’t hear what Jesus was saying. But Jesus called to her brother, “Lazarus come out,” and he heard and came out, no longer dead.

With all the above ways which affect our hearing how in the world are we to hear what God has to say to us?

In the first reading from the often forgotten book of Nehemiah, Ezra is reading the law and the people weep. What did he read? What did they hear that made them weep? God’s people where in exile for many years and finally had returned to their city and their temple. They returned to a destroyed city and a destroyed temple. They hadn’t heard the word of God read in ages and now they are back home and God’s word is read and they weep. God has brought them back to give them another chance, even though they were unfaithful, God remains faithful. Their hearts were ready to receive God’s word after the tough times of the exile.

In the Gospel, Jesus reads the following from scripture:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21)

Fulfilled in your hearing, what did he mean the physical? Did he just mean that moment? Probably, but what follows shows that they did not hear. They say to each other, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” They can’t figure out why they should listen to him because they know him. Then Jesus starts talking about how a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown and by the end of his speech they haven’t heard a thing because they are so angry, or “filled with rage,” that they drove him out of town, up on a cliff to toss him off, but Jesus just goes on his way (Luke 4:28-30). Did they not hear him because they were not poor, or captive, or blind, or oppressed?

How do we hear? It is a complicated process which involves more than our ears, it takes our very being. How are we to hear what God is saying to us? Once again it is a complicated process but the Good News is that God keeps speaking, through the word, worship, and others to bring us to the point when we do hear.

We gather in worship each week because God’s word needs to be read to us over and over again. Sometimes there are things which get in the way of our hearing, but God keeps coming. Sometimes physically we do not hear, other times it is our willfulness which gets in the way, and still other times it is our emotions, but God keeps coming

Dear friends in Christ, God keeps coming to us. God comes in Jesus Christ to enter our world, forgive our sins and offer us grace. If we do not hear it God keeps coming and coming until we are able to hear. Thanks be to God for that gift. Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sermon: A Notable Event

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
John 2:1-11

In the past few weeks we have experienced a number of notable events. Within this building a notable event was that the construction began on our remolding project this past Monday. In our neighborhood, just three blocks down the street from here, there was a murder a week ago of a young man who went through our Bible for Big Kids and Jobs After School programs here at Mount Olive. In our nation we hear of more businesses closing and pensions disappearing. And the whole world has been watching the most notable event of the week, the aftermath of the massive earthquake in Haiti. Every possible media outlet has carried the story of the devastation and stories of people who did and didn’t make it. The death toll is expected to reach 100,000 people, it is just overwhelming. We hear stories of people who were in Haiti to do mission work who escaped to come back home and talk about being thankful they were able to leave, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who live there, who have nowhere to go. These stories are conflicting, and of course it depends upon where your home is.

Whenever notable events like the earthquake in Haiti, there are thousands of events, which are happening after the earthquake in Haiti, that never get noticed. Events like people who survived and who dig in the rubble to look for others, or the group “Hearts Afire of Sarasota” a medical outreach mission, who within three days of the earthquake had a team of doctors assisting those in need. They flew into the Dominican Republic and drove three hours to begin their work in Haiti. At least two other teams are being assembled to assist medically in the near future.

Whenever notable events like the earthquake in Haiti, there are thousands, maybe millions of events throughout the world that never get noticed. Events such as the wife who visits her husband with cancer daily in the hospital, the man who keeps vigil at his partner’s death bed, the child who learns a new word, the son who daily visits an aging parent, a new baby is born, a young adult gets a first job.

What does it mean in a sea of notable events in the community, neighborhood, nation and world to take time today to worship? To come to sing, pray, and listen to God? And what does it mean for us to hear a story about Jesus at a wedding?

This wedding was not a notable event for the nation or world and probably only part of the neighborhood really cared. It is, after all, only mentioned in one gospel. How come the other three didn’t take notice of the wedding? Because it probably wasn’t anyone worthy of noting. And yet I can think of four things worth noting about this event.

Note when it happened. It was a wedding celebration. We sometimes get the sense that Jesus was really stern and serious all the time. But Jesus is probably enjoying the wedding like the other guests and not worrying about the supplies or the details. Jesus was able to celebrate, he laughed and joked with his family.

Note where it happened. I happened in a home in Cana of Galilee. It was a family celebration, not a “city,” “state,” or “national” event. It probably wasn’t even held in an “event hall,” it was at someone’s home. There were no vast crowds or media coverage, it was just two families celebrating this union. Jesus was hanging around ordinary family members, family members probably much like yours and mine. Family members who talk too much, drink too much, eat too much, or encourages you to eat too much, family members who gossip and those who hardly say anything, family members who are just contrary to everything, family members who have an opinion on everything and those who have extreme political leanings to the right or to the left, and family members who just disappear.

Families are a strange paradox are they not? They are the place where we can be the most relaxed and at the same time where we can be the meanest. Many of us treat the ones we love in a way we would never dare to treat a stranger. So it is strangers who see us at our best and those whom we live with who see our worst. Remember it was a family celebration in which Jesus showed his glory. He showed the best of his best.

Note why it happened. In the culture of the day it would have been an embarrassment to the family if the wine had run out. It was to save this family from shame that Jesus brought forth his power. It was in sympathy, kindness, and understanding for this common family that Jesus acted. It is easy to do a big thing on a big occasion but Jesus does a big thing for this family. Jesus, son of the almighty and powerful God, used his power to save a simple Galilean couple from humiliation.

Finally, note to whom it happened. The miracle, or the sign, was not noticed by the guests, wedding party, the hosts, but it was noticed by the servants and Jesus’ disciples. But it was really the servants who saw it first hand, they were the ones who filled the jars with water, they were the ones who took some water out and gave it to the steward, then they hear this steward gush about how good the wine is, they took part in a miracle by just doing their job.

So what does it mean for us at this point in history and in this particular location to hear a story about Jesus at a wedding? Because Jesus participated in events that weren’t notable and Jesus noticed people that weren’t notable.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are noticed in the midst of neighborhood, national, and world tragedy, you are noticed by Jesus. God in Christ Jesus enters this world to walk with you wherever you are in the joys or sorrows of life, and it is Jesus’ presence that can turn your water into wine. Amen.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sermon: The Baptism of Our Lord

by The Rev. Dr. Samuel Torvend

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

This coming Spring Term, I will teach a course on Luther as I do every Spring at PLU. To say the least, I really enjoy teaching this course simply because Luther is such a controversial and monumental figure in the history of Christianity and the West. Certainly we study the significant writings of Luther which led to the establishment of the "evangelical" or what others called the "Lutheran" movement, but we also study Luther's insights concerning human nature, the human condition. I hope that my students come to recognize Luther as a thoughtful and introspective person. For in Luther, we find someone who took human experience seriously, especially in terms of of wrestling with doubt, questions, and the motives, both hidden and and not so hidden, which shape human thinking and behavior, our thinking and behavior.

Toward the end of the course, a dear friend of mine, Stephen Crippen, a marriage and family therapist (and, I might add, a brother of John, a member of this parish) will come to class and give a presentation on Luther and what we call Luther's psychological insights. I'd put that word "psychological" in quotation marks because it was a term unknown to Luther yet, from our perspective, Luther gazed inward and asked the simple yet profound question: Who or what shapes a person's ultimate loyalties and consequently one's behavior in daily life?

The question could be asked this way as well: Who do I trust on a daily basis: myself? the world? the One who created me and all living things? Or a sometimes messy combination of all of the above?

One of the significant points my friend makes in his presentation is this: without the unconditional love of parents (something Luther rarely seemed to experience), a child can find it difficult to trust others and, the child in each of us, the child in each of us, can find it difficult to trust God and, consequently, have confidence in ourselves as God's own children. As a therapist will tell you, such unconditional regard for the other person is absolutely necessary in any therapeudic relationship and I would add, absolutely necessary in any healthy relationship. For when we experience unconditional love, love with no strings attached, from a parent, a spouse, a partner, or a friend, it also becomes possible to receive a difficult or a challenging truth about ourselves spoken by a therapist, a spouse, a friend. For without love, without unconditional regard from the other, a difficult or challenging truth only sounds like so much condemnation, like some new law we are expected to fulfill if we are to hold on to that love, that regard.

"A voice came from heaven," writes Luke, "You are the Beloved; with you I am well pleased" (3:22). The world in which these words are announced today is marked so frequently, shaped so pervasively, by reality television programs in which the primary goal is to eliminate all competitors but one. Indeed, such programs are a cultural testimony to the evolutionary principle in which the strong survive while the weak or the the non-competitive are overlooked or simply perish. In such a context, the announcement in today's gospel - "You are my Beloved" - might sound, might sound, remarkably weak. How does love, unconditional regard for the other, make any sense in a world shaped by market forces which expect some to survive and some to perish? Is not such love, such unconditional regard, to quote dear Tina Turner, simply a "second hand emotion?"

Yet it would seem that in the wisdom of the gospel - which challenges much of the cultural "wisdom" in which you and I have been formed - unconditional love, being named and known as the beloved has everything, everything, to do with how human beings - how you and I - experience and understand ourselves as human beings, as Christians, and, consequently, how we interact with each other. It has everything to do with our capacity to trust the One who is creating us and redeeming our world from the perilous folly of placing countless requirements and laws on the bestowal of its regard for us. It has everything to do with how we regard and thus interact with each other. Indeed, who among us, young or old, does not want to hear, does not need to hear these words: "You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased"?

And who among us does not need to hear these words first announced at our baptism, when we least expect it or think it possible: in the midst of divorce or separation, when the job is falling apart, as the terrifying diagnosis is uttered, when our capacity to trust the other has been diminished, when we wonder if our life's work has actually made any difference in the world? Perhaps, then, this is Luther's revolutionary insight, drawn from his study of our holy book, that the unconditional regard of God for us in Christ the Beloved is -- like a flowing stream -- intended to water, to saturate, to inundate our lives and our life together in the community of faith. Perhaps this is one, just one, of the deep meanings of our being washed in the watery grace of God and the life of Christ: that in the holy therapy of the gospel, in the holy therapy of the gospel, we begin to see each other - the stranger, the spouse, that child held in your arms, the partner, or the colleague - that we begin to see ourselves and the other within the unconditional regard, the unconditional love which God holds for us.

For without such love, our rightful need to speak the truth to each other will sound like only so much condemnation. And of such expectations and judgment and laws placed over human life, my life and your life, our world is already filled to over-flowing.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: we are a minority community among the religions and value systems of the society in which we live. In a world where the strong truly do survive while far too many simply diminish or perish, in a world where one frequently "loses" if one is deemed "different" or "unproductive" or "challenged," the holy gospel of our baptism into Christ and our communion in his holy body and blood nurture a different way of being, a reordering of our affections, a startling and unconventional way of recognizing value and worth.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: let us welcome, let us embrace, again and again, and with joy and confidence, this different way so that its presence and power seep into our every pore, into our consciousness, our affections, into the way we view each other.

In 1521, in a period of terrible anxiety and doubt, when he thought that he had been abandoned by his colleagues, friends, and family, Luther wrote these words as he reflected on the mystery of his own baptism:

This life is, therefore,
not righteousness but growth in righteousness,
not health but healing,
not being but becoming
not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be,
but we are growing toward it.
The process is not yet finished but it is going on.
This is not the end but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam with glory, but all is being purified.

Yes, I say: All is being washed in the unfathomable and astonishing love of God for this world and for our lives in it.

Fr. Samuel Torvend
St. Paul's Episcopal Church (Seattle)
Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sermon: Light That Makes Life Better

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl

The Epiphany of Our Lord, 2010

During the long winter days when the darkness surrounds us more than light, many people suffer from a lack of sunlight. There is a name for this disorder, it is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or known by its acronym SAD (which appropriately enough sounded out is sad).
Seasonal affective disorder “is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year.”
Generally it appears late fall or early winter and go away in spring or summer.

The causes for SAD are unknown and as with any disorder there are a multitude of factors which go into play like genetics, age, and your bodies chemical makeup. According to the Mayo Clinic a few specific factors that may come into play include:

Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body's internal clock, which lets you know when you should sleep or be awake. This disruption of your circadian rhythm may lead to feelings of depression.
Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in seasonal affective disorder. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, perhaps leading to depression.
Treatment of SAD includes, light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy. Light therapy has been effective for many who have SAD. It involves sitting in front of a special broad spectrum light for a certain amount of time daily. There are many companies who have gotten in to the business of making lights for this disorder there is one company which has as its motto “Light That Makes Life Better.”

SAD is a physical disorder in which light offers help in healing. As we celebrate Epiphany today, a day in which we talk about the Light of Christ entering the world, I see that not only do our physical bodies need light from the sun but spiritually we need light from Jesus Christ to offer help in healing our spiritual break from God. Jesus Christ is the Light that makes life better.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

This light of Christ is not meant for us to hold on too and keep for ourselves. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” This is the only I AM saying of Jesus in which we participate.

The light of Christ not only heals us but as we walk in the light of Christ we show the light of Christ. It becomes reflexive, automatic, we don’t even know we are being lights.

One woman who lived in the slums of London became a follower of Jesus and was filled with joy and love. She went back to her street and saw evil and darkness around her. She wanted to move away. Her pastor asked her what would happen if the city decided to take out all the street lights and put them in the well to do neighborhoods. She saw the point and decided to stay. After some time had passed, the pastor asked the woman how things were going. With a smile she answered “Oh, very nicely; and there is another light in the street now.”

Jesus Christ is the Light that makes life better.

I close with a Poem by Annie Johnson Flint called “For Dark Places”

His lamp am I,
To shine where His shall say:
And lamps are not for sunny rooms,
Nor for the light of day.
But for dark places of the earth,
Where shame and crime and wrong have birth.

And so, sometimes a flame we find,
Clear shining through the night,
So bright we do not see the lamp
But only see the light.
So may I shine – His life the flame -
That [all] may glorify His name.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sermon: An Active God: Past, Present, and Future

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl

Second Sunday of Christmas
Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-14, and John 1:1-18

We are only three days into the New Year yet some have been reflecting on the old year for more than a week. We have heard about the best and the worst of the past year in the categories of sports, news events, movies, world events. Some are reflecting on the past decade (even though there is technically one year left on the first decade of the 21st century) what will it be called, how will it be defined or remembered in history. Others are looking ahead to the next year what will be the next greatest thing or event. Still others are looking ahead to the next decade, really? Yes, really. If we have learned anything from history, it is that predictions rarely come true and things that haven’t been invented yet might be the defining factor of the year or decade. I mean ten years ago who heard of Facebook or Twitter? New Year’s is a time when we look at our past, present, and future.

We have an active God who was active in the past, present, and future. We have an active God who is active in our past, present, and future. In all of our readings today we see God’s activity.

Our First Reading takes place when Jeremiah was a prophet. Jeremiah was a prophet for 40-50 years to the southern kingdom of Judah. He was given difficult words to proclaim to God’s people, the people were not very faithful to God in those days and God was warning them that they would be punished for their unfaithfulness. Jeremiah spoke words of doom during a particularly profitable time so the people didn’t listen to him. Jeremiah continued to tell them that God would scatter them and finally it does happen. The Babylonians capture Judah and take many of God’s people to Babylon with them. Our reading from Jeremiah takes place when God’s people are in Babylon, Jeremiah now tells the people that God who scattered them by the hands of the Babylonian, will now gather them back together. God gathers a community of the weak, God gathers “the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor” (Jeremiah 31:8). Not only will God gather them but God also will stay with them, “and keep them as a shepherd a flock” (Jeremiah 31:10), God “will turn their mourning into joy… will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13). God spoke of their past, not as something to be buried and forgotten, but as something through which God can work in the present and future of God’s people.

In the psalm we also hear of God’s activity, Psalm 147:12-20. I love the line “who can stand against God’s cold” (Psalm 147:17), I have never notices that line before, but today we can answer, “We can.”

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we see God’s interweaving activity in the past, present, and future. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be hold and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:3-4). In this past there is a future, “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6). Here is God’s present action with an eye to the future: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:7-10). There is that word “gather” again, God is active in gathering in the present and the future. Now once again the future is wrapped up in the present: “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-12). In the closing of this passage we have God’s activity in the past, present, and future wrapped together. “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

In our Gospel reading, we see an active God, active in past, present, and future. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). We learn that all things came into being through God and the Word of God. Also in the past this Word of God entered the world (John 1:10). And this “Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14), the Greek word here is σκηνόω, which means to dwell, it is the word for tent which translated literally it means pitching a tent with us. This activity of God was a onetime event with Jesus, but through the Holy Spirit it is a present activity of God. God continues to pitch God’s tent with us in order to dwell among us. God’s activities here are ungodlike, a divine and infinite being entering a human and finite being. But nonetheless this is God’s activity: to enter our world and to be with us.

We have an active God who is active in the past, present, and future. As we engage in this New Year we know that our God is a God of our past who will take our past and turn it into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future. We may be anxious to put our past behind us. God reminds us that our past part of our present. God also reminds us of the past to protect us from a shallow security in the present.

Our God is a God of our present, even though our past may hold broken and irreversible things for us, God through Jesus Christ can transform us. We can leave the past in God’s hand and rest in the present embrace of Christ’s grace and forgiveness.

Our God is a God of our future, we go forth in this year knowing that our God will go with us, before us, and lead us to where we need to be and make us what we can be.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God’s hand reaches back into our past with forgiveness and grace. Jesus’ love and grace holds us in the present challenging us to grow. Holy Spirit draws us into our future, filled with hope, possibility, and new life. May you experience the fullness of the Triune God active in you in this new year and always. Amen.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sermon: Names

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl

The Name of Jesus

Names are simple and profound things. I mean it is simple to think of a name, if you were to name a child or a pet many names would probably come into your mind. But names are also profound. When I say the word “mom” or “dad” what comes to mind? Maybe a picture of your mom or dad, or yourself as a mom or dad. Maybe you hear the name “mom” or “dad” you become a wash with emotion. Emotions of love or hate, or admiration or condemnation. Maybe what comes to mind is descriptive, like kind, caring, addicted, abusive, loving.

By mentioning those two names I probably have lost many of you to a multitude of other thought or memories I haven’t mentioned. See how profound, how powerful names can me? The mere mention of a name can elicit all kinds of feelings, emotions, thoughts, and memories.

Names are how we connect or call on people. It can be used in a positive or negative way. A positive way would be saying the name of a friend or lover or hearing a friend or lover call our name. It may give one a feeling of importance and may covey love or care.

There are also negative ways to use a name. During the first gulf war, the elder president Bush mispronounced Saddam Hussein’s name every time he spoke it. Sometime he said, “Sad-damn.” Other times he made it sound a lot like Sodom, of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Bible. He more than likely did that on purpose in order to show his disrespect and repulsion for the man.

Names have power. In a children’s book series there is an evil character that is known by “He-who-must-not-be-named.” But a wise character in the book states that the fear of mentioning the name gives it even more power.

God’s name, is given to Moses as “I AM,” the eternal present who was also in the past, “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” God’s name in the Hebrew Scriptures was written with only constants, YHWH, but pronounced ‘adoni’ or ‘lord,’ because they could not speak God’s name. In the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the bible whenever you see LORD in all capitals it is this unpronounceable name of God.

Jesus’ name is the Hebrew name Joshua (ya’shua), which means “YHWH saves.” It is the name of Jesus which brings about new life and hope for us.

There is a story that circulated some years ago which speaks to the power of a name. The story may not be true but it could be. The story goes like this: There was a man who was at a garage sale in Indiana and saw a box full or motorcycle parts for sale for $100. When he inquired about it he was told that the box contained the parts for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, most of the parts where there it just needed assembly. Realizing that Harley’s go for so much more the man figured he could put it together. He quickly paid the money and went off with his motorcycle in a box. The man decided to call the local Harley-Davidson dealer to see if they had a manual on this model. He located the serial number on one of the parts and gave it to them. After a few minutes someone got on the phone and offered $100,000 for the parts. The man thanked him for the offer but wondered what was going on, so he decided to call the regional representative for the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company. Once again he gave the serial number, once again there was a long silence, and finally someone came on the line and offered him $250,000 for the box of motorcycle parts. Sensing some importance for his box on parts he decided to call the national headquarters for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. This time after the silence, and before an offer was made, the person on the other end of the line asked the man to look under the seat of the motorcycle and see what was written there. The man dug through the box of motorcycle parts, found the seat turned it over and found these words under the seat: “To Elvis, with love from the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company.” The final offer for the motorcycle? 2.5 million dollars.

What gave the value to that box of parts was not only its quality and age but the name written under the seat. The name increased the value of that box of parts tenfold.

There are times in our lives where we may feel no better than a box full of pieces. Maybe your life has fallen apart and you cannot get anyone to notice you. But because Jesus’ name was written on your heart at baptism, and because you are a child of God, you are more valuable to God than you can ever imagine. You are precious and beloved because God called you as God’s own.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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