Bearing Fruit

Pastor Jay’s sermon from the Third Sunday in Lent.

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, I Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9.

I’m going to be honest. I didn’t want to preach this week. I don’t like judgy Jesus. It makes me very uncomfortable. I like my Jesus as he was in last week’s Gospel, spreading wide his wings and gathering all his chicks under his wings. This Jesus of repentance and chopping down trees is just not the kinda guy I want to think about.

That’s not my Jesus. Coming to chop down my tree and I’m trying to defend it.

But…then I read, reread, rereread this gospel and I realized something, I’m not the gardener, I’m the tree.

You know, it’s something we don’t like to think about. We don’t like to think about the expectations God has for us. We like to jump right to the cross, actually, past the cross to the resurrection and the assurance that everything turns out okay because of Christ. And while that’s true, we shouldn’t forget that there are expectations for us. God has laid out plenty of them, but if you want the short list, there are two: Love God above all else and love your neighbor just as much as you love yourself. And living into those expectations, our trees flourish, our whole orchard bears fruit beyond measure, more than we need.

But, my sisters and brothers, time and again we fall short of expectations. Our branches are bare, our trunks are withered. Do you know what happens to a dying tree? It begins to turn all its energy inward to keep itself a live. And the leaves and flowers and fruits suffer. They don’t produce. And time and again that is where we find ourselves, we hoard and we scrounge and we save up for ourselves and we distance ourselves from our neighbors. We look first and foremost to save ourselves and if there is anything left over we might pop out a leaf here or there. But as long as we keep ourselves alive, that is what matters most.

My sisters and brothers that is not the life Christ call us to. Christ calls us to bud and flower to the world as signs of God’s love and mercy and grace and peace and reconciliation and hope in the world. Christ calls us to open our leaves, bear fruit, grow and blossom for all we’re worth. Because you know what, in growing we find the ways and places that, in the end, feed us as well.

That is what the psalmist sings about this morning: O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Think of this psalm as a song of the dying tree. The tree thirsts and longs and yearns for God. And God yearns more than ever to water the tree with love and life in abundance. But if the tree is too focused on saving itself, on dealing with what is happening in its core, it cannot open its leaves to drink in the sunshine, it cannot open its roots to soak up the water and nutrients it needs to grow. Not if it is only focused on keeping itself alive. In fact, in trying the hardest to keep itself alive, it closes itself off from the nourishment of the sun and the rain and the soil which are what will keep it alive. See what happens? Do you see the cycle?

It is exactly what Luther explains as sin: in curvatus in se, curved in on the self. For Luther, the chief definition of sin is being curved in on the self, distance from God and from neighbor, closing one’s self off to the many and various ways God nourishes us in our growth as disciples of Christ. And isn’t sin exactly what we are called to confront in this forty day journey to Jerusalem? Isn’t this exactly what we began this season acknowledging? Acknowledging that we are closed off from God and our neighbors and we need a savior to come and straighten us out, open us up, so that the nourishment of God’s love and life can sink deep into our roots and we can, indeed, bear fruit for the world as signs of God at work even here, even now.

Well, we have no further to look that right here, right in Jesus’ promise here in his parable. For, just as we are not the gardener but the tree, you better believe that it is Christ who is the gardener. The gardener who tries time and again with seemingly inexhaustible patience to help us grow. The gardener who comes to us every day, every moment, and digs around our roots, churns our soil, waters and fertilizes our roots, plucks from us our dried leaves and dead branches. And give us love and encouragement to grow to our fullest potential as his beloved. And the disciplines of this season are in every way trying to live into all the work of Christ for our growth: fasting from self-indulgent ways, thinking of others before ourselves, opening ourselves to God’s work in our life through prayer and scripture, and most important to be here, where in water, word, wine and wheat, God nourishes us, down to our roots, builds each of us up that out there we may sprout and grow and live into the life Christ calls us to.

And thanks be to God that whenever we trees get together, Christ our gardener is here to tend to us, to care for us, to love and nourish us with his very self, that we might be for the world signs of Christ’s life in the world, bearing fruit.

Huh, I guess there was something worthwhile in that text after all. Just took some digging. Amen.

God of Covenant and Promise

Pastor Jay’s sermon from The Second Sunday in Lent

Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

Abram and God make a covenant. The covenant of blessing and progeny and abundance. Well…actually…God makes a covenant with Abram. Abram doesn’t actually do anything to bind this covenant. I mean, sure he cuts a couple of animals in half which I’m sure was quite a feat, but the covenant is sealed in the this time when the two folks entering into the covenant pass between the severed animals. And while God is passing through the sacrifice in the form of fire and smoke, Abram’s taking a nap.

So, actually, God is bound to the covenant of blessing and progeny and abundance. But Abram isn’t so much bound to the covenant. God asks nothing of Abram in this covenant. God will give land and will give children and not just children but descendants to number as the stars. And all that is expected of Abram is to receive the blessings. Well…receive and believe.

Abram believed God’s promise and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Covenants are interesting things. They are like legal contracts but more. They are legal contracts with life and death through into the mix. You see, every covenant must be sealed with sacrifice. There is no covenant without bloodshed. And, like God in the firepot and torch, the two entities entering into the covenant are to pass between the dissected animals. It is a way of calling such a fate upon themselves should they break the covenant. Covenant are legally binding but also mortally binding.

And when God covenants with Abram to be Abram’s God, the God of blessing and abundance and life, God asks nothing of Abram. God doesn’t expect Abram to pass through the sacrifice. God doesn’t want Abram to promise anything on pain of death. God knows Abram isn’t going to be able to live up to any of God’s expectations. It just isn’t gonna happen. But God gives blessing anyway. God covenants with Abram anyway. God binds Gods self to Abram without Abram having to do the same.

It’s very one sided. But, then, so is grace. This covenant is a great example of the ways God deals with God’s beloved. God is bound to God’s people and the only one to make any promises there is God. When we baptize an individual—and this is particularly evident in infants and children—we do not ask them to promise ANYTHING. But we assure them of God’s promises. God has this crazy way of making very lopsided deals with us. God gives and promises and binds God’s self to us, and asks precious little from us in return.

That’s the crazy way Grace works. God gives and promises and binds and all we are asked to do is receive and believe. Receive God’s blessings and continue in our belief in a mighty and merciful God.

Now, hold up, before that sounds too simple, you gotta remember what belief in a mighty and merciful God means. It means living your life in that belief. Trusting in God even when it seems impossible. Trusting in God to get you through even the worst moments. Trusting God to open you up, draw you out of yourself, be receptive to the Spirit’s work all around you, and to be part of that amazing work of God in the world. Believing in God, especially our mighty and person God of promises and grace, opens us up to our neighbor. And how much easier it is when we have received blessing upon blessings—blessings that number as the stars—how much easier it is to open ourselves in blessing to our neighbors.

But remember, God never made Abram promise anything. God never makes us promise anything—not even promise to be receptive or to believe. God doesn’t make us promise those things because God knows we’re not always—if ever—going to be able to do that. Not in ways that would like up to a life-and-death covenant.

And yet. And yet, God continues to pour blessings out upon us. Even when we fall short. Even when we stone the prophets who remind us of God’s promises. Even when we crucify God come among us. But God has this crazy way of looking the other way, of forgiving when we don’t think we could possibly be forgiven, of loving us even when we are sure we are unlovable.

And we ask ourselves, as Abram asked God, “how can I know?” And the answer to that is easy: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that stones the prophets and kills those who are sent to her, how I long to gather your children under my wings as a mother hen gathers her brood. Christ Ascension, People of God, the people who fall short, who forget and betray and deny, the people who think they are unlovable and unforgivable, how I long to gather you under my wings.

And when we gather here together, we are nestled together under Christ’s wings, in the shadow of the cross, surrounded by the baptismal flood, and we are reassured once again that as foolish and lopsided as it may seem, God promises to be even here, to love even us, and to pour out blessings that number as the stars.

Wait you sin? – I thought you were a Christian?

Seminarian Kelsey’s sermon from The First Sunday in Lent

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

Good morning and greetings in the name of our Lord and

savior Jesus Christ, amen?

Well Church it’s the first Sunday in lent and I haven’t

been up here in a little bit so lets dive in: shall we

This weeks gospel reading from Luke tells the story of

the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days:

The period of lent can seem daunting to a lot of Christians.

GIVING UP SODA FOR 40 DAYS?!? GOING TO CHURCH

EVERY SUNDAY?I know i’m not the only one who probably

wouldn’t make it 40 days in the wilderness especially with no

food. As we gathered around ashes this Wednesday we

prepared ourselves for this time of reflection and prayer, for

some strong willed humans – fasting but I think it is safe to

say that many people would just fast forward to the splendor

that is the resurrection! and although we await that day

impatiently sometimes we are required to sit in the muck! To

be present in our own darkness, to prepare for the death of

our lord and simultaneously our forgiveness of sin all the

while keeping our eyes turned to the cross in anticipation.

I come from a congregation where each sermon was

hilariously titled so as a little “homage” to home:

This morning i’m preaching on the topic “Wait you sin? –

‘I thought you were a Christian?’

In the hopes of making the gospel accessible to all

peoples, no matter age, race or status; i’ve chosen to

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look at the modern ways we grown distant from god, sin

boldly and beg forgiveness through the 7 “deadly” sins:

We begin with Lust: or as it is generally referred to as

“desire.” I know that i’m not alone in the idea that the word

Lust relates to sins of the flesh but in further examination of

the meaning I have come upon a few new ideas. When we

lust or desire after things we cannot hold we are diminishing

the idea that God will provide what we need not what we

want – it’s still a message i’m learning how to listen to but

find comfort in Jesus response to the devil’s temptation – “

Worship the Lord your God, only serve him” We cannot

worship the things we want but the message that we need,

the forgiveness of sin…freely given by God.

Gluttony: To gulp down or swallow

to over consume to the point of waste

waste….

lights left on, oil being burned, hundred of $ spent on food

that will go bad in a week…

The ways we over indulge on – eating too much or eating too

little

While still producing pounds and pounds of Food waste

while people sit hungry

The devil tells jesus to make stone into bread

But in the midst of hunger and disillusion Christ turns to the

devil and says – “one does not live on bread alone” We are

made full spiritually through the the promise of Christ’s

return but we are fed just the things we so desperately need.

Bread and Wine! When we look to wealth and craving hold

little weight to the spirit we call upon.

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Greed: Growing up as an only child I wanted what everyone

had in a variety of ways. It started as barbie dolls,

progressed to clothes and cd’s and by the time I was in high

school it was good grades and relationships. The items may

have changed in its importance to you but at the time you

craved it.. It is no wonder that when we place physical

elements in front of God that we neglect the relationship we

promised in Christ Jesus but It also makes us compete with

some of the people we care about most. We want the house

our sister has, we want the car our boss has, we want the

loving relationship our parents had. We neglect to remember

that we have all we need in Christ and yet we remain affixed

on the things we wish we had. Greed can full anger &

sadness but it can also fuel the drive to take the things we

have, thank God for them and appreciate them all the more.

Sloth: During Lent we are hyper aware of our connection with

God. We are called to pray, to remain present and to reflect.

Sloth is often referred to as extreme physical laziness which

I’ll admit i’ve fallen prey to time and time again but when

looking at ourselves through a lenten lens it’s meaning

changes int extreme spiritual laziness. Maybe that why we

show up, maybe that’s why people who attend church only

on Christmas and Easter come running back – hoping they

haven’t missed the bus. praying that their sins will also be

held up by Christ on the Cross. As we remain prayerful and

repentant during lent we remain hopeful that we still have

time to reconnect to God amidst our sin, our darkness and

our distance.

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Wrath: Is it okay to be angry at God? Is it okay to question

God? We cannot trust humans in the same way that we trust

God. We are justified by our faith, We are bound by Grace to

continue to ask forgiveness and repent to a God that has

already forgiven us 100 times over. To question and receive

answers when God finds fit. We turn to our neighbor and are

angry, mad and vengeful but we turn to God we find hope

and are thankful. We look past the human, we look past the

broken/ the betrayal and we remember that there is nothing

we can do to lose our relationship with God.

Envy: I wish I had her shoes, I wish my hair could look as

good as hers, I wish I had as much money as they do. Insert

your wishes here. We are told in the commandments that we

should not covet our neighbors but we’re human. We sin

again and again and it’s no surprise that with commercials,

mega malls and the stepford image that we long for what the

“ other” has. We see someone get a promotion, we watch

their kids prance to preschool in designer clothes and we

forget about the things god has already done and will

continue to do in our lives. we’re jealous and we turn our

backs. We are envious, we are spiteful but we’re human. we

constantly fall short, we’re going to stumble and the worst

thing is sometimes we don’t even catch ourselves doing it.

So we cling to the hope that we can influence situations out

of our control but we worship and are thankful for a God that

turns an eye and loves us despite it.

Lastly,Pride: I’ve always thought of Pride as marveling at

your own accomplishments. Very quickly pride can turn into

bragging, self promotion and the idea that ones status makes

them “better” than another. We as Christians have created

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wars and conflict due to the belief and pride that our religion

as far more superior to any in the world. Yet our God is

humble and forgiving but is also not afraid to make his

presence known…. remember that flood????…We can have

pride in the good news, we can have pride in our families and

children but when you’re simple accomplishments and lives

overpower the presence and pride we feel from God, our

creator, we are called again and again “ to lay down our nets”

to take the road less traveled, to leave pride and boasting at

the door and follow christ straight to the cross.

During this time of Lent. Of emptying and reflecting, of

darkness and no cross in site, we join Christ on his journey

and we look the nay sayers in the face and show them that

our sins are known by our savior, our confession is

communal and our grace is over flowing.

We cling to the message that we are made whole again, we

drop our sins at the foot of the cross and are forgiven time

after time

And glory to that

AMEN

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Jesus on the Ground

Pastor Jay’s sermon from Transfiguration Sunday.

Readings: Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99, II Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-43

Poor Peter. Yet again he opens his big mouth and says what everyone else is thinking…and, well…it’s just the wrong thing at the wrong time.

How good for us to be here, Lord! Think of how easy our ministry will be if we can just put you in a box. And Moses in a box. And Elijah in a box. And then we could charge a little entrance fee, parade people past, and how many people will come to believe! So…stay right there, I’ll go get the lumber.

But Peter doesn’t quite get it…at least not yet. This mountaintop experience, this lightbulb Jesus just isn’t the point of Jesus’ ministry, it isn’t the point of Jesus’ life. Jesus aglow on the mountain isn’t the end of the story. It isn’t even the most powerful part of the story. It’s actually not even that well known. The Transfiguration is for a few of Jesus’ closest friends on the mountaintop.

Peter, James, and John are called apart to the mountain with Jesus. These three will have major work to do once Jesus’ ministry is fulfilled. These three will take on pivotal roles in the early church. These three will need a little glimpse into the bigger picture to bolster them for their ministries. But, this moment on the mountain isn’t really the point. It’s just a guide. It points to who Jesus really is. It points to Jesus as a key figure in salvation history. But it isn’t the point.

No one stays on the mountain. After Jesus looks like himself again, he heads back down the mountain with three befuddled and silent friends. And he no sooner steps his first foot on flat land at the bottom than there is a distraught father asking for help. And Jesus is confronted again by disciples who don’t believe, with people who are desperate to know the love and mercy of God, and having just spent the last bit showing himself to his disciples he gets frustrated: How much longer? How much longer until you get it? But notice, Jesus never denies the father and the child the love and mercy of God. Jesus heals the child and sends them on their way…and that’s the point.

The point of the Jesus story, the point of the story of God in our midst isn’t about the mountaintop moments. It isn’t about putting Jesus in a box—no matter how beautiful—and keeping God in this one place and hoping people will come by and see the miraculousness of God with us. Nope, the point of the story is that Jesus comes down the mountain and walks among the people—all of them, sick and poor, rich and wise, Jesus walks among the people. And here is where he works signs and miracles among the people to show what it looks like when God lives among us.

That moment on the mountain, as amazing as it is, is not the point. The point isn’t to stay in that mountaintop moment. Even Jesus doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic to stay in that moment. Rather, he walks back down the mountain and works his wonders among the people. Because God among us isn’t about the moments of beauty seen by a select few. Rather, God among us is about the deserts and the plains of life, God among ordinary people, God as an ordinary person. God who walks with us right down here where we are.

And that is phenomenal news. God in plain sight. God among the people. God promising grace and mercy and love beyond measure right here where we need it. And those promises are what MerryBelle will be reminded of this morning. Here in ordinary stuff like water and oil and wine and wheat, MerryBelle will be reminded of those promises. I would say that she will be given them. But God is already at work in MerryBelle, God is already accompanying her. God is here with MerryBelle right now. And you know that, don’t you MerryBelle? Do you remember what we first talked about when you asked to be baptized? I asked you why you want to be baptized. Do you remember your answer? Because I want to be a child of God. And right there, we see the point of the story…Jesus on the plains, walking among the people, and claiming all of us as his own.

And here’s a harder one…sorry for putting you on the spot…do you remember who shows up when we gather at this table around bread and wine? Jesus. And there is the point of the story: Jesus coming to us, not glowing white, not shining like a lightbulb. But Jesus coming to us in bread and wine, in water and oil. God in Christ working wonders even when we don’t see just how powerful they are.

But time and again we are reminded of just how powerful that is. And we are reminded that God in Christ journeys with us in the valleys and the plains and the desserts of life. And that when we gather here, we do have mountaintop experiences. God comes to us in our hands and on our lips. But we are not called to remain here. We are called to take these moments with us out into the world and bring this God who journeys with us into our daily lives. We are called to cling to the promises that MerryBelle will hear again here and which are all of ours in baptism out into the world. We are called to take God in Christ to the people.

Because as awesome as these moments on the mountain may be, how much more awesome is it that our God journeys with us out there, every moment, every day. That is so powerful. And that is so amazing. And thanks be to God for it. Amen.

Reflection of Christ’s Love

Pastor Jay’s Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71_1-6, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30.

What do you think of when you hear these words: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

If you’re like most of us, you think of weddings. This is a very popular reading for Chrsitian weddings. Advising the couple of the qualities of the love they will grow into together.

But this is not that kind of love. This is not what the Greeks called eros where we get erotic from. That is true love, and can be a holy love. But the love that Paul is talking about to the Corinthians is the love we are to have for one another as sisters and brothers in Christ. This is holy, Christian, self-sacrificing love. This is agape, the love that God has for us and which we are called to share with one another and with the wounded world in which we live.

To that extent, you could try putting yourself in the place of love: I am patient, I am kind, I am not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. I do not insist on my own way. I am not irritable or resentful I do not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in the truth. I bear all things, believe all thing, hope all things, endure all things.

Does it work? Does that describe you? Be honest. I can say it certainly doesn’t describe me. I can absolutely be irritable and rude, and I’ve been known to boast of my own accomplishments at times. And patience is not one of my virtues. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this doesn’t describe any of us.

But that’s okay. God came to us in Christ and knew exactly who we were. God in Christ knows just how irritable and rude and arrogant and resentful we humans can be. God in Christ know that we fall short, we stumble, at every turn. And God in Christ loves us anyway. Knowing that we can never live up to God’s expectations of our love for one another. Knowing that we can never fully share in that divine and powerful and needed love. Knowing that our love would look precious little like God’s own son hanging in death on a cross. And God loves us anyway.

And that is powerful. That is good news. That is amazing news. That no matter how much we do not share in God’s love, God loves us anyway.

And yet it doesn’t let us off the hook either. We are still called to share that holy, powerful, divine love with one another and with our wounded world. We are called to strive to the fullest of our abilities to be patient and kind, to not be envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. We are called to put others before ourselves; to interpret our neighbor’s actions in the best possible light; to engage our neighbors—all of them—with joy and peace.

It’s tough, but that’s what being a Christian is all about. Loving ourselves and our neighbors with the love God has for us. Loving our neighbors and ourselves knowing full well how likely we are to be disappointed. Love without end, love without condition, love without merit. Foolish, reckless, sloppy love. It’s tough but we have a great example, Jesus Christ who gave of himself—into death—out of pure and selfless love.

We will never be able to love quite that fully. We aren’t Jesus. We do not have God’s heart. But this precious, divine, holy, self-giving love is what we are called to nonetheless. And God comes to us here in this community in simple things we can understand. God comes to us in water and word and wine and wheat. God comes to us in the faces of the people sitting all around us here. God comes and journeys with us, lifting us up when we need it, whispering reminders of our call to love when we forget, shaping us into Christ’s body for the world—broken, shared, given away.

And that is who we are called to be, right here at Christ Ascension. Today is our Annual Meeting, the decision-making time that we gather as this member of Christ’s Church to give thanks for the past year and look to the coming year. It is not all about business, though. It is about taking to heart this love of God and seeing it in our congregation. It is about taking to heart this love of God and shaping our life to reflect that love to the world.

I invite you to take the cards that your found in your bulletin this morning and write on them the follow prompt and your own answer: I see love at Christ Ascension when…

And together, together may we continue to share this holy, precious, Gospel love of God with the wounded world. And continue to gather together in Christ’s name to support and encourage one another. And be strengthened by the Spirit to go in Christ’s name to share this divine, holy, precious, Gospel love with those we meet, with each other, and with ourselves.

We won’t always be able to do it. But God knows that. And God loves us anyway. God in Christ loves us with patience and kindness and peace and hope and reconciliation and gives us strength and encouragement to live into that love.

For that, Thanks Be To God. Amen.