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Letting Go of Being Right

Yet If You Say SoMessage for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany on Luke 5:1-11 on Februray 6, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

If Simon Peter was an expert at anything, it was fishing. He had done it is whole life. He was raised fishing, and now it was how he fed his family. Simon Peter knew how to watch the skies for the weather, and how to judge the waters for the best place to drop the nets. He knew how to tie, clean, and repair the nets. He could look at a freshly caught batch of fish and tell you how many were there, for how much they would sell, and whether they had enough to call it a night. Simon Peter also knew when it was time to cut his losses, stop wasting time, and get some rest. This was the life of a fisherman, and he knew it down in the cells of his body. He could do it in his sleep.

No one knew fishing better than Simon Peter, not even Jesus. He knewl by looking at his hands that Jesus had been a laborer who worked with wood or stone. Yes, he could do miraculous things—Jesus even healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law when she had a high fever, and all the others who came flocking to him. They were exorcised of demons and freed of other diseases. And Jesus taught them about loving their enemy and caring for the outcast and the lost.

One day Jesus offered these teachings from Simon Peter’s boat after a night of failed fishing. It was the ebb and flow of the catch. It was time to call it off and try again tomorrow. Simon Peter knew he was right—he felt it in his bones—he had done this his whole life. He was the fisherman; Jesus was the carpenter and healer.

But when Jesus had finished his teaching, he said to Simon Peter, “take your boat out into the deep water and let down your nets for catch.”

He was exhausted and disappointed that this was a night they came up empty, with nothing to sell at the market. As a seasoned fisherman, he knew—if they hadn’t gotten any fish the last 12 hours, they weren’t going to get any now, in the morning light.

Exasperated, Simon Peter says, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”

The subtext is, “don’t you know that I am the fishing expert, I know what I am doing, and I am right? No fish all night means no fish now. It never has, it never will. It’s the way it goes. And did I mention, I am right?”

And Peter is right. But here’s the thing, it’s so hard to let go of being right. Even when we are convinced of the righteousness of our rightness, and we want others to know it and see it. There are fewer more delicious four words to the human ego than “I told you so.” We love the recognition, the satisfaction. We will think it even if we do not say it.

And many times, it is true. Many of us are wise experts through education and experience about a lot of things. The issue is though, how important is it to be right, and at what cost? When I was young, I lost a friendship in part, over my need to be right. And if we do not lose relationships, how much do we damage them over our need to be right, or to have the last word? To one up or shame the other person?

The struggle over who is right is real in our life together as the church. Some think we did not need professional consultants for our capital campaign—maybe you are right. Others think we could never reach our goal without help—perhaps you are right. Some do not think we need $500,000—maybe you are right; Others think that will not be enough to accomplish our big, long-term goals—perhaps you are right.

Is being right what really matters in your family, in your relationships? Is being right what really matters to us as a Christian community?

Simon Peter knew he was right, given all his experience and expertise, but instead of digging in, he set it aside, he let it go. He decided the relationship he was forming with Jesus, his new teacher, healer and master, was more important than standing his ground on his expert opinions. And so, he responds to Jesus,

“Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Jesus had not yet asked Simon to follow him; Jesus had not yet changed Simon’s name to Peter, Jesus had not yet made him the rock on which the church would be built, yet in this very early encounter, Simon Peter senses that it is more important to be in a relationship with Jesus and be obedient to him, than it is to be right.

“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Yet, if you say so, I will do something that seems pointless. Yet if you say so, I will be obedient to your Word. Yet if you say so, I will follow you. Yet if you say so, I will do what you ask of me. Yet, if you say so, I will give up my need to be right.

What happened? They caught so many fish, the nets began to break, they needed James and John to come help them, and the boats began to sink. Absurd abundance. Radical bounty. Ridiculous overflowing amounts of fish.

What would have happened if Simon Peter hung onto being right? Absolutely nothing. He would have caught 0 fish. And, worst of all, he would not have a life-transforming relationship with Jesus! And that is what really matters, after all!

When Simon Peter realizes Jesus’ power and knowledge, even with fishing, and therefore all of life is so much greater than his own, he is overcome by his own smallness and brokenness and pushes Jesus away, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

But Jesus pulls him in all the more closely and says, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will catching people.” I am sticking with you Simon Peter, just as you are sticking with me. Because what matters is our relationships in the kingdom where God provides an abundance of fish, a radical bounty of love and a ridiculous overflowing of forgiveness and hope for you and for everyone is right and wrong and everywhere in between.

Because Jesus’ vision is for us to catch people and bring them into a life-transforming relationship with him. That is the vision for our lives and for our church. It does not matter who is right about methods, or amounts, or even how long it takes. Those are tools, processes, vehicles—we trust our leadership to pick one and we move forward together. Every single member of the Council (our Board) has had to give up being right in order to come together and make decisions about leading in a pandemic, about an unsolicited offer to buy our building, and now about a capital campaign. Did we make all the right decisions? I do not know, and that is not important.

Because what matters is what we do with what we have been given—are we using our building, our time together, our relationships and our ministries so that each of us has a deepening life-transforming relationship with Jesus? And together are we reaching out to catch more people and to help them have a life-transforming relationship with Jesus, too?

A relationship with Jesus that says,
Do not be afraid I am with you.
• Do not be afraid, I can heal the pain of your past.
• Do not be afraid, I can guide you through the troubles of today..
• Do not be afraid, I can calm your fear of the future.

People need to hear these words of promise and Jesus sends us to share them. We may think we are right in believing that no one wants to hear about Jesus, that people will reject our message before we even share it. But Jesus instructs us to go out to deep water and drop our nets.

And with Peter, we respond, Yet, if you say so, I will do what you ask, Jesus.

The truth is, almost everyone, when you ask, will let you pray with them. Because they are hurting and need someone to care about them.
All you need is 3 sentences:

“Dear God, please help __________ with _______. (For example, please help Joe with his marriage, please help Mary find a job, please help John with his illness...)
Help them to know you love them, and give them peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

This does 3 things for them: it lets them know you care about them, that you listened to them, and that you are a Christian who follows Jesus. No door-knocking, no awkward questions, no hitting anyone over the head with the Bible--caring, listening, praying in Jesus' name--a simple, powerful way to share your faith and 3 sentences to give someone an opening to a life-transforming relationship with Jesus.

Jesus asks us to fish for people, to pray with them, to feed them, to invite them into Christian community, to build relationships where we can share our own life-transforming relationship with Jesus and what that means to us.

As we celebrate the last year and look forward this year at our Annual meeting today, we can do what Jesus’ asks and we will pull in an overflowing abundance, a radical bounty of love and joy as commit ourselves to moving forward in faith together.


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Headlines of Hope

hope 22680cWe had guest preachers yesterday for our Capital Campaign, so I am posting a reflection from Midweek Advent.

Some days it is difficult to hope. We are all tired of Omicron, the on-going pandemic, and other news headlines, like severe storms, floods, global conflicts, and rumors of war.

I came across something Rev. Andy Stanley, a pastor in Atlanta wrote in 2020 about finding hope:

Sometimes I just want it to stop. Talk of COVID, looting, brutality. I lose my way. I become convinced that this “new normal” is real life. Then I meet an 87-year old man who talks of living through polio, diphtheria, Vietnam, protests and yet is still enchanted with life.

He seemed surprised when I said that 2020 must be especially challenging for him. “No,” he said, slowly, looking me straight in the eyes. “I learned a long time ago to not see the world through the printed headlines, I see the world through the people that surround me. I see the world with the realization that we love big. Therefore, I just choose to write my own headlines:
“Husband loves wife today.”
“Family drops everything to come to Grandma’s bedside.”
He patted my hand.
“Old man makes new friend.”

His words collide with my worries, freeing them from the tether I had been holding tight. They float away. I am left with a renewed spirit and a new way to write my own headlines.

Here are some of my headlines of hope this week:

Husband makes wife’s favorite food!
Children succeed in college and graduate studies!
Church grows in mission and membership even in a pandemic!
God loves us enough to become like us—Jesus gets us!

What are the headlines of hope you will write for yourself this week? God’s love is being incarnated all around us—in every season.

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Letting God Show Through

12 17 17 0070 isaiah 61 origMessage for Epiphany 3 on Luke 4:14-21 on January 23, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

I bet the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus—they were waiting for a real sermon, some interpretation, a piece of wisdom! They got one sentence. One sentence after all that waiting.

Do you know how long it takes to unroll the whole scroll of Isaiah to get to chapter 61? The scroll of Isaiah was about 24 feet long! He was unscrolling and unscrolling and unscrolling….

• Ch 2 Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore..
• Ch 6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne...
• Ch 9 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…
• Ch. 11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse…
• Ch 17 An Oracle concerning Damascus
• Ch 18 An Oracle concerning Ethiopia
• Ch 19 An Oracle concerning Egypt

And unscrolling some more….

• Ch 26 Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace because they trust in you…
• Ch 35 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
• Ch. 40 Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…
• Ch 43 Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine…
• Ch 53 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities…
• Ch 55 For your thoughts are not my thoughts, your ways are not my ways…
• Ch 58 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free…

And finally getting closer…

• Ch 60 Arise shine for your light has come..

Ah yes, here it is:

Isaiah 61:
   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,
  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then he rolled up the 61 chapters of the 24-foot long scroll.

More scrolling, scrolling, and scrolling it back up!

He handed it back to the attendant.

And sat down.

And then he gave them a one sentence sermon. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” One line. That’s it.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Jesus did use words of course, to teach at different times, but in this inaugural sermon in his hometown, he does not use many. Instead, he draws attention to the power Holy Spirit working through him, being anointed by God to be the good news.

Jesus needs no sermon because he, himself is the embodiment of God. He is the Message—his life, his body, his actions, his way of being, his anointing with the Holy Spirit—it’s all God’s message. Jesus embodies God—he is the Epiphany, the revelation—if you want to hear the message, then listen, watch, and absorb the outcomes of Jesus’ actions:

• The poor have all they need, the hungry are fed
• The blind, the sick, and the lame are healed and restored to fullness of life
• The widows and the women are lifted up, raised to discipleship, and sent to share good news
• Those who are held captive to demons, to sin, to injustice, are released into freedom and wholeness and community!
• Those who are reviled and dismissed and rejected, have a place at the table—enemies, tax collectors, Samaritans, prostitutes—they live on equal footing with everyone else—a level playing field of grace unbounded

Jesus’ embodies God’s vision for the world by valuing life we do not value; Jesus’ embodies God’s vision for the world by loving people we do not love.

Those with power, prestige, education, and influence are welcome as well—but not because we can buy, bully, bargain or earn our way in—the Holy Spirit is an equal opportunity employer and anointer—everyone who signs on to the vision that Jesus embodies can join the party. And we have the joy of knowing that we are welcome and have a place at the table, as all are welcomed—through the unconditional love and grace of our amazing God who sent us Jesus as the embodiment of God’s great vision in the first place.

The Spirit’s anointing falls on everyone who follows Jesus embodying the kingdom of God that welcomes all to the table of love and joy. That’s why St. Luke’s tag line is “where Spirit’s come alive!" If you remember, this tag line is based on this passage from the Gospel of St. Luke and the beginning of Jesus ministry. The Spirit of the Lord is upon all of us who follow Jesus and his ministry to bind up the brokenhearted, to bring good news to the poor, to set free those who are captive and to proclaim God’s favor on all who need to be restored to wholeness and hope. The founders of this church could have chosen St. Mark's or St. James, or St. John's, but they chose St. Luke's. They chose this name revealing this mission at its very core—people anointed with the Spirit who follow Jesus anointed with the Spirit embodying this vision of good news. Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.

Many years ago, when we lived in Kansas City, Dan and I heard Rabbi Zedek at Congregation B’nai Jehudah tell this story. He overheard a family leaving the synagogue after worship, and their young son was asking his parents about what the Rabbi had said in worship. “Didn’t the Rabbi say that God was bigger than us?” Yes, that’s right, said the parents. “And didn’t the Rabbi also say that God was inside of us?” “Yes, that’s also true—the Rabbi did say that.” Then the boy said, “If God is bigger than us, and God is also inside of us, then shouldn’t God show through?”

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus gave a one sentence sermon because he wanted us all to see the God who showed through him. As a community where spirits come alive, as we too, are anointed by the same Holy Spirit, God shows through us to shine in our community that this is place where hearts are mended, the hungry are fed, the lonely are embraced, the sick are prayed for, good news is announced to all, and we are freed from the oppression of sin to love and serve each other and our community with forgiveness and hope.

Our capital campaign helps us commit to a future where God shows through our actions as we embody God’s love in our prayers, our mission, and our outreach into a strong future where people need to see a church that does that what it says—coming alongside them in the challenges of daily life and showing them that Jesus is real!

God is bigger than us. God is inside of us. The Spirit of the Lord is upon you and upon us together to let God show through compelling us to bring good news to everyone who is bound up, pressed down, broken in spirit, pandemic-weary, impoverished, and desperately hungry for good news. We saw this at Congregation Beth Torah yesterday as the Richardson Mayor, and many interfaith members of the Richardson community came together in solidarity with our Jewish friends, including about thirty Muslim neighbors.

How can others see God shining through you by how you lead your daily life, at work, by how you treat people, how you drive, how you watch out for your neighbors, how you treat a stranger of another ethnicity, language or religion? Rabbi Elana is a friend of mine and it breaks my heart when she tells me that she has children in her congregation every year crying in her office because their Christian friends have said they can no longer be friends with them because they are Jewish and not Christian. We have to show up differently as Christians in the world. We have to teach our children to show up as a different kind of Christian in the world. How we behave when we encounter a person of a different religion, ethnicity or language matters.

The Spirit has anointed us in Baptism and fills us again with renewed forgiveness and life through the blessing of Christ’s body and blood, to embody Jesus’ love for world, so that we might join Christ in letting God show through so we can welcome all to the table, so we can show love to all of God's children whether they believe as we do or not. So we can show by our face, our words, our behavior, that we embody a God of love and welcome.

Prayer—God please show us one new person this week where we can let your love shine and show through us. Help us each to be open and on the lookout for your guidance and a new assignment every day for ways to share the good news of your love and hope for all your people. Amen.

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Radical Abundance

leadership gaffd73eeb 1920Message for Epiphany 2 & Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on John 2:1-11 given on January 16, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

The steward at the Wedding at Cana has come to expect “business as usual.” This wedding party will be like every other wedding reception he has managed in Cana. He was not expecting anything spectacular to happen because “business as usual” is code for mutually agreed for low expectations. In the case of first century weddings, the agreed upon low expectation was that there would not be good tasting wine for the whole party—only at the beginning when people can still taste the difference. Then after everyone’s had a few, you switched to the stuff out of the box, because no one was paying attention, and because, everyone needed save a buck. And that’s business as usual.

Lousy wine at parties, traffic jams, rude people, slow service, missed deliveries, people not doing what they said, emails going unanswered—you know, business as usual. When we expect things to go according to” business as usual,” we hedge against disappointment. We do not want to get our expectations up and have them come crashing down, so we go out—whether to a wedding reception, to work or school, or whatever life has in store—expecting business as usual.

If you are a person of color in this country, business as usual can still mean being followed through the store on suspicion that you will steal something; being trained by your elders on how to interact with the police in order to stay safe, putting up with any number of micro-aggressions or racist acts during the day—from not being able to jog safely in your own neighborhood, from feeling absolutely invisible, to being the victim of an outright violent hate crime.

Business as usual for our Jewish friends means having an armed guard when they worship and locking the door when service begins, however, this did not prevent the hostage situation in Colleyville yesterday. I am friends with Rabbi Elana Zeloney of Congregation Beth Torah here in Richardson and we talked about how we worshiped during the initial lockdown of the pandemic. Here at St. Luke’s, we worshiped outside without giving a second thought to our safety; Rabbi Zeloney said it was not possible to do that at her synagogue. They would be sitting ducks for an anti-Semite with a gun. Business as usual for them is always to be planning for safety and security against anti-Semitic violence. 

Back at the wedding at Cana, “business as usual” was worse than expected, because even the bad wine ran out. Although Jesus and his disciples were at a wedding party—not a political event, not a religious service, not a civic gathering—Jesus made clear with this first miracle that his life and ministry would not be “business as usual” for anyone—no matter who you were, or where you came from, or how awful your “business as usual” might have been.

Jesus turned the 6 stone jars—each holding 20-30 gallons of water—into the best wine the steward had ever tasted. “Everyone serves the good wine first…But you have kept the good wine until now.” It was not only delicious wine—there was rivers of it—6 stone jars full—if they had 25 gallons each, that’s about 3800 glasses or 760 bottles of wine! All of Cana was going to be flowing with the abundance and goodness of Jesus’ generosity for weeks and maybe even months to come!

The disciples would quickly learn that life with Jesus was anything but “business as usual.”

• Walking from town to town would become a parade of healing miracles
• A kid’s sack lunch would become a picnic for 5,000 people
• A widow’s son is brought back from the dead, and Lazarus is raised from the tomb
• Followers and exemplars of the faith included tax collectors, widows, enemies, the poor, children, and mixed race Samaritans!

At the beginning it was, “Everyone serves the good wine first…But you have kept the good wine until now.” And then it became:

• Everyone suffers in misery, but you, Jesus, touch even the outcast with God’s healing love!
• Everyone fends for themselves, but you, Jesus, feed all of us!
• Everyone accepts death as inevitable, but you, Jesus, treat it as a doorway to more life!
• Everyone reviles and casts out these rejects of society, but with you, Jesus, everyone is beloved and given a place to belong!

Everyone expected “business as usual,” but with Jesus, there is no such thing—there is no such thing as “business as usual” in the kingdom of God. There is only radical abundance, lavish surprise, overflowing generosity. Every person fed, healed, embraced, forgiven is treated with the equivalent generosity and love of 3800 glasses of wine.
So, “business as usual” is never what it's about for us as followers of Jesus. Faith and life together as the body of Christ, is about offering people goodness and abundance overflowing—760 bottles worth of love and forgiveness and new life! If people want business as usual—they can find it someplace else—my vision for this congregation is that people come here experience grace overflowing…

• Everyone splits into partisan camps, but you St. Luke’s, center your unity in Jesus Christ so each person matters, and the focus is on faith
• Everyone asks for identification to get help, but you give away burritos and have a free food pantry with no hoops to jump, and only ask, “how much do you need?”
• Everyone judges and rejects LGBTQ people, but you St. Luke’s, welcome and celebrate the whole rainbow of people God made
• Everyone feels isolated when they try a new church, but you welcome and love people with gift bags as if they are already home.

Ultimately our calling as Christ-followers is to offer grace over-flowing—not just here on Sunday morning, but in our daily life. Jesus offers the image of the kingdom at the wedding at Cana as one of overflowing abundance, lavish love—a life where we live together sharing the equivalent of 3800 glasses of abundant love, especially with those who are trudging about in business as usual, or worse, being harmed by society’s ills.

This is ultimately the dream of Dr. King—to win the overflowing abundant love of the kingdom for all. In his Christmas Sermon for Peace in 1967, Dr. King said,

I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow, we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say…We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we will still love you… We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.

Dr. King wanted to win every soul—even those who wished him harm—that’s 3800 glasses worth of love, and 760 bottles worth of grace. In this sermon, King held out an image of the wedding at Cana for all—a table of abundance, goodness, lavish love, that was flowing grace where everyone enjoys the fruits of creation, as we celebrate our unity in the God who made us all.

How will you share the radical grace, the unexpected joy of Jesus, who loves you 3800 glasses worth of forgiveness? How will you change the day, the narrative, the experience of someone who thinks that life is business as usual, and instead give them a taste of the resplendent, overflowing, lavish goodness of a God who loves you 760 bottles worth?

Everyone walks around like "business as usual," but you, follower of Jesus, overflow with the radical love and grace of our abundant, lavish God.

Image: Free image from pixabay.com.

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.