Monday, January 13, 2020

The Baptism of Jesus

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
The Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord
January 12, 2020
Pastor Robert McCarty

John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you,
and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now;
for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." 
Matthew 3: 14-15

As pastor, I get to give out generously the gifts of God. The church understands baptism as giving the recipient everything they need for salvation. Baptism conveys these gifts where God: 

  • administers the blessings of grace and mercy, 
  • pours out the activity of the Holy Spirit, 
  • brings the recipient into a community of faith, 
  • instills into them the Holy Word of God, the scripture, 
  • opens up the table of the bread and cup of the holy meal. 
A person’s baptism, whether a child or an adult, provides this generous moment of God’s love with gifts to unwrap and rediscover over ones lifetime. 

Baptism gives another gift, besides what I mentioned above, and this gift stands out in Matthew’s gospel. I will get to that in a few minutes. But first, Matthew’s gospel has this strange little twist that we need to talk about, because it sort of goes against a spirit of generosity. Perhaps John the Baptist’s generosity stays intact, but some congregations sometimes (sometimes) twist out this awkwardness in their ministry.

Baptism Makes All Better

John the Baptist stands at the River Jordan living out his ministry. Here comes Jesus, and John struggles with what to do when someone better comes to the waters. John gets use to baptizing soldiers and tax collectors and ordinary people. Here comes Jesus, and that causes John to stutter. As if John thinks baptism does not work when someone better comes to these waters. Not many people greater, better, than John the Baptist at the time, but Jesus definitely matches that criteria. John says, “I should get baptized by you.”

John the Baptist falls into a trap and thinks that status matters. The status between the one baptizing and the one receiving baptism does not matter, but John all of the sudden thinks it does. Sometimes the church falls into a similar trap, where we apply language of status to baptism. Some churches and some people start believing that they have better standing than the one who does not have baptism. It is a failing in the humility of the church if we think ourselves better than the unbaptized.

I have a story about Sean Connery that might give us some perspective. For those who do not follow movies, Sean Connery, as an actor, played the classic Bond—James Bond, 007—for several movies. He also won an Oscar for the movie The Untouchables along with several other awards over the course of his career: tall, handsome, dashing, actor. He continued to be tall handsome and dashing even as an older actor. An interviewer once asked him, “why, at age sixty-two, he continued to act?” He gave this reply: “Because I get the opportunity to be somebody better and more interesting than I am.” [Larsen, “750 Engaging Illustrations,” Baker Books: 2007, p 9.]

The church can learn something from this—from Sean Connery’s answer. Why does the church baptize? We baptize because God commands us to baptize the faithful. (Baptism is a part of us like acting is a part of Sean Connery.) Also—and this is the learning—the church is better because of the people we baptize along with those who we welcome through the affirmation of baptism. The people we welcome through baptism strengthen our faith. Just as important, we truly believe that baptism also makes the recipients better through the gifts of God: administration of grace and mercy, the activity of the Holy Spirit, the gathering of a community of faith, as well as the Holy Word of God and the Holy Meal.

I have several friends—family members as well—who do good every day without really believing in Christ. Some who are skeptical about Jesus as the Christ, Messiah, Son of God, and Savior. You probably have friends and family members like this as well. I wish they were present today to hear this passage from Matthew about Jesus coming for baptism. I am glad though, you have come to hear it.

Baptism gives us the chance to welcome ordinary people, and be better because of them. But also, we know and believe by giving them the gifts of God and everything necessary for salvation we make their lives better as well. Stephen Covey, who wrote 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, would call this a “win-win” situation. Baptism is a “win-win” for the church and for the baptized. We are all better because of baptism. 

Baptism Gives Us Orientation

Now, I want to return to another gift that baptism conveys. It gets back to that awkwardness of John the Baptist when Jesus comes. The awkwardness when John seems to ask “Why does Jesus need baptism?” Jesus responds, “To fulfill all righteousness.”

You may have noticed this morning that worship began with “Thanksgiving for Baptism” rather than”A Word of Absolution.” I did that because Matthew steps away from the emphasis of baptism on forgiveness and instead emphasizes the orientation of righteousness. Both relate to John’s ministry of repentance. In Jesus’ ministry, his baptism gives us the moment where he turns towards the ministry that God the Father always intended for his life. 

Jesus journey of righteousness truly begins with his baptism. When baptized, we estimate that Jesus was about thirty years old. We only have two stories about Jesus' life before this moment: the long detailed story of his birth and one short story about a Passover when Jesus was a boy. Everything of meaning in Jesus’ holy journey of righteousness begins now. Jesus from this point orients his life towards the will of the Father.

I mention having some friends and family who I wish could hear this message, because one of the gifts of faith is that good people get lost too, and the gifts of grace help us to get our lives on track even when we get lost. 

Another story offers another example.  A news station in California wanted to do a segment on what to do when you get lost. So they found two volunteers from the community—a young man and a young woman who did not know each other. They covered their eyes and took them into the middle of a national forest. With just a few basic supplies, they set the couple off on their own, except for  a cameraman to record what they would do. They said the cameraman was just there to videotape these two as they tried to figure out what to do when lost in the wilderness. Then they would work clips from the video into the news segment.

The cameraman recorded this man and woman start to get to know each other. He recorded how they walked a bit around to get some bearings as to their surroundings. A clip showed them gathering some firewood. They used some matches they had to make a fire and settled down for the night close to one another, huddled together.

Now the cameraman was actually a wilderness survival expert and medic. The lost volunteers did not know this. Overnight, when the temperature dipped and the situation became a bit more risky, the cameraman called off the experiment. He called in the news van and the newscaster who was producing the segment. The cameraman who witnessed the couple now stood in front of the camera lens and explained to the couple, as well as the audience, the things that he saw that had happened. 

The wilderness expert/cameraman had a long list of things the couple did right: they stayed together rather than separating, they got their bearings, they stayed in one place. Staying in one place was hugely important. So many people go wandering. By staying close to where they were dropped off, it made them easy to find. Two things they did well for warmth: they made a fire for in the evening and they huddled together even though they did not really know each other. The cameraman mentioned two things they could have done. They could have made some sort of lean-too shelter above their heads with sticks and branches to capture some of their body heat and heat from the fire. Also, they could have gone searching for water. I remember how many things they did right, and yet they still got in trouble. 

Even when we do good and our lives are working out you can still get lost, and yet God can reorient you; He can redirect our lives towards the good He would have us do and the good He would have us be. Also, of course, God often calls in help, and that help often surrounds us in prayers and worship.

Wrapping up, I want to go back to this story from Sean Connery. I received this story from a preaching journal written by Craig Larson. I like how he sums up his story which relates to both of our points. He writes:

“Many people feel like Connery. Their lives aren’t all that they could be. They aren’t as good as they should be. Something is missing that even glamorous acting roles cannot fulfill. Only Christ makes a person’s life what it can be, should be and [will] be.” [Larsen, “750 Engaging Illustrations,” Baker Books: 2007, p 9.]

Baptism benefits everyone. Everyone can do good and still get lost. Baptism directs our way towards the generous grace of God. We celebrate that life today. And I get to celebrate with you the generous gifts God gives you to bring about that life. God be praised. 


Sunday, October 6, 2019

A Beacon of Light as We Wait for Justice

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
October 6, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently…
 Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; do not be provoked; it leads on’ly to evil.”

Psalm 37 7-8

If there was ever a time for American Christians to call out with the apostles, “Increase our faith.” Now might just be the time. If there was ever a time for American Christians to stand troubled with Habakkuk, “Strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.” Now might just be the time.

Now is the time for Christians to trust with the Psalmist, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently. Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; do not be provoked; it leads on’ly to evil.”

Now is the time for Christians to stand with Habakkuk at the watchpost and keep watch to see what G-d will say and what the Lord will answer concerning our complaint.

Now is the time for Christians to serve humbly, do as we ought, to wait on the Lord and refrain from anger and seek justice and peace.

If to refrain from anger you have turned off the evening news, if to refrain from anger you have stopped reading the newspaper, I cannot say I blame you. No matter which side of the aisle you are on (and by aisle I mean the political aisle) the news will only make you sad or angry and call out for justice. Justice will seem elusive because we all wait on justice that looks different and tests our patience with one another. So if you have turned off the news, I cannot say I blame you. But if you turned off the news last week, you missed the story that unveils the mystery of waiting on G-d with hope and with faith. Do not fret if you have missed the story of Brandt Jean and Amanda Guyger. I will help you catch up.

Texas police officer Amanda Guyger shot and killed Brandt Jean’s brother Botham last year. It was one of a series of incidents involving police officers shooting and killing unarmed civilians, many of the cases with racial implications. Two movements grew out of these incidents Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Both movements seek justice. Both movements wait for justice, but they wait separately. 

The initial police investigation did not recommend charges, deeming the incident a tragic accident. Amanda Guyger's and Botham Jean's apartments were one over on top of one another, different floors in the same building. Officer Guyger walked into Mr. Jean’s apartment thinking that it was her own and thinking she was looking at an intruder. A grand jury had a different opinion and sent charges to the prosecutor's office. A year later (last week) the trial happened. I watched the case waiting for I didn’t know what. What does justice look like for these two people and their families and their supporters and their common community? The prosecutor’s office even left the decision of the charges up to the jury. What does justice look like when the prosecutor passes that responsibility along to others? The jury got to say whether it was manslaughter or murder or something else. 

We wait on justice. We decry the violence. It does not matter how you pair it: men on women, white v. black, criminals against law enforcement. By the way, this same week a Sikh officer was killed on duty in Texas. Again, it does not matter how you pair it: criminals against law enforcement, law enforcement against the innocent. It does not matter. In all cases we decry the violence. We wait for justice. With tears Amanda Guyger testified in her own defense. The jury convicted her and sentencing began. 

And as part of the sentencing procedings Botham’s brother Brandt took the stand and gave his testimony. This is my own transcription. He spoke slowly, with drawn out pauses with such deep emotion that I can only acknowledge but never recreate.

“I don’t want to say twice or for the hundredth time what you’ve or how much you’ve taken from us. I think you know that. But I just…I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all of the the bad things you may have done in the past. If you truly are story. I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you and if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. 

I love you just like anyone else and I'm not going to say I hope you rot and die," Brandt Jean told Guyger. "I personally want the best for you. I wasn't going to say this in front of my family, or anyone; I don't even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that's exactly what Botham would want for you. And the best would be give your life to Christ. I am not going to say anything else. I think giving your life to Christ is the best thing Botham would want for you. Again I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad to you. I don’t know if this is possible but can I give her a hug please, please.”

The video shows the full length of their hug. As he reaches out to embrace her, you can see the judge wiping tears from her eyes. Judge Kemp will also embrace Ms. Guyger before she leaves to start serving her sentence and give her the Bible off of her bench, the one she has used everyday. 

Now, after this moment a few activists warned Christians like myself to responsibly approach this powerful moment of forgiveness. I will share one set of comments from Jemar Tisby, a Christian activist and author.

Black forgiveness is costly. It requires us to absorb wrongdoing even as we continue to work for justice. Black forgiveness becomes cheapened when we take it for granted. Black forgiveness is admirable when it is freely given and not demanded or expected. And the best response to black forgiveness is to prevent the harm that makes it necessary in the first place.

I offer my closing words now. Brandt Jean’s words of mercy, forgiveness, and their embrace is not a substitute for justice. But he offers us in his Christian testimony a beacon of light, a glimmer of hope, a moment of reconciliation in a world the remains divided and longing for justice. His Christian trust offers a beacon and a hope and a moment of reconciliation as we wait upon the Lord, or as we say increase my faith. He gives a light and a hope as we serve the Lord and strive to build up the unity of the Church in the name of Christ who saves us.

I speak for myself. I stand here for the sake of the world and wait upon the Lord with a heart that longs for justice not of my own choosing, but a divine justice that holds precious all life.


Sunday, September 22, 2019

Homecoming Worship!

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
September 22, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 
Galatians 5: 22-23

My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 
John 15: 8

Our Galatians passage sounds like a recipe for a church: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Recipes are tricky. When Anita asked us to choose dessert recipes from one of the church’s old cook books. I had this recipe from Fredericka, our sister, who died a little over a year ago.

Southern Style Apple Pie: Beat 1 egg. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup sifted flour. Mix well. Add 1 tsp vanilla, pinch of salt, 1/2 cup pecans, 2 1/2 cup cut apples. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

I wanted to honor Fredericka with her recipe, so I wanted to make sure I tried the recipe before I brought it here. So I made it Friday night. It was edible.  But this is our Freddy’s recipe.

Sometimes that happens with new recipes. Sometimes that happens with new churches. A Mission Starting pastor comes to a place without a Lutheran Church. Thirty years ago, Florida was a great place to mission start a Lutheran Church. A lot of retirees from Pennsylvania who did the snowbird thing. They live seven or eight months in Pennsylvania and four or five cold months in Florida. Some mission churches worked, some did not. Recipes are tricky.

I tried a piece of my test pie with a generous amount of vanilla ice cream. It felt like something was missing. Have you ever done that? Left an ingredient out of a recipe. My mother made her sugar cookies for years without orange peel. She didn’t have orange peel in her spice rack. The sugar cookies were okay. Then one year before Christmas, she was at the grocery store and decided to buy orange peel. And the cookies were so much better, she never made them without orange peel again.

Sometimes mission churches, being new are missing an ingredient. Some ingredients you will know right away if you forget them. Chocolate chip cookies without chocolate chips, you still have some sort of a cookie. Cake without sugar is something more like bread. A sandwich without bread is something altogether different.

Same is true with churches. You cannot make a church without love, and a church without kindness is something other than church. What about patience though? I can see new churches lacking patience, wanting to get off to a running start. I can see old churches lacking patience as well. You still have what you need for church, but an ingredient is missing and something is off. Like my mother’s sugar cookies without the orange peel. Lacking patience allows eagerness and anxiety to rub off some of the joy and the peace. All these ingredients work together, blend together.

Our church recipe again includes joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, a pinch of self-control and a generous cup of love.

I remember once when my sister made muffins fifteen years ago. Out of college, just moved into her own place, she made muffins from scratch. She followed the recipe. They also did not turn out pretty. Nothing like the picture, nothing like muffins out of a mix. The muffins tasted okay, looked a bit flat. Elizabeth and I took a guess that her baking powder was old. Turns out she moved her baking powder from her college apartment. New baking powder, voila, her muffins rose up, looked like muffins tasted better.

Let’s take generosity for example. Because this congregation has the benefit of the generosity of many of our previous members. D— H— taught J— B— how to tithe. Several members over the years—(list some names)—have left donations to the endowment. For best results you can’t live on old generosity, instead we mix together new and old generosity.

Does anyone here watch Guy’s Grocery Games on the Food Network? This week, Guy had four California Fire Fighters battling it out in the Flavor Town kitchen. He wanted to do a benefit, remembering all those wild fires that plagued California last year. And he knew that firefighters have to prepare food for each other, so his producers found some of the best firehouse chefs in California and let them each play his game for a different charity. Guy Ferrari challenged the chefs to make a family favorite, but each chef chose a mystery can. They took the labels off of five cans and they each had to choose one not knowing what was inside. 

One chef got mushrooms. So when she made Spicy Habanero Burger with Sweet Potato Chips, she picked up some fresh mushrooms from the produce table and mixed them with her canned mushrooms. One of the judges said to her, “that is exactly what I would want someone to do with an ingredient like mushrooms, mix in some fresh ones as well.” (paraphrased)

We in the church do just that, we mix old love with new love, grandparents and grandbabies; old friends and new couples and new friends. We do the same with kindness, like remembering when you hosted and sponsored and immigrant family a dozen years ago and then new kindness that picked up trash along the Middle river last month and helped pack 30,000 meals to go wherever there is need, like the Bahamas, just two weeks ago. Also, as I mentioned previous generosity preserved in an endowment and new generosity received in the offering plate. 

[Hold Up Recipe Card] My ingredients were good. I made two changes. The first attempt, because I made it for my family, I made with Gluten Free flour. Because I made the second pie for you folks, I went back to regular flour and I ran it through a strainer, because I don’t own a sifter. I would guess that helped. But the real game changer was the salt. My first attempt I threw the salt in with the flour and sugars and mixed it in. Because I thought the salt would help things bind together. The second time, I threw the salt on the apples because I knew the salt on the apples would bring out, pull out, the moisture and their juices. And I let the salt sit on the apples five minutes. This time when I stirred it all together, the moisture just totally changed the consistency of the batter and the mix and I knew that this would work.

I thought an ingredient was missing, but everything is right here. We have all the ingredients for our Southern Style Apple Pie on this card. Also, we have all ingredients for a great church: joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, a pinch of self-control and an overflowing cup of love.

By right here, I do not mean just mean right here in this scripture verse. I mean all the ingredients for a great church are in this room today. All the ingredients are here. I am looking at a cupboard full of joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control and love. Christ is like the salt that pulls the moisture of love and joy and kindness and generosity out of your hearth. [Bring out the chalice for Holy Communion] Christ is the ingredient that binds us all together, an overflowing cup of love. 

Just like you overflow with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control and love. This cup overflows with God’s love into you.

We have a great recipe, a great church, a great God. 


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Rejoice with Me

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
September 15, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

Preaching Texts: Luke 15: 1-10

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15: 2

Grumble, grumble, grumble. I trust that you have heard people mumble under the breath. Grumble, grumble, grumble. And you are wondering if they are talking about you. Grumble, Grumble, Grumble. Maybe you have done it yourself, muttered something under your breath about someone there in the room with you.  Grumble, mumble, muttering, it is all the same.

I did not choose “O Christ the Same” out of the blue hymnal supplement to make you grumble today. I know some of you find it frustrating when you have to juggle between two hymnals. So you know, you should be thankful you are not Episcopalian, because they have both a hymnal and a separate worship book, so they often juggle between two books. So you know, I love the With One Voice rendition of “O Christ the Same” that we sing to Londonderry Aire. You will recognize it as the tune of “O Danny Boy.” So of course, your Lutheran pastor with the last name of McCarty loves this song and this tune. Knowing that this tune is one of my favorites, I hope makes it okay that we sing it, even if we have to sing it out of an extra hymnal. 

Jesus catches the Pharisees grumbling. Have you ever muttered something under your breath, only to have someone catch what you said: “What did you say?” People hear you when you mumble. I know because Elizabeth and I will whisper something in the kitchen, and one of our sons in the living room will shout, “I heard that.” Elizabeth and I will then laugh and grumble all at the same time. We have to explain to them, “if we wanted you to hear us, we would not have whispered.” I bet that has happened in your house as well.

The Pharisees grumbled and in this case, I suspect the Pharisees wanted Jesus to hear them grumble. And I betcha that Jesus knew exactly why the Pharisees grumbled. I bet you they had this conversation before. “Why Jesus, why are you eating with those people? Why do you take time for them, when you have us here?”

You recognize the jealousy, envy, possessiveness, especially if you ever had the challenge of keeping two friends happy who did not get along with one another. Friends who often grumbled against one another. So, Jesus shares a couple of parables, one about the lost sheep and one about the lost coin. And we know the lost sheep points to the sinners and the tax collectors. But guess what, I tell you the lost sheep also points to the Pharisees. We have the same truth regarding the lost coin that could be the tax collectors and riffraff as well as the Pharisees and scribes. 

You know the cliche: two sides of the same coin the Pharisees and the riffraff. Jesus came to save both, and us too. Jesus loves both, and you too. I do not know that he likes both groups at times, but I know that he loves both. Jesus loves both. You know how I know Jesus loves the Pharisees. He seems to spend a lot of time with them. He goes to their banquets, and listens to their complaints. Jesus patiently says the same things to them about God’s love, and forgiveness, and the sabbath. I would imagine that the tax collectors grumble about the Pharisees, but maybe not in front of Jesus. I know I have said a few grumbles about modern day Pharisees, but I have learned over the years to be thankful for their faith and their witness.

And frankly we have all shared the Pharisees grumble: “It doesn’t seem fair.” That is all the Pharisees are saying. “It doesn’t seem fair” that we invite you to our banquet and you bring them along.” Or “it does not seem fair that when we do not invite you to our banquets, you go out and party with them.” Forget about the polite phrase, “It does not seem.” Let us take their words a step further, “It is not fair…” fill in the blank. I will speak for the Pharisees. I will risk putting words in their mouth. “We get it Jesus,” they must be thinking, “We get that you are wiser than us. We get that God has blessed you. We are here trying to do our best to be faithful. We understand, we do not always get it right, but we try and it is like they are not even trying.”

That is part of the celebration. I know I have shared this story before. It may have even been recently. A church in a Pittsburgh neighborhood was blessed with a church building, and a parking lot and an outdoor pavilion. They had their big annual picnic after worship. This congregation also had the blessing of a member who worked for a food distributor and he got a couple of cases of Klondike bars. Not six pack case that you buy in the store, but the case of multiple six packs that the stores get. They had plenty of Klondike bars. Even as they were cleaning up they still had plenty of Klondike bars in the freezer. So a member turns on the PA system. They had speakers on top of their pavilion just like on the TV Show MASH.  The 4077 had speakers that made announcements as they cut from scene to scene. Remember Radar announcing. “Attention. Attention. Here’s the announcement you’ve all been waiting for: Lt. Col Henry Blake is the proud father of a bouncing baby appendix.”

So a member of this Pittsburgh Congregation turns on the PA system atop the church pavilion and cranks up the volume and announces to the neighborhood, “Hey kids, Do you like Klondike bars kids? Well we got plenty, so why don’t you come on down to the church pavilion and get yourself a Klondike bar.” And the kids came, riding their bikes, and walking and running. And members cleaning up afterwards grumbled. “They are eating our Klondike bars.” Grumble. “It’s not fair. They were not at worship. They could have come to the picnic.” All while a celebration is going on at the pavilion. What a gift it is to be that person who sees those Klondike bars and says, “I am going to give these away!” and makes that announcement into the neighborhood. And what a gift it is to be that person with six pack of Klondike bars in your hand placing them into the hand of a child who is excited to receive it. (Or or Or) I have done this before, maybe you have too: like on halloween someone comes that you know without their younger sister, and you give them their halloween treat and then you give them an extra halloween treat and you say, “Take this one to your sister.” You share the joy. That is who Jesus is in this gospel lesson. That lucky person who gets to say bless you and come to my celebration.

You, you folks let me be that person, that person who announces we have plenty of Klondike bars. Or the person who hands them out. You let me be at the center of the celebration.

We had a dinner last winter and a couple of my friends from the community came. K—— has worshipped with us before but J—— never had worshiped with us before. They came down to dinner and were sitting at a table without any food. Everyone else is in line, and I was talking to J—— and K—— thinking this won’t do. So, I told them come with me, and I walked our guests past the end of the line. I found S— and B— in the middle of the line. I introduced our guests and placed them in the middle of the line with S— and B—. No one is going to grumble because you let me do that. It is like choosing a hymn from the blue hymnal. What a blessing it is to be that person.

Another example, S— W—— died. S— use to be a member of this congregation. What a gift it is that I still visited her on your behalf (and my own as well). So I get to see her two weeks ago and have a nice conversation with her at King’s Daughters. I visit last Wednesday and see her and her husband at Augusta Health. I meet her brother on Friday. What a gift! And what a blessing it is to know that the men of our Men’s Group will reach out to her husband and say to him, “How are you doing brother?”

What a blessing it is to be Jesus and eat with the Pharisees and eat with the tax collectors. Because sometimes you are the lost coin, but sometime you are just part of the celebration that the woman throws when she finds the coin. And Jesus is the one throwing the celebration. 

The story that follows the lost coin is the prodigal son, which has the older brother working out in the field and avoiding the party. I tell you though, I do not care who it is for, if Jesus is throwing a party, I do not want to miss it. And I don’t want to be caught grumbling at the party Jesus is throwing. I want to celebrate with joy in my heart.

You get a chance to be that blessed person next week at our homecoming celebration, when someone comes to worship and sits near you and that person or people has no RSVP, that you get to say to them, come join us for dinner. 

Or what a blessing it is to be M——. I mentioned her last week; she coordinates meal packing events for Rise Against Hunger. What a blessing it is to be her and to say to those gathered “these meals that you pack…” and ones like them, “these are going to the Bahamas.”

Do not worry, do not fret. When you worry or when you fret, you might end up grumbling. Do no worry about who is first or who is last. Do not fret about who might be kind of like a tax collector, do not fret about those who seem pious like a pharisee. Do not worry about who is the lost sheep or whether or not you are the lost coin. I do not care whether the tax collector or the Pharisee throws the banquet that Jesus is attending. Because I know that Jesus is the banquet. Jesus is the woman throwing the celebration because she found the lost coin. God the father is the one who killed the fatted calf because his son who was dead has been found alive, And we are the ones who proclaim the blessing to those willing to listen. To rejoice at the lost coin. To celebrate. What a gift.


Monday, August 5, 2019

El Paso and Dayton

I had a normal eventless Saturday. In light of the news, I guess I should say I had a good Saturday. I went to the farmer’s market and picked up some of Joe’s Brauts for dinner. I took the boys to Waynesboro for back to school shopping, perhaps that like families in El Paso. We played cards in the evening. I went to bed aware that a horrific shooting took place in El Paso, TX. Sunday morning, Melanie Rhodes, our assisting minister asked if she should include a prayers for the shooting victims. I said, “please.” It was in the prayers of the people that I learned that a second shooting had taken place in Dayton, OH. Had I known the second shooting had happened, I probably would have changed my message for the day. I had a normal Saturday, and many families wished they had a normal Saturday.

The statistics vary and different people track different numbers. By one set of numbers, there have been more mass shootings than days in 2019. The United States has experienced 255 mass shootings, defined by incidents where four or more people have been shot. Also, the United States has experienced 17 deadly mass shootings in 2019, where four or more people were killed in a shooting incident or string of related incidents. That is more than one mass shooting every day and more than two deadly mass shootings a month. Either way that is a powerful amount of grief.

During the month of July, I read the book of Ezekiel. One of the three great prophets and four major prophets of the Bible. I told my congregation on Sunday that reading Ezekiel truly weighed me down with the grief of our heavenly Father. In Ezekiel somewhere there are words to express the grief I feel at listening to the reports of these tragedies and the hollow sounding talking points that followed. Now, I have a strong need and a strong desire to shift to the hope of the Heavenly Father that comes to his creation in Christ Jesus. I have told my congregation that I will read the gospel of Luke next in search of the words that describe the hope that comes from Christ.

There are other ways in which I will respond. On Thursday evening, many of us will gather at Grace Waynesboro for a prayer service. I know some people roll their eyes at “thoughts and prayers.” Still we gather not as a media spotlight, but because we need to gather and we want to pray. I will also change my donation to the Violence Policy Center from an annual gift to a monthly donation. I will post details about the prayer gathering on our Facebook page. And I will give thanks to those who have found stronger words to express their thoughts, their grief, and their hope.

Pastor McCarty

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Good Samaritan

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
July 14, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

Preaching Texts:    Luke 10: 25-37

Please join me in a prayer of gratefulness and thankfulness for Pastor C-- Tr--, who supplied for me last week and Pastor Ch-- R-- who will fill in for me next Sunday. I am truly blessed, we are truly blessed to have a couple of friends who worship with you and know you well to step into this pulpit when I am away on vacation. We thank God for their faithful presence. 

For those of you reading Ezekiel with me this month or trying to read Ezekiel, it gets better this week. The first 24 chapters of Ezekiel give us an eye opening experience about the depth of grief that God experiences. The grief of a father who has been woefully betrayed by a favorite child. But this week, the prophet begins to warn Israel’s neighbors that God has also seen their failings and that His chosen people will return to prominence. All of our reading this week sets up the Valley of the Dry Bones a week from Tuesday. I encourage you to stay with it and persevere.

Now, to our gospel lesson for today, we return to this most familiar of Gospel lessons: the story of the good Samaritan. As soon as I say "good Samaritan," as soon as you hear this gospel lesson, your mind probably rushes to a situation you have found yourself in where you either passed by on the other side or where you stopped and gave aid. Maybe you thought of both moments, most of us have in recent memory a time when we stopped and helped a stranger as well as a moment where we passed by on the other side. Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan is one of those stories where everyone who hears it can feel singled out. 

Perhaps that sounds amusing, everyone feels singled out. Actually, the purpose of this story is to unite people, even unite enemies--unite opposites might be the better term. A Samaritan helps a stranger; a Jewish rabbi praises a Samaritan over and above a priest and a levite. Jesus’ listeners would expect the priest and the levite to be the heroes of the story. Perhaps even offended that they are not the heroes of the story. Then comes a Samaritan? 

To understand Samaritan, I suggest that you think of your least favorite person that you see all the time. The individual that makes you think, “not you again.” We have to understand who the Samaritan is to the people of Jesus’ audience. The pimple on your face is annoying, but the Samaritan is the pimple bloated on your face on the day of your family photograph. Or if you watch FOX news, the Samaritan is your least favorite person on CNN. The same is true vice versa, if you watch CNN, the Samaritan is your least favorite person on Fox News. You can’t stand them. Get the idea of what Samaritan means.

The priest and the levite is the pillar of your community, the soldier, the sailor, the police officer, or teacher, nurse, doctor, firefighter, pastor, but the Samaritan is the person who does the right thing in Jesus story. The Samaritan shows mercy; the Samaritan shows compassion that goes beyond what is normally expected. “Here are two denarii, I will return and cover the balance.” Jesus describes a community where Samaritans are not just your neighbors, but are neighbors worthy of emulation and praise. Jesus erases the borders that has Jewish people and Samaritans living in two separate neighborhoods. Jesus speaks about unity that is beyond anything his Jewish followers could have imagined.

This gospel passage is about borders and foreigners, so perhaps you read in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago an opinion column written by Tracy Pyles who made reference to this gospel lesson in an article about immigration.

Tracy Pyles served on Augusta County’s Board of Supervisors, and for a while served as their chairman—a conservative, Republican. He lifted up the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the heartbreaking news photograph of Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23 month old daughter Valeria lying dead on the bank of the Rio Grande river (that tragic photograph you may have seen in the news). 

I will just quote three paragraphs. He wrote on June 30th in the News Virginian: “This week’s haunting picture of a young father, failing to keep himself and his 23 month old daughter safe when seeking a better life for her, will live with me forever. And be a constant reminder of how Christians can be split on an issue that should unite all believers."

Pyles continues, “Jesus’ parable [the Good Samaritan] message was clear, 'love your neighbor' without qualification and without delay. And His instruction to the lawyer is just as unambiguous, 'go and do likewise.'
His third paragraph: “Another question generated from recent events is this: Do “conservative” Christians inhibit or give cover to politicians who reject what I believe is a consistent part of the Gospel message: compassion without borders.” (end quote.) Not all Republicans support what is happening at the Mexican border: detainment and antagonism. Likewise not all Democrats are unwaveringly pro-choice.

I agree with Mr. Pyles, but I am not so naive as to believe that all Christians agree with us. When you recognize that disconnect, then you truly understand just how challenging this Good Samaritan parable is. We struggle with how to do and say the right thing, when conventions suggest silence. How to talk about issues of justice in ways that do not divide us. As I read over the parable, I cannot help but wonder about the priest and the levite, in praising the Samaritan, does Jesus rebuke the priest and the levite. Or do we read the rebuke into the story because we no longer hold the priest and levi up as role models. 

We struggle with this. I have seen members walk away, leave when I have talked or we have talked about gun violence, and same gender marriages, health care. We think about these topics as political issues, but they are also justice issues about life and freedom. And the lawyer's question that starts off this whole story is a question about life: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question, “What do you find in the law, what is written there?” 

“You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. That you may recognize as a variation of the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Every major religion has some variation of the golden rule. I have a page in the back of the church with some of the variations you can find. None of those variations say treat all "believers" as you yourself wish to be treated. None of the variations place the limit on "brothers" and "sisters of faith" or "citizens." Always in the broadest of meanings neighbor and other: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” 

This is the key to life and there is no work around. The key to life lies not so much in seeking to preserve your own life, but in seeking to preserve the life of those people who live by you, whoever they may be. Life is precious to God and worth both cherishing and preserving.