Sunday, March 15, 2020

Broken Vessels

Robert McCarty
Sermon from Christ Lutheran Church
Staunton, VA
March 15, 2020

Broken Vessels

Once upon a time, [in a time and a place before indoor plumbing], a young woman worked for a merchant [family] who lived on top of a hill. She worked as [their] laundress and every day she had to walk down the hill to collect water from a stream. She had two pots to carry water, which she hung upon a pole she could carry over her shoulders. With time one of her pots got a slender crack along its side. She observed the cracks on the pot and decided she could still use it.
Every day, the woman carried those pots down the hill to the stream, filled them to the brim, and  walked back up the hill, balancing the pole across her shoulders. By the time she reached the house, the [broken]  pot would be only half full while the other pot delivered a full portion of water.
The [broken] pot glanced at the other pot and saw water filled to the top, and it began to feel desolate. The full pot was proud of its accomplishment while the cracked pot felt ashamed and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it was meant to.
After a few years of what the [broken] pot perceived to be a failure, it spoke to the [laundress]. “ I apologize for my flaws. The crack on my side, has made me useless. I spill half of the water. I’m of no good!” the pot said.
The [woman] felt sorry for the old [broken] pot, and she said,”But pot, you don’t understand, You haven’t been paying attention. Look around you. As we return to the [family’s] house, I want you to look at the path we traverse.”
The next time when the lady carried the water up the hill, the pot carefully observed the path along the way. For the first time the pot stopped looking inward and instead looked out. On his side of the trail the pot noticed beautiful flowers growing in abundance. While the other side was still dry.

As the [laundress] reached the top of the hill, she asked “Did you notice the beautiful flowers on the path? They are only on your side of the path. I had always known about your cracks and I took advantage of it to water [seeds I planted along your way]. Without you being just the way you are, the path uphill would not have this beauty [and these flowers would not grace our family’s home].”
The broken pot was overjoyed. All its sadness was gone. He understood that the very thing he thought to be his flaws turned out to be a blessing for the flowers along the path….
[This version above, attributed to Anonymous, comes from with modifications indicated by brackets.]

The Samaritan woman of our gospel story is a broken vessel. Though, as I say this, be careful about guessing at her brokenness. Perhaps five husbands have died and she is five times a widow. Perhaps, as Moses allowed, five husbands have divorced her. The law allowed men to write a certificate of divorce, however a woman could not initiate the proceedings. So perhaps she has been dumped five times. Perhaps some combination of divorce and widowhood has plagued this woman’s life. If she was guilty of adultery, however, especially if she was guilty of serial adultery, the community would have stoned her. The law prescribed that punishment. Still, something strikes an awkward tone with this woman and her current living situation and her presence at the well. Typically women gathered together at the well. Typically a Jew and a Samaritan would not meet at the well. Typically a man and a woman would meet at a well. And typically, a Jewish man would not share any eating plate or drinking vessel with a Samaritan. We only have hints at the truth, enough to know this woman is broken, but not quite sure how.
I heard Pastor Dave Daubert speak last October. Daubert, an ELCA pastor, specializes in revitalizing congregations. He serves a congregation in the Midwest, he writes books, he gives presentations. He talks about the importance of facebook and your church website. And he shared this about the person who walks through a congregations doors the first time. The person who walks through those doors the first time does not come because they need more friends. Most people feel like they have enough friends, maybe too many friends, although maybe not enough really good friends. Daubert said people come through those doors because something hurts, something is missing, or something is broken. People do not often say, I feel great, I think I will start going to church. —  Does that part of it make sense? 
People do not start going to church because they have a good job, they have a good wife and the family is fine, to paraphrase a Billy Joel. Something is hurting, something is broken, something is missing, that is what drives new people to church. Perhaps one should also know, that people who have worshiped regularly for years can come here feeling broken or hurting. A reality that rings especially true today.
Why have church today? Because the anxiety is through the roof. And right now, we are all feeling helpless and vulnerable for the same reasons. Perhaps today, like no other Sunday, we all have an inkling of what it is like to walk through the doors of the church for the first time just hoping for a hint from God that he hears us and our feelings of anxiety and vulnerability. And if you confess that, then maybe, maybe you can catch a glimpse of the brokenness of the woman at the well. 
Jesus does not gloss over her brokeness. He does not tell her it will be alright. Instead, he offers her living water, which is a powerful force for life. I am not sure how best to describe her response.  She does not quite believe, but almost does. That is also probably typical of someone walking through the doors for the first time. How best to describe her reaction: trust, amazement, hope, some combination of the three. She goes to the people. I do not know why or how she and her community became so broken that she goes to the well alone, but now she goes from Jesus to her people and back again. “This cannot be the Messiah can it.”
I chose to use the New Living Translation Bible this morning for our reading, because the ending is nuanced slightly differently, in a way that I believe is important for the day. They tell her, “Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves, not just because of what you have told us.” The community recognizes the woman’s testimony is part of their conversion. Also, the community answers the women’s question. “He is indeed [Jesus is indeed] the savior of the world.” You could say something similar. Her testimony is part of your faith today.
Here is the great thing about Jesus, and it is true today. We talk about the woman’s brokenness, but again we are not quite sure what it is. It does not matter. Now, she is no longer defined by that brokeness. Now she is known for the trust she places in the one, Jesus, who stands before her. Now, she is known as one who received living water.
The same holds true with you and those who come here hurting or broken, vulnerable and unsure. There comes a point when you are known by the living waters of baptism that you have received, drowned and reborn. There comes a time when you are known for the one, Jesus, in whom you trust and his living water. There comes a time when we, those gathered around you can not even imagine you as broken but as blessed. 
There comes a time when you are not defined by the crack or cracks like the broken pot of our story, but you are known for the flowers along your side of the path. And Jesus is the one that helps you to see those flowers of grace and beauty. I pray for you this week. And I pray for those amongst you who long to be here, but join us in spirit. 


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Light of Justice Breaks Forth Across the Morning Dawn

February's Posted Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA 
February 9, 2020
Pastor Robert McCarty
  • Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12] 
  • The fast God chooses
  • Psalm 112:1-9 [10] 
  • Light shines in the darkness for the upright. (Ps. 112:4) 
  • Matthew 5:13-20 
  • The teaching of Christ: salt and light
Barrow Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States, finally has some daylight. Barrow has a new name. Actually, a new old name—Utqiagvik (pronounced UUT-kee-AH-vik), which is the town’s original Native American name. A couple of weeks ago dawn broke forth in Barrow for the first time in two months. From end of November to end of January, Barrow goes through two months of night, where the dawn never breaks. The sun lies tantalizingly just below the horizon for a couple of hours each day, but morning never breaks out over the southern landscape. The stars cast light through the evening, along with the moon and the northern lights, but night and darkness prevail for two months. People will call the police just to ask for the time. Imagine what it must be like to read the opening verses of Genesis in the prevalent darkness of Barrow’s winter: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…” Imagine reading the verse and stopping there in the darkness and letting the verse linger incomplete. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the waters.” Frozen waters lie north of Barrow, a coastal town that actually had to move because of rising sea levels. And “the wind” is the Hebrew Ruach, which could mean "wind" or "breath" or "spirit." “A breath from God swept over the waters.”

The sun returned to Barrow this year on January 23 at 1:10 PM. Just imagine having lived through two months of night, and for two months you have left the opening verse of Genesis incomplete with the breath of God hanging over the frozen waters. Then on January 23 on the edge of the Arctic Circle, at 1:09 PM, a minute before dawn, you finish the quote, and the sun rises. 

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the breath of God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” God creates light. “Let there be light.” God creates light and finally (finally) after two months of darkness in Barrow Alaska that sun rises and shows itself from over the horizon. I wonder how residents respond: relief, jubilation. God creates light.

Our Isaiah passage lives in the night of injustice with the darkness of poverty and nakedness and oppression that has lasted longer than two months. In this darkness God creates light by the words of Isaiah that call for justice. The ministry that Isaiah describes takes place around God who creates light.

Isaiah Chapter 58 starting at Verse 6:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then, then your light shall break forth like the dawn.
and your healing shall spring up quickly(.) (Isaiah 58: 6-8)

God creates light, and we tend to think about His created light in terms of the stars and the sun. The greater light of the sun and the lesser light of the moon to guide the night. Isaiah expands this metaphor of creation and light to breaking the bonds of injustice. Clothing the vulnerable and the naked becomes a point of light like a star in the sky. Housing the homeless, another star in the sky, every shelter is a star breaking down the darkness. Sharing your bread with the hungry becomes a point of light like a star in the sky. Not just a single solitary dot lost in the vastness of the night sky, but a thousand, hundred thousand, million points of light, shining forth justice and hope so that the darkness does not overwhelm like an unending Barrow winter’s night. God creates light in your ministry that cuts through the darkness of poverty and hunger and homelessness. Isaiah gives us this metaphor of light, justice and hope. This is God’s metaphor not mine, entrusted to the scripture to enlighten our lives.

Jesus in our gospel lesson reminds you that the light already shines in you. 

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14-16)

God created the light in you when God formed you in the womb. Jesus sees that light in you, and his ministry becomes a ministry of revelation. Jesus helps you to see your own light and to let it shine for others to see. 

Perhaps, you might remember President George H. W. Bush sworn into the presidency in January of 1989. His inauguration included a proclamation called “a thousand points of light.”

“I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding.”

During his four years as president, the White House acknowledged a thousand points of light in our nation—individuals and organizations that sought to use their gifts to improve the lives of the oppressed and vulnerable. Today, the foundation President Bush started continues to reveal a daily point of light in an individual volunteer who serves his or her community. Jason Farmer recently received the daily commendation for his volunteer efforts with St. Jude’s hospital. He benefitted as a toddler from a St. Jude’s childhood assistance program. For nearly fifty years, Farmer has stayed connected as a volunteer to St. Jude’s in Memphis Tennessee. Most recently, in the last couple of years, he began an event during African-American history month to celebrate the support of St. Jude’s African-American volunteers.

Meghan Chen, another recent Point of Light recipient, started an urban garden initiative in her home city. She explored the challenge of cities becoming food deserts, where people lack access to fresh food. After studying the problem, she started a container gardening program where she goes to schools and teaches students how to grow vegetables in containers that can sit out on porches or in sparse backyards that lack fresh soil. 

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.
[[then your light shall break forth like the dawn in Barrow Alaska]]
and your healing shall spring up quickly. (Isaiah 58: 8, with added metaphor)

The Virginia Synod has a “Do Justice” newsletter and blog that lifts up similar points of light in our commonwealth.  They recently lifted up a day of advocacy, January 22, where faith leaders across denominations and faith traditions all gathered in Richmond to hear about social justice concerns and meet with lawmakers to advocate justice “For All People.” 

The newsletter also provided information about FeedVA, a statewide information database about hunger and health issues. They have a map of all food pantries available in the commonwealth as well as the regional service maps for the six food banks that support hunger initiatives in Virginia. 

The season after Epiphany celebrates God who creates light and reveals light in this time of year where the days grow longer and night diminishes. Days finally feel like they are stretching out longer—more sunlight and less darkness. At the same time, in the spirit of Isaiah, we strive for more justice and less darkness. This morning’s scripture uses the visual of light breaking forth from the darkness as a visual description for justice breaking into the world and that light shines in each of you. Jesus sees you and blesses you as a light of hope and a light of ministry. Praise God. 


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.