Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thoughts from the Pulpit

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
December 6, 2015 Luke 3: 1-6
2nd Sunday of Advent
Tags: Luke 3

The world is messy, you understand that reality. In the midst of this messy world, God has provided this worship service to remind you of his affection for you. I will return to that point.

First, I encourage you during this advent season to sit down and read the gospel of Luke from beginning to end. You probably can read it in two to three hours.

You know the best way to start studying the Bible?

This is a joke by the way. I tell you that so that when I give you the punch line you know you have permission to laugh.

My younger son brought home from school a random acts of kindness calendar for the month of December. Wednesday was “Tell a person a joke and make them laugh.” So we sat around the table for breakfast Wednesday morning and told a bunch of light bulb jokes. (How many charismatic pentecostal missionary children does it take to change a light bulb?) I will save those for Epiphany.

This joke is appropriate for today. What is the best way to start studying the Bible?

You Luke into it? You (Look) into it?

So again (anyhow, I will work on my delivery) I encourage you to break open your Bible during your preparations for Christmas and read the Gospel of Luke in the next two weeks. As you read the Gospel of Luke, you will get this sense that even as God works in the world, something bigger is about to happen.

God is at work setting something up and building anticipation.

The first chapter of Luke begins with the Angel Gabriel appearing in the temple to Zechariah and telling Zechariah that his and Elizabeth's prayers have been answered and they will have a son, who they will name John, and John will be great in the sight of the Lord. And then next Gabriel goes to Mary and calls her blessed by God, and she to will conceive a child. Then the pregnant Mary and the very pregnant Elizabeth get together and the child in Elizabeth leaps at the arrival of the mother of our Lord. And Chapter 1 of Luke ends with the birth of John and Zechariah's song of praise that we read in the place of our Psalm this morning.

A lot happens in Chapter 1 of Luke, 80 verses, 4 different scenes, three ordinary people that God chooses to work through—Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah. One extraordinary person, John the Baptist who leaps in the womb upon the arrival of Mary. And even this extraordinary prophet, pales in comparison to the one who is to come. A lot happens in Chapter 1 of Luke, but we have this anticipation that something even bigger is about to happen.

This brings us to Chapter 3, the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry. Chapter 3 begins with a litany of names of almost extraordinary people, almost extraordinary except for the fact that they behave in less than ordinary ways. And behaving in less than ordinary ways, they have made a bit of a mess of the world in which this story takes place. Almost like the start of a joke: an emperor and four governors were lost in the dessert. Or a father and a son went to church one day. (Annas and Caiaphas, the two high priests were father and son in-law. The story is that Annas was forced into retirement by Tiberius.) If this is the start of a joke, it is the start of a bad joke. The Emperor of Rome, the Governors, the high priest of the temple and the former high priest had the power and position to do something incredible. They had power to save lives. Instead the word of God comes to John in the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere and that gives start to something incredible. His words and the prophet's Isaiah words prepare the world to receive the Messiah.

And you and I know if the word of God is active in someone, something great is about to happen. When I set up the joke at the beginning of the message, you may have had this sensation, anticipation, that you were going to be either mildly disappointed or somewhat amused. When God sets things up, when you see God active, when God is active in someone and you know something great is about to happen, we call that hope. The hope of God acts as a powerful force in the world.

The world even two thousand years after Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Annas, and Caiaphas, (the world) is still messy. We can no longer blame that on them anymore. We find ourselves waiting for the next explosion or gunshots or frightening medical diagnosis. In this world God acts for good. His word is on the lips and in the hearts of thousands and millions of men and women. They gather for worship because they know God cares, and we refuse to live in a messy world without hope. This worship is a reminder that hope is for you as well. His holiness, his affection is for you. The coming Savior is for you. With everything going on in the world, be reassured that God is there sharing his love and offering his hope. And yet still, God is here with his hope and his affection for you today and always.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

First Sunday of Advent

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
1st Sunday of Advent
November 29, 2015
Luke 21: 25-36
Tags: Peace, Quilts, Advent, Luke 21

This Sunday we have with us three peace quilts that were made by the people of Staunton as part of last years Peace Rally in Gypsy Hill Park. These quilts are the joint effort of children and adults, some adults parents, some adults grandparents and some of the adults who have yet to have or never had children. When I saw the quilts I recognized some of the names on them. [Read some children's names from quilts. Acknowledge two adults whose names are on the quilts]. I will read some of the quotes later, yet...

As you hear our scripture passages for today, you need to have the context of peace in your heart and on your mind. Because when you have peace in your heart and mind, then you will understand why Advent begins the first week with the anticipation of Christ's second coming. You celebrate this first Sunday of Advent in anticipation of the return of the Prince of Peace.

The attacks in Paris have made people uncomfortable, again. Heightened security surrounded the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I would guess heightened security in our airports as well. People are nervous.

Closer to home, Chicago Illinois has been on edge this week as a 13 month old dash cam video of a police shooting was finally released. City residents and officials feared protests would turn to riots.

Before you lament how the world is changed, remember how on edge the world was before World War II, or at least what you heard about that time. The world was on edge when Nazi Germany was building military forces and annexing Austria and occupying Czechoslovakia and commandeering Jewish businesses and homes and destroying Jewish lives.

And before that worldly trauma, how the depression engulfed this country in deep poverty.

And also, for more of you, in your life how civil rights protesters were not always welcomed in communities where they marched.

It has been 150 years since Staunton experienced the ransacking and fires associated with war, which means not in our life times. And over those 150 years, this community has forgotten what that occupation and destruction was like. Though in other ways you have experienced the tribulation and uncertainties connected with having family members go overseas to fight.

Luke writes a gospel passage, the one that we read this morning, that is as fascinating as it is unsettling. Few Christians doubt that Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple. Even if Luke writes this after the temple has been destroyed, Christians do not question that Jesus prophesied the destruction as part of his teachings. None of Jesus' predictions however describe the horrible onslaught against human lives connected to the temple's destruction. In his book the Jewish Wars, the Jewish historian Josephus records the brutality of the siege by Rome by participants from both sides of the conflict as well as residents starved out during the siege. All I can say is worse than the destruction of the World Trade Towers, worse than Sherman's march on Atlanta, worse than Gettysburg or Antietam. When the first Christians heard what Luke wrote, they wouldn't need to be reminded of what happened in Jerusalem.

They had their Jerusalem. We have France, the World Trade Towers, WWII, the depression, civil unrest and discrimination. We have our own unrighteousness and slowly over the next thousand years these too will fade from memory. What will last? Verse 33 tells us what will last. “Heaven and Earth ill pass away,” Jesus says, “but my words [Jesus words] will not pass away.” These words proclaim truth and grace, reality, forgiveness, and hope. As your redemption draws near, as the second coming draws near, as peace draws near, the words of Jesus will stand strong. And these words, his words, will inspire.

Here are some of those quotes about peace.

Peace is when you are free of fear.      Nancy with drawing by Rony
Share your Birthday presents.      Camryn
Birds chirp a peaceful song.      Samantha with drawing by Lele and Nalia
If you chop down trees, plant new ones.       Sydney with drawing by Charlotte

All of us who live and have faith understand that part of our ministry is to work for peace that will only fully arrive in the return of Christ the savior. We will see fruits of that peace, like panels on these quilts and you will receive words of hope that remind you that you are not alone.

Knowing and Loving our Neighbors,
   even if we don't really like them.       Beverly with drawing by Julian
Peace is no fighting. Everything is Awesome.
   Everything is Awesome.       Carter with drawing by Emmitt.

I am fairly certain I have said this before. The liturgical church year begins right where it ends: with readings focused on the end times, the eschaton. In Advent, this focus reminds us as we prepare to celebrate Jesus nativity, that we also await his coming again. We want [desire] Jesus to come again. We want all of creation to experience the peace that God intended.

Peace is a new generation of children who are taught to choose love.
      Emily with drawing by Andrew.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

John the Baptist and the Voice of God

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
July 12, 2015  Mark 6: 14-29
Tags: Mark 6, Baptist, Sin

John the Baptist and the Voice of God

The beheading of John the Baptist seems preposterous; an extravagant tale that comes to you straight out of Game of Thrones, or Outlanders, or the Mad Max saga.  Except, except you who are wary of the world know better than to think or to say this could never happen today.

Newspaper stories or gossip of love triangles where one rival tries to take out, squeeze out, push out their competition.  Maybe they do not go to the point of death, but of course it has gone that far, and not just in the movies.

Likewise you hear of modern attempts to silence ones biggest critic by various means: scandal, imprisonment, or death.

The story of Herod, and Phillip, and Herodias, and her daughter, and John the Baptist seems exaggerated to the point of grotesque ridicule.   And yet you know, whether or not you are willing to admit it, that you too deal with this crud to some lesser extent.

Maybe you have a rival? If not a rival someone to gets on your nerves, annoys you--maybe at work, maybe a cousin, maybe a boss or someone who became your boss.  Maybe they are confrontational, maybe they are a bit too perfect, or a bit too perky, or a bit too lucky, or a bit too problematic.  Someone you just wish would go away. You don't want to cut off their head, just cut them off or cut them out.  That is what this story is about.

Maybe someone you love and who loves you back, did something for you that they really should never have done?  They did something they didn't have to do, but they did it anyhow because of love.  Maybe they looked the other way.  Maybe they gave something to you on the side.  Maybe they stood up for you even when you were dead wrong.  That is what this story is about.

Maybe you said something you regret?  Maybe even as soon as it was said, you realized this is going to come back to haunt you?  That is what this story is about.

Maybe you have seen your own sin in your children as if they learned it from you?  That is what this story is about.

Maybe you have partied just a little bit too hard.  And maybe in the frivolity or jubilation of the moment, you came this close to doing something you regret.  Or maybe did something that haunts you even today?  That is what this story is about.

This story is about sin.  John the Baptist spoke clearly against sin, and he is dead.  Trust me when I say there are others relieved to not hear him anymore.  They wished him to go away rather than to get killed, but now at least John is no longer confronting them with his righteous way of living.

Remember, John prepared the way.  Remember what John proclaimed, “A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  Repentance and also urgency when you remember that he said that “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me.”  Preparation, repentance, and urgency, that message was silenced in the death of John the Baptist.  Death silenced John.

Death, however, did not silence God.

Jesus steps forward from the moment of his baptism and proclaims a message of repentance and forgiveness and faith, and does so with power.   People are healed.  The multitude are fed.  The message pours forth throughout Galilee in the proclamation of his followers.  And the voice of God silenced in John by Herod, still reaches his court and his ears.  The voice of God lives on in Jesus and in his ministry.

And more than Herod will hear, and some again will desire the voice to go away.   Again death will rear its ugly head in the form of the cross.  Death, however, does not, will not silence God.  Even Herod knows what is coming, imagine that.  Herod knows someone is going to be raised from the dead.  He guessed wrongly that it was John.  But he knew it was going to happen.  You and I know that Jesus was raised from the dead.  And the voice of God in the Son of God continues in his ministry and this ministry even today.  And, no maybe about it, his voice is in our voice when...

We praise God that God will not be silenced. 
We sing His praises. 
We give thanks with our voices. 
We speak His word, His Holy Word, with care. 
We speak for justice. 
We lift up, encourage and support the poor. 
We forgive sins. 
We ask others to helps us. 
We teach our children the stories and the practice of faith. 

And when we stand together the voice of God will not be silenced so long as there is a church with breath to sing His praises.


Monday, July 6, 2015

So They Will Know God...

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
July 5, 2015
Tags:  Ezekiel 2, Mark 6, Transitions, Evangelism

So They Will Know God...

[Sermon began with some transitions in the lives of congregation members.  Omitted here.]

Transitions happen quite often in our lives.  Some major transitions, like moving out of state.  Some minor transitions.  Some transitions whose significance you are not quite sure of at the time, like starting high school.

Our gospel lesson has a couple of transitions. You hear how the hometown struggles with the transition of Jesus from rabbi or religious teacher, to prophet. If they cannot accept him as prophet how will they ever be able to accept him as Son of God. You also have Jesus' disciples being sent out on their own, without bread or money in their bag, or an extra tunic just in case. They will be the ones casting out demons, and anointing the sick and even healing them.  They will trust in the generosity of people they have yet to meet to provide for them on their journey.

Transition. I want to take just a minute as we prayerfully consider these transitions and consider the book of Ezekiel. Our scripture this morning included a small portion of the call of Ezekiel.

So far in our summer scripture reading program we have had 4 or 5 days of reading Ezekiel. Depending on today's reading you are somewhere around Chapter 7 or 9. Of those of you reading, how many are already tired of Ezekiel?  One of my pastoral colleagues said of reading Ezekiel, "I guess you need to do it once."

Ezekiel begins with 24 Chapters of judgment, 24 chapters of doom followed by 24 chapter of support and hope. And even those first 9 chapter of supposed hope involve oracles of doom against Israel's enemies, which we do not read as all of that hopeful today. The oracles of hope or restoration begin somewhere around Chapter 33 or 36. For those of you reading, they will come. You will get there.

Today's passage from Ezekiel offers just enough of a platform to proclaim the grace of God to a stubborn people. Some times stubborn is a good thing, occasionally. For example if you stubbornly persist in your reading of Ezekiel, that is a good thing. But most of our stubbornness, frankly works against God. When one stubbornly refuses to come to worship in the Lord's house, or read the scripture, or to thoughtfully examine one's behavior and identify what sins truly need to be confessed. God sent Ezekiel to a stubborn people, not just stubborn, but a nation of rebels living in a land of exile. God will place words in Ezekiel's mouth and give him a message to proclaim and many will not listen to him. [But,] But, eventually they will know and come to realize that there has been a prophet among them, a prophet of the most high God.

When they realize that, they will know that God has not forgotten them. Ezekiel is bizarre, but this bizarre prophet with his apocalyptic like imagery, and visionary use of descriptive language stands as a reminder of the love of God for his children.

The same can be said about Nazareth, Jesus hometown, where he grew up and matured from a child to a teenager to an adult. Eventually, they will know that there was a prophet among them, and not only a prophet, but someone who loved them unto death, and brought them into life.  One day, some of them will realize just who Jesus is, and then they will know God and God's love.

The same can be said about the disciples sent out in pairs to neighboring villages and homes. Even those places where they shook the dust of their feet, one day people in those villages might just realize that God sent to them an ambassador of His love.  And then they will know God.

The same is true with your invitations to friends and neighbors to come to worship or to read scripture or to be faithful or to believe in Christ and be baptized. You invite them, not that they will respond right away. You will invite them to be here next week. They may not come. You will lend them a bible, or give them a bible, they may not open it this year. They might not respond even when you are alive. You invite them however, you encourage them, so that when they come to believe then they will know.  When they come to respond, their eyes will open and they will see in you that God has been with them all along.  Then they will know that God has sent messengers to them all along and that God has loved them all along.  Then they will know that God has believed in them always, since that moment you first said a Christian word in their hearing, since the moment they were born.

Ezekiel is worth reading, stick with it, be persistent, a prophet among us even today.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Subtle Moment Jesus Won't Let You Miss

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
June 28, 2015  A Day of Remembrance and Mourning in the ELCA
Scripture: Mark 5: 21-43
Tags:  Mark 5; Day of Repentance

(This sermon was preached with descriptive sentence fragments and at least one really long run-on sentence that I rushed through in speaking. My English major friends will cringe at these grammatical choices. My friends in rhetoric and theater will recognize the practice of rhetorical tropes and figures in public speaking.  I tried to clean some of it up for posting, but it became less the message that I proclaimed on Sunday.  Consequently, I left much of it intact even though it looks awkward in written language.)

Chapter 4 of Mark begins with Jesus teaching beside the sea. He teaches in parables to a crowd so large that he needs to stand in a boat and lecture while the very large crowd listens on the shore.

Chapter 4:35, the reading for last week, begins with Jesus telling his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus and his disciples in boats on the sea at night are almost swept away by the wind and the rain. Jesus sleeps in the stern of the boat and the disciples, frightened awake him, and he asks them have you no faith.

They finally arrive on the other side of the sea at the beginning of Chapter 5, but that only lasts until today's reading when Jesus crossed again in the boat to the other side.

And in Chapter 6 after today's lesson Jesus will leave this place and go to his hometown.

[The scripture is full of] Movement, coming and going and back and forth and crossing over and crossing back and going home.

Even in our lesson this morning, not only is Jesus moving, people are moving around him. Jairus comes, and Jesus goes, and the crowd follows and presses in.

Even in our life of faith, the life of Christ the congregation, we have people being sent out this week and new members joining. And [we have] people who weren't here last week coming back, and people who were here last week, not here, and my nephew visiting from Dubai sitting with his cousins, but only for a little bit because after lunch we are taking him to Pennsylvania. And for all these lives, coming and going and traveling, we surround them and support them with prayer.

So much movement, Jesus crossing over and back, and over again; the people coming to him; and he goes to people; and the crowd swarms and presses in. And our movement happens on top of that.

You almost might miss it. And really does it matter if you miss it. It would be quite natural for you to overlook, or not stop, just keep on moving. So much power. Jesus has so much power, what does it matter if a little bit of that power goes out from him in a touch amongst the pressing of the crowd and the movement of the people and the urgency of Jairus whose daughter is dying.

[The woman offers] A bold touch, a bold and yet discreet touch with all of Jesus coming and going and the frantic crowds surrounding him. This woman in need. This faithful woman. One might come close to missing this faithful woman in need. A faithful woman, who for a really long time, twelve years has been considered unclean, like a leper, dirty. Imagine being told, you cannot come to church and you need to stay away from those people who do go to church. For twelve years, you have no church and no Christian people in your life. Sin will do that to you, make you feel unworthy. [Keep you,] keep people away from this place because they feel unworthy, even if it is exactly the place [you] they need to be. She, the unnamed woman in our Gospel, lived like that, or at least with those instructions, to keep your distance. She boldly and yet discreetly reached out to Jesus from the camouflage of the crowd and touched Jesus. Perhaps her touch is like our prayers. Boldly and yet discreetly, we pray for ourselves and what ails us, and we reach out to God, with everything going on in the world and here in the church. Praying like this woman and how she reaches out to touch Jesus.

You almost might miss it. With the comings and the goings, the back and forth and Jairus daughters and funerals in Charleston and attacks in Tunisia and France, and the Women's World Cup. And really does it matter if you miss it. [Of course it matters.] It would be quite natural for you to overlook one woman, or not stop, just keep on moving. So much power. Jesus has so much power, what does it matter if a little bit of that power goes out from him. A touch amongst the pressing of the crowd and the movement of the people and the urgency of Jairus whose daughter is dying.

Jesus stops. Actually he doesn't stop, he turns about. “Who touched my clothes?” His cloak. If the governor was in Staunton, would you put your arm around him to have your picture taken with him. Probably not the best example, some of you wouldn't think anything about it. If the president was in town, or the former president, how close do you think you could get. Pope Francis, can you picture the masses lining up wherever is caravan might be driving just to catch a glimpse. When he was cardinal in Argentina, he would ride the bus. Not anymore. What was it like when the Statler Brothers brought Johnny Cash or Reba McEntire to Staunton for the 4th of July and people crowded the city for a free concert and celebration. They estimated 92,000 for Reba, which is almost 4 times the normal population of the city all crowded in around Gypsy Hill Park.

Jesus turns about and searches out for one person in need, for one lost sheep among a thousand. And with everyone looking around, this woman takes another bold and yet humble action. She comes forward and confesses what she has done. The Lutheran Church does not boldly practice confession, putting people on the spot, like this woman has been singled out. We trust in the act of confessing at the beginning of worship that people will be repentant. We trust that they will recognize their sin and perhaps give reflection regarding what sin in their own lives they need to change.

This woman boldly comes forward to acknowledge that she who is unclean, whom scripture and society would have forbade contact with a priest or Levi or a man, has touched Jesus. She was like the wounded man on the side of the road in the parable of the good Samaritan. The Levi and the priest passed on the other side fearing contact with the man who was as good as dead to them. She has touched Jesus en-route to a potential miracle and taken some of his power from him.

She comes forward boldly and humbly when it would have been easier to stay back. And Jesus pronounces her well. Just like he pronounces you well when you sincerely confess your sins. And this woman needs to be pronounced well. This faithful woman who for 12 years has faced this disease needs the assurance that she has been healed and that she can continue to reach out to other faithful people and be in fellowship with them.

You almost might miss it in the goings and the comings, the crowds and the pressing, and Jairus' daughter dying.

You almost might miss it with the comings and the goings, the crossing over and back again, and Jairus' daughter and funerals in Charleston and debate over an old symbol that Southern states dusted off to protest the Supreme Courts ruling in Brown verses the Board of Education, and the Supreme Court this week making marriage of same gender couples the law of the land and attacks in Tunisia and France and Kuwait, and the Women's World Cup, and prisoners escaped in New York, and shark attacks in North Carolina.

It would be easy to miss, the discreet practice of boldness lost in the crowd. [It would be easy] to just move on. A faithful person confessing and being pronounced well. Except it is not just one woman. This is about more than one woman. Here today in this worship someone, or someones, or all of you, have confessed and reached out to Jesus. You have boldly yet discreetly confessed. And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I pronounce the entire forgiveness of all your sin.

God almighty has made you well.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Living in Eager Anticipation

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
March 1, 2015
Tags:  Mark 8; Eager Anticipation

Living in Eager Anticipation

Jesus instructs his followers this morning to “Take up their cross and follow me.” That statement stands as a statement of deep faith. Perhaps deeper than many Christians find themselves ready to engage in. To tone the statement down a bit, consider this catchphrase, “drop everything and go.” Both statements suggest that what you are currently doing might not be as important as what you could be doing. Actually, you may have heard “drop anything and go” in advertising and marketing. “Drop everything and go to Crazy Harry's discount emporium,” which of course is not what we are talking about. So to our statement of faith, “drop everything and go” we will add another statement of faith:

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.”

Those who were here for Ash Wednesday worship will remember as we gathered around the communion rail to celebrate the Lord's Supper, we proclaimed the mystery of faith. “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.”

The Christian Church has taught belief around this proclamation. You believe Christ died. You believe Christ rose. And I hope you believe that Christ will come again.

Again the Christian Church has anchored our proclamation on this truth. This confession within the confession. Where, perhaps, the church has missed the boat is the extent of our hope. You believe these words, but do you eagerly anticipate this. Eagerly anticipate it to the point of “drop everything and go.” One might think that eager anticipation might guide our expectation of Christ's return, but probably not.

How might these words sound different if you surround them with eager anticipation:

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

Are you looking for Christ now? What does it mean to pick up your cross and follow Christ now. I will answer that question for you. It means Christ is here, now.

Sometimes the news provides lousy examples. You may have seen two this week about what has gotten people ready to “drop everything and go.” This week in the news you may have heard about or read about teenagers from Canada and three teenage girls from the United Kingdom flying to Syria by way of Turkey. The fear is that they are going to become a part of ISIS.  Some people will drop everything and go.  Though it might frighten us as to where they are going.  Pray for these girls, also a couple of boys from Canada, pray for them and their families.

Here is a less troubling example: a pool of a hundred people have been gathered from thousands of applications for a one way trip to settle Mars. A one way ticket, where the first settlers of Mars will likely have a life expectancy of about a hundred days. And the hundred in the pool eagerly anticipate the chance to be pioneers, to be remember as the first to settle Mars. Eager anticipation such that you leave everything and go.

But take these examples and wonder about this, what would make you in your teenage years, young adult years, what could the church have done to get you excited, and if not run away, move away in eager anticipation that Christ is here now or that Christ is coming soon. Actually it happens in the Lutheran Church, the ELCA has a program called Young Adults in Global Mission, where a young adult, aged 19 through 29, applies to live internationally for a year and do ministry in God's name.

YAGM Luke Hanson lives and works in rural eastern Rwanda, he teaches children at an elementary school organized by the Lutheran Church. He recently wrote: "One of the important themes that has colored my life in the last few months is that of “waiting well.” ....I’m learning from Rwanda that waiting well is about trusting— about
relinquishing the fear of uncertainty and pain and 
brokenness that breeds urgency and impatience—
waiting poorly. As it happens, my Rwandan village 
neighbors have been excellent teachers.... Things which initially caused me such great impatience and frustration are no longer such a huge deal ..."

I like the paradox of not being urgent or anxious from Luke's blog cast against our eager anticipation of God's return. We wait patiently for Christ to return and yet we eagerly anticipate his return as well. We eagerly anticipate Christ's return so much that we look for it here on earth.

Perhaps this just might be the conundrum of the church. The church lifts up the resurrection as eager anticipation because of death. The closer one gets to death, the more one latches on to the hope of the resurrection. But for youth who have little reason to think about death, and middle aged adults as well frankly who do not want to think about their own mortality, the church needs another message.

To help them, young and old alike, we all can open our eyes and hearts to eager anticipation of Christ's return, not because death is a painful reality, not because you think the world is so messed up. Open your eyes and heart to the coming of Christ with eager anticipation because heaven is such glorious place, a wonderful place. And that heaven is so good and wonderful and glorious that it is overflowing onto earth now. Christ is here now.  The goodness and the glory of heaven overflow to you today, to us today and to the world today. And Christ tells you where to look to find him and the goodness of heaven, “pick up your cross and follow me.”


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Healing, Hope, and Proclamation in Christ

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
February 8, 2015
Tags:  Isaiah 40, Mark 1, Healing, Hope, Proclamation, Community

We move back upstairs for worship this morning, but we bring with us that sense of community formed by our worship downstairs.  To that community, our scripture for this morning adds Hope, Proclamation, and Healing.  That is what these lessons are about.  Hope comes from the Isaiah passage...

  It is he who sits above the circle of earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
    who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in. (Isaiah 40:22)

And even more hope later...

  He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
  Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
  but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
    they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29-31)

Proclamation you hear in the first sentence of Paul's passage. (I won't read that verse again.) To be clear, the proclamation he is talking about is the good news that you have in the cross of Jesus Christ. Good news that not only the Corinthians had, but good news that you have as well. Healing, of course, comes to you in the Gospel lesson. Though to be frank, the Gospel lesson has healing, and hope, and proclamation. All three are wrapped up in this one lesson.

Obviously, Jesus heals the sick. Perhaps that just might be your favorite image of Jesus. Jesus is the one who heals the sick. You and I believe that, and at times desperately hang on to the image of Jesus healing in stories like our gospel lesson. Jesus heals. Jesus cleanses the lepers. Jesus heals the man with the withered hand or the woman who could not stand up straight. Good stories that go back to our childhood lessons about Jesus. And yet, sometimes you lose the good news of the cross of Christ, if all you know is Jesus the healer. The gospel risks getting lost because healing itself is not the end result. Healing leads to hope. The gospel about Jesus is a little bit about healing. The gospel is a whole lot about hope. Amen.

To get you thinking about hope, I invite you to consider the possibility of healing. Just remember how miserable you felt when struck down by a common cold or a stomach virus. Paul's mother in-law had a fever; she laid in bed with a fever. Most of us have been there, done that, don't want to do it again. Now consider the possibility of healing. Even the possibility of healing leads to hope. Hope inspires in you ideas for what you can do when you finally feel better. And hope fulfilled when you do feel better leads to activity, and energy and thankfulness and joy. Praise God.

One of Jesus healing miracles was a man with a withered hand. I had a teacher whose right arm and hand had atrophied.  She would always keep her arm close to her side. Gary Burghoff, the actor who played Radar O'Reilly on MASH actually had an undersized left hand. Though he could still do quite a few things with his left hand, including holding a football or coffee cup, or clipboard. But for the man with a withered hand, or my teacher, imagine living and adjusting to life with essentially just one hand, and then having the hope of healing. What might you do first chance you got with your healed hand? Those who have ever had a broken arm or broken leg might remember that image of hope connected with the day the cast comes off. Jesus brings hope, and that hope changes you for the better. Amen. Sometimes that hope comes from healing. Sometimes that hope of Jesus making us better comes from the promise of forgiveness. Sometimes that hope, that being better in Christ comes from being nurtured by this holy word, strengthened by this Holy Supper, and blessed in the remembrance of your baptism.

Here is a point for you beyond proclamation, and healing and hope. Jesus brings hope, and that hope changes us for the better. And that hope changes us for the benefit of the community. Jesus heals Simon's mother in-law, and she responds in an appropriate way, through service. Later that evening you hear, it is not just her, the whole city gathered around Jesus. The whole greater community came to where Jesus was. He stood in the doorway and the whole city gathered. “The whole city gathered,” those words exactly, and “they brought all who were sick or possessed with demons.” “They brought all,” those words exactly. Why did they bring all? They brought all, because they had hope. And hope is powerful. The word choice is interesting, what comes next. They brought all, Jesus healed many, not all, just many. Jesus healed many with various diseases. He cast out many demons. Now, you cannot be sure why Jesus did not heal all. You can trust that the community is stronger because of those who he does heal.

While lifting up healing, the gospel does not let you make healing the end all and be all of the message. As Jesus will remind those closest to him and you as well, healing is not his primary purpose. At the end of the Gospel lesson Jesus is off praying, because that is what Jesus does, he goes off to solitary places and prays. When Simon and his companions finds him, Jesus instructs them, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

Proclamation: Jesus proclaims “God with you” to these neighboring towns. Soon, though not yet, the proclamation will shift to “The Son of Man will be lifted up...” and also, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son....” And the proclamation of the Good News will be accompanied by signs. Healing is one of these signs. Forgiveness is another sign of the proclamation. Miraculous feedings is another sign of the blessing of Jesus message. This worship is a sign of the proclamation and a beacon of hope. For the sake of this community, you are made better and stronger by this proclamation. You are fed and nurtured by the holy meal. You live in your baptism. Jesus changes you for the better. Praise God. You and I live in this hope, we are recipients of healing and we share in the proclamation of Christ our savior. Amen.