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.


Monday, June 24, 2019

The Church for a Broken World

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
June 23, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

Preaching Texts:    Luke 8: 26-39

We like a rational world that makes sense. We like when life is predictable with a high level of stability. Instead the world seems broken or wild and we are trying to figure out our place in it. Our Gospel lesson gives us this wild story of extreme brokenness and chaos that just seems so antiquated. A demon possessed man running around naked breaking chains does not fit into the current world view. How does this story help us make sense of today’s world and our place as church in it? If this is our story how is it relevant to the rest of the world?

My sister Beth sent me an article this week written by a former college classmate. The article essentially asked two questions about relevancy that plague congregations like CELC: why church in the 21st century? and how church in the 21st century? I appreciated the article she sent me because Rachel Meyer, the author, didn’t just say “No” to church. She struggled with the question of relevancy especially as to what it means to her children. 

She is not alone in the struggle. Probably some of your friends are asking similar questions about why church? or how church? Perhaps some of your children or grandchildren have stopped asking the question and just said “no” to church.

Here is my answer to the first part of that question, why church?
A church builds community based on a common respect for the sacred and divine and helps people to recognize that the sacred lives even in marginalized (broken) places as well as marginalized (broken) people. 
The Christian church today recognizes just how broken the world is (the world seems). In today’s gospel lesson Jesus has ventured into another broken territory under Roman occupation. Of course, Jerusalem and Galilee are broken as well, but sometimes it is easier to see the brokenness in others than in your own lives, your own community. This land of Gerasenes is on the fringe. And the setting reminds us of other strange stories like Mad Max beyond the Thunderdome, or episodes on the border planets of your favorite science fiction series: chaos, strange relationships, different behaviors.

Our attention begins with the possessed man. How can you ignore a naked man living among the dead? Well you can’t, and Jesus does not ignore him. Jesus cares for him. Jesus does good, a miracle happens, chaos controlled. The story might even have a little bit of humor with the pigs, but the humor is lost on most of us today. Actually, this story lines up with our vacation bible school theme: “life is wild, but God is good.” Our VBS week set us in the midst of the African savannah as if we were in another story, Disney’s The Lion King. My thanks goes out to [names] who spent a week teaching youngsters about Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites into the wilderness. I love this theme, “Life is Wild, God is Good,” and how it matches this story of Jesus coming to this fringe community. Miracles happen, Jesus does good, chaos controlled, man is cured, sitting in his right mind. 

Let’s move on, because what I truly find interesting, and important, happens next in the story. The people of this fringe territory arrive and reject Jesus. This rejection does not make sense to me. Even though I have heard plenty of plausible explanations—they are scared, they are upset over the loss of the pigs, Jesus is a foreigner. These explanations sound straightforward enough, seem likely, but it still just does not make sense. Jesus has just brought order into a chaotic mess. He has done something beautiful in an ugly setting of tombs. And as these people come out to see what happened, “they found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” If Jesus brings order and stability to a wild situation, then why do people send him away. That actually sounds familiar, like today in the church. You and I see how Jesus brings stability, but others want distance between themselves and Jesus. Maybe this gospel has something to teach us.

To sit at the feet of someone at that time implies the relationship of student and teacher. The man has not just been healed, he is now a student of Jesus, learning from Jesus and what Jesus means to this country of Gerasenes. Instead, the local people are afraid, and we hear it a second time, “They were seized with great fear” and they send Jesus away. Except, Jesus has prepared his follower. A witness remains in the form of a new disciple for whom Jesus has done great things. 

As I grow older and stronger in faith, I see more people looking at me with these eyes that do not understand my faith. I feel normal and at my best when I sit at the feet of Jesus, but yet people are looking at me as a curiosity. They look at me as a curiosity even while I look at them with eyes that understand the brokenness they experience. They have questions they do not know how to ask, and I have stories that sound far-fetched to them about a man who died two-thousand years ago. This seems like uncharted territory that we are in.

We sit at the feet of Jesus and people treat us like the one possessed. As we sit there, Jesus gives us an answer as to how to be church. You remember those questions from the beginning: why church and how church? I gave my sister a nice answer, perhaps a bit stronger for the why church than the how church.

Jesus gives us the answer though for how church, how to be church in the twenty-first century, “return home, go and declare, tell people, how much God has done for you.” The once-possessed man goes and declares throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. How he was broken and God made him whole again.

As we prepare our stories, it may be helpful to remember the most important stories for others to hear have less to do with our success and good fortune and more to do with how we were broken and God snuck into our lives in an unexpected fashion and healed us. I have one such story shared with me about a young man who reflects back on how his parents handled him misbehaving. 

As a small boy, this person consistently came home late from school. He must have been hanging out with his friends after school. One morning his parents “warned him that he must be home on time that afternoon, but nevertheless he arrived later than ever.”

“His mother met him at the door and said nothing. His father met him in the living room and said nothing. At dinner that night, the boy looked at his plate. There was a slice of bread and a glass of water. He looked at his father’s full plate and then at his father, but his father remained silent. The boy was crushed.

“The father waited for the full impact to sink in, then quietly took the boy’s plate and placed it in front of himself. He took his own plate of meat and potatoes, put it in front of the boy, and smiled at his son.

As a young man reflecting back on that moment of his childhood, he said, “All my life I’ve known what God is like by what my father did that night.”

(Shared by Craig Brian Larson in 750 Engaging Illustrations.)

You have stories as well to share with the world about how God has come to you in a broken moment and made you whole. Those stories seem simple now, but they hold hope for our world.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Down in the River to Pray

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
May 12, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

The Song lyrics below are from "Down in the River to Pray" from the movie "O Brother, Wear Art Thou." And yes, I sang the song from the pulpit.

Preaching Texts:    Revelation 7: 9-17   John 10: 22-30    (especially Revelation)

As I went down in the river to pray 
Studying about that good old way 
And who shall wear the starry crown 
Good Lord, show me the way 

Last week I talked about Wow moments in scripture. Revelation is a book just full of the Wow. I was reading Revelation this week, and I saw the line about holding palm branches and I thought we could sing “All Glory Laud and Honor” again this week. We could join our voices with the heavenly choir and praise God and sing this refrain: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen" (Rev:7:12). We can come here and praise God the Father and lift up our palm branches and all wear white.

O brother’s let's go down,
Let’s go down, come on down,
Come on brothers let's go down, 
Down in the river to pray 

Why do Lutheran pastor’s wear white robes? We call them a symbol of our baptism—the community’s baptism—as if we are down in the river. But, you also know that our worship anticipates this moment—Revelation—when we all wear white, and we all sing, and we all wave palm branches, and we are thousands upon thousands, a great myriad of hope basking in the glory of God. That moment is surely coming. So sure are we that it is coming that the glory of this revelation moment spills over, splashes into our worship today. 

The outside world also splashes into our worship today—more than just the rain— because we live in the confluence of two kingdoms. We have a foot in the world and a foot in heaven. Well, it probably is more like a toe or two in heaven and a foot and half on earth. A foot and a half and then some lives in the reality of earth. But sometimes with our baptism, living in our baptism, we can throw ourselves, cannonball, belly flop, feet first or head first dive into the kingdom of heaven.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

The movie O Brother Where Art Thou has not one but two baptismal moments as George Clooney’s character and cynic Ulysses Everett McGill escapes from jail and becomes an overnight singing sensation and thwarts the klan, receives pardon from the governor, saves his marriage and comes face to face with the law and death. All of this happens in an hour and forty-five minutes. In the middle, in the first baptismal scene he and his two other jail-mates encounter a church gathering, not just at the river, but in the river to pray.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

(Sometimes Woody and Gerry and their blue-grass group has sung that song for us.) 

Ulysses two jail-mates, Ulysses as well, the three of them are surrounded by a congregation of Christ singing and clothed in white robes over their Sunday best outfits, and they process through the woods where Delmar and Pete and Ulysses are cooking and eating squirrel and the singing congregation lines up in hip deep water and the preacher takes them one by one and dips them backwards beneath the water. Full-immersion, they do not say the words in the movie, but you know the words. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

O sinners let's go down, 
Let's go down, come on down, 
O sinners let's go down, 
Down in the river to pray 

Overcome by the moment, Delmar runs, no procession for him, he runs into the water and splashes his way to the front of the line into the hands of the preacher and he comes up out of his baptism proclaiming the wow moment of God’s goodness.

“Well that’s it boys, I’ve been redeemed. The preacher done washed away all my sins and transgressions. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out. And heaven everlastings my reward.”

Ulysses chastises him, “What you talking about? We got bigger fish to fry.”

So Delmar says it again. “The preacher said all my sins been washed away. Including the Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yaslu.”

Ulysses, “I thought you said you were innocent of those charges.”

Delmar pauses to think for just a second, “Well, I was lying, and the preacher said that’s sin been washed away too. Neither God nor man’s got nothing on me now.”

Then he leans back with eyes closed and face up to heaven, arms outstretched. “Come on in boys, the waters fine.”

Pete thrusts his hat into Ulysses hands and runs into the water.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

O mother’s, let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
Come on, mother’s, let's go down
Down in the river to pray.

Oh, that we all run into the water. That we all splash face first into our baptism and into our future that kingdom, that heavenly kingdom with God. 

When we talk about the wow moments of living here on earth, many probably recognize the most basic wow moment of our common experience is the wow moment of birth. B--- and D--- up in the choir went down and visited J--- and L--- last week and brought back a few pictures of their baby son with his tuft of black hair. Because when you look at a new born child, you just have to stop and think we have all been there. We have all been small and vulnerable, totally dependent on the adults in our lives. Needing help to eat and get dressed and diaper changes. Small and no words. We have all been there.

Thank you to D--- for coordinating the carnations this morning. D--- and L---  and R--- and B--- and R--- and A--- for helping to hand them out. I have heard of another congregation where even the men get carnations, because we all have mothers. Those (men and women) whose mothers still lived would receive a red carnation and those whose mothers had died would receive white carnations. Then you could look across the congregation and see the mixture of emotions associated with mother’s day. I know some of you wish that your mother could be here. I also know that some mothers wish their children could be here as well.

And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

I have the good pleasure of telling you today, by the words and ministry of the Good Shepherd, Christ your lord, you have been born anew in these waters. You have come up out of the waters wet with your salvation won for you by the cross of Christ. Maybe that is why it is pouring rain today, so you have to get wet.

You have been saved. You have been redeemed. The straight and narrow path to heaven has been set before you. And yes you will stray again, but these waters before you will always show you the way back. These waters will always cleanse you from your sins and your transgressions. Come back to these waters, you come back to this congregation, you come back to this meal. Heaven everlasting is your reward.

And when you embrace this truth—the truth of your baptisms—and embrace this hope for the future kingdom of heaven here now on earth now, that moment in your life is also a huge huge wow moment. Born again, Jesus tells Nicodemus.

(Singing while moving from pulpit to baptismal font.)

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

O mothers, let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
Come on, mothers, let's go down
Down in the river to pray.

O children, let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
Come on children, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray.

(Placing my right hand in the font of water and then stepping into the congregation making the sign of the cross.)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.