Monday, October 26, 2020

Who Moved Our Church?

 John 8

Reformation Sunday

October 25, 2020

 

There’s this book called

“Who moved my cheese” have you heard of it?

Someone told me about it.

Apparently everyone read it in 1998,

but someone just told me about it a couple of years ago.

 

The book is basically a fable or a parable,

There are lots of lessons in it,

but the basic story is simple:

There are four creatures living in a laboratory cheese maze. 

Two are mice and two are kind of little humanoid,

I’m not sure why.

Their job was to find the cheese in the maze. 

For a very long time, the cheese would always show up

in Cheese Station C. They would find their way there,

get their cheese, eat their fill,

and come back when they needed more.

The cheese was always there.

It went on for, it seemed like forever.

They got used to it.

 

Then one day, they woke up and went to Cheese Station C,

and the cheese wasn’t there.

It just wasn’t there.

Then they went back the next day,

it wasn’t there again.

When it didn’t show up the second day,

the two mousy creatures decided

that they needed to go looking for more cheese.

  

The maze was big and scary and there were parts

they hadn’t been to in a long time since

they found the cheese in Cheese Station C,

but they knew they needed to just go.

 

But the two humanoid creatures,

they just sat there. And they sat there.

They came back to Cheese Station C every day,

and they cried and they yelled and they complained.

 

They longed for the days

that they would just come to their place,

Cheese Station C and they would just find it.

They wished those days would come back.
The cheese never showed up again,

But they wouldn’t go anywhere else.

They just kept coming to Cheese station C.

 

They said they had been doing it so long

that they deserved it, they were entitled to it,

and how dare they (whoever “they” were)

not bring cheese to Cheese Station C.

But they wouldn’t move

and they were getting more and more hungry

and weak and sad and depressed every day.

Just sitting around asking “Who moved my cheese.”

 

Eventually, one of the humanoids wises up

and decides to go and leave Cheese Station C.

While he’s looking for the cheese he learns a lot

of valuable lessons, until he finally arrives at

Cheese Station N and he finds that’s where the

cheese has been moved to.

 

He found that the two mousy creatures

had found it a long time ago and had been enjoying it.

We never find out what happened to the

last humanoid, he could have been looking,

or he could just still be sitting there

complaining, waiting and starving.

 

I bring up this story, because it’s Reformation Day.

Obviously, you see the connection, right?

Luther Burns the Papal Bull in Wittenberg Square
Karl Aspelin

This is the day we celebrate change. Reformation.
Specifically change in the church.

Today we remember and celebrate
the day that Martin

Luther nailed his 95 theses to the
Wittenberg church

protesting the very bad theology the
church was teaching.

On that day, God moved the
cheese on everyone.

And the so the church and then
the whole world changed.

 

We could say that the Lutherans were the early adapters,

the ones who first figured out that God’s spirit was moving

in another direction away from the bad theology,

away from the strict hierarchy that made God

inaccessible and cruel.  Lutherans were the first group

to stop sharing the idea that said our only access to God

was through priests and bishops, Who rejected

The theology that said that God wanted your money

or was going to leave you and your loved ones in purgatory. 

 

Lutherans were the ones who were out front.
Not the first ones who thought something was wrong,

but he first ones who did something publicly

and led a movement to change the Christian Church.

They followed the spirit of God and were the first

to get to that other station and receive the manna so to speak.

  

And ever since Lutherans have been right there on the fore-front of

change, right. We are always Reforming. Right?

Lutherans are known for our eagerness to change!

Okay, maybe not.

Some of us have the ability to change,

but the truth is we usually have to be

dragged over to the new station.

Or, even worse, some of our churches

end up starving at the original one,

saying who moved our cheese?

 

I mean we were used to the fact that

At one time the church that had

unquestionable influence in modern western society.

We just assumed for a long time that

every church would be filled every week,

As a denomination, we got use to the days

when you could build a church in a new

suburb and know that it would succeed in a few months.

 

Just a couple of generations ago,

It was assumed that most everyone you met would

know the stories in the bible, know the story of Jesus

and that most people in America would commit their

Sunday morning to coming to church building and worshipping.

And we assumed that the next generation would just

do the same thing that we had been doing.

Those assumptions are dying, that church is dying.

We’re watching it happen.

Fewer people deciding to go to church.

More people identifying themselves with no religion at all.

We’re seeing more people outside the institution of the church

dismiss the church’s relevance to the rest of society.

The church as we know it is dying.

 

And a lot of faithful people in the Lutheran church and other

denominations are sitting around and saying

“Who moved my cheese?”

We’re complaining about other people,

“why don’t they come to church regularly like they used to?

Why isn’t the church a priority in their lives?

Why can’t it be like the old days?

Why don’t the young people like and value what I like and value?

They have no right, Who moved my church?”

And this was all the stuff going on before this year.

 

In 2020, the cheese moved big time!

Everything we’ve relied on is changed.

The one basic thing we thought was a given –

meeting face to face in a room together –

has been taken away from us.

Boom, one day in mid-March.

 

Now some churches are adjusting to the change,

and are Reforming and some are floundering

and some are taking their chances with the virus

and going back together at full capacity,

some with scary results.


We are mourning this change, and hoping for the day

when that cheese will come back for us.

But maybe God wants us to take this time

to reassess, and re-focus, and practice being flexible and nimble.

 

Maybe the best thing that could happen to us is that

Our cheese is moved, then we have to leave the comforts

of our church and go out and find out what happened to it.

Maybe the best thing that can happen to us is dying

so that we can rise again.

 
 

So we are in the midst of great change, great Reformation.

We can’t even keep track, we can’t control it.

It’s happening so fast and furiously we can’t even

identify all the ways we’re changing

and all the ways that the pandemic will change us.

God is doing something new in our world.

Change is happening whether we want it or not.

From suffering and death of the old, will come new life.

Reformation. Lots and lots of change.

 

But here are the things that will never change:

God loves us unconditionally.

And Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead

just to reveal that love to us.

These are constant.

Those will never change.


And those were the things that Martin Luther

recovered and revealed and got us back to

in the Reformation 500 years ago.

These things are eternal.

That cheese we will always be ours.

 

The church may come and go.

The church as we know it may die.

Our cheese may be moved or look completely different,

but we don’t have to fear.

God’s love is everlasting,

Christ has saved us,

and the Holy Spirit will lead us where we need to go

Monday, October 19, 2020

Give to God What is God's

 
Matthew 22: 15-22

October 18, 2020

 

This scripture has been misused a lot.

It has been used, mostly, to justify the

separation of the work of religion

and the work of politics and commerce.

People have said that Jesus was telling the church

not to get involved in any part of politics.

Give to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor

and give to God what belongs to God.

This theory says that Jesus was not political, things are separate –

the realm of Caesar is money, finances,

your business, and work life, your political allegiance, your votes.

And the world of God is praying, worship, hymns, spiritual stuff.

God doesn’t get involved in those other places

and neither should you.

Church people should worry about spiritual and eternal stuff.

Politics are fleeting, temporary – we shouldn’t bother with it.

Even further, the phrase

“Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor “

has meant that Jesus is telling us to submit to our leaders.

It’s the responsibility of Christians to support

whatever the empire does.

That’s the way this scripture has been misused.

We’re not going to continue that.

The fact was, it was a very political world that Jesus came into.

And Jesus was a very political person.

At the time of Jesus, the Israelites were under Roman rule.

They had gone from being under one rule to another for many years.

The Romans were good in some ways,

they developed conveniences, roads, methods of commerce,

And Romans allowed people to worship how they wanted,

Even the Jewish people.

And the Romans required a ‘Tribute” be paid to it – a tax.

Romans required two things, that you pay the tribute

and that you keep the peace.  

No protesting, no gathering in the street, no organizing rebellions, 

no telling people not to pay their taxes. 

The Romans government required submission.

You had to worship Caesar.

You had to submit to their rule and whim.

And the Roman government was cruel.

The death penalty was a favorite consequence of the Romans.

Being under Roman Rule was an insult to the Jews.

So the question of paying taxes to it was always a sore spot.

Should we or shouldn’t we?

The Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus- to entrap him.

If he said that the Jews should not pay the tax to the Romans,

then Jesus could be arrested by the Romans for sedition.

If Jesus said that they should pay taxes to Rome, then

he would have lost his appeal to his Jewish followers.

But Jesus doesn’t answer yes or no.

Rather, he catches the Pharisees in their own trap:

First thing he does is ask the Pharisees for a coin used for the tax.

the he asked them for a Roman Coin.

As we find out in the story, it has a picture of Caesar on it.

And a claim that Caesar was the son of God. It was an idol,

a graven image. Jews, especially Jewish leaders

were not supposed to have these coins.

There was specially minted Jewish money

that was not very valuable outside of Jewish

circles that they could carry.

But Jesus asks for a denarius.

And the Jewish leader reaches in his pocket and takes one out.

 Jesus catches them,

the religious leaders were telling everyone else to

follow Jewish law, and they were breaking one of the rules.

He could have stopped right there and he would have had one up

on those people who were trying to catch him in a trap.

But Jesus goes on.

 He looks at that the coin.

If this coin has a picture of Caesar on it:

If it’s his and has his picture of it, give it back to him.

Give him his taxes,

but remember always give to God what belongs to God.

 It’s a subtle teaching. It’s not black and white. One way or another.

So the lesson is, pay your taxes.

Be a good citizen. Do what you need to do.

But always make sure that God gets what is God’s.

 The Israelites know, just like you and I know,

that God created everything.

God made the trees and the mountains and God also gives us the

materials to build things the wood and the steel and paper

and the brains to figure out how to use those things.

God gives us the intellectual ability to create political systems too.

And God wants us to use all of these things to serve each other.

 So we’re not asked, as people of faith, keep out of

the political sphere and the sphere of commerce.

Jesus is actually telling us to go into it.

To give it back to God.

To reform it so that it serves God’s purposes for it.

 Now I believe in separation of church and state

especially when you look at it from top down.

The state should not mandate any religion

and religions should not mandate its followers to

follow any political ideal.

 And I’ve seen how many Christians have demanded

that they get special treatment under the law,

and they want the law to protect their faith alone

and how they also want to impose their beliefs and interpretations

on the general public. And I am here to say

that is NOT how we should be

involved in politics as people of faith.

 But as followers of Jesus we are compelled to

find ourselves in the public sphere

reminding the state what it’s supposed

to be doing with its authority and responsibility.

This doesn’t mean demanding that the

10 commandments be put in courthouses

or some foolishness like that.

It means reminding our governments that the political systems

and the economic systems are here to serve the people.

 Give to God what belongs to God.

Pay our taxes to the government,

but make sure the government is responsible to those that

God wants us to specifically watch over:

Those who are most vulnerable.

It doesn’t matter what government or political party is in charge

we need to keep everyone true to that ideal at all times.

 Besides the pandemic, I think this year will be remembered as

the year of protests.  Something the Roman government

would have never allowed.

 At the heart of the protests is the idea that Black Lives Matter

it’s about the high number of black people killed by police.

And I also think these protests are reflecting an

overall frustration that the government

and the economic powers are not serving the people any longer.

It’s actually working against the most vulnerable.

In the worst cases, it’s out to kill them.

 We’re supporting systems that are making

outrageous amounts of money, big companies making billions,

banks making billions, CEO’s making billions,

and governments are making certain people rich.

And on the other hand many people
can’t find jobs to support themselves,

can’t afford basic health care, can’t afford to pay for school.

Somethings wrong.

 It might not be specifically a religious movement,

but I think maybe God’s spirit is moving.

 Truth be told, I think God’s been telling us to do something

for a long time as we watched the poorest people suffer

but now that it’s touching the middle class it’s more of a reality

more people are noticing that something is wrong.

 Give to God what is God’s.

It is God’s world God’s government and God’s goods.

That is what we believe.

And God created the government for the protection

and well being of all God’s creation,

for people of all races and all religions. 

God wants us to get involved in this world and

remind the people and the institutions and the bureaucracies

what they were created for.

 We are created in the image of God. We are not just half people.

Just spirits running around waiting for heaven one day.

God just doesn’t hover around in the ether and

let the rest of the material world go to seed.

God is interested in the whole package the spirit and the body.

 God has given us everything

just because God loves us.

And God wants that love to transform every part of our lives.

Not just one hour on a Sunday morning

Not just our prayer life and our spiritual life and our home life.

but every part of our life:

Our budgets, our communities, our politics, our commerce.


God has given us everything.

Give to God what is God’s.

 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Wear Your Garment

 October 11, 2020  Matthew 22: 1-14

 

I love this parable! Yay.

And I hate it.


It’s great! There’s a banquet! Yay.

And there’s destroying cities.

 

It’s a party for everyone, good and bad,

Banquet 
Hyatt Moore
everyone that usually isn’t invited to parties! Yay.

But then there’s that poor guy who didn’t

wear a wedding coat.

 

Let me tell you, Luke’s version of this parable

is more palatable it’s very nice and there’s no

city-wide destruction and outer darkness

or wailing and gnashing of teeth.

 

I mean it really looks like Luke looked at Matthew’s

telling of this parable and said, eww. Let’s take out

all the unnecessary bad stuff and get to the best part.

I know that’s not what they think happened,

but that’s what I would do if I saw this parable.

 

But still, we’re not in Luke this year, we’re in Matthew

We just have to keep in mind that Matthew has a flair

for the dramatic, he tries to grab you in with exciting

descriptions and consequences.

And this is the parable we’ve been given today.

And maybe it’s not so bad.

 

So basically King has a party, and he invites the usual suspects
other important people, politicians, business execs,

doctors, lawyers, art gallery curators, celebrities.

But they’re not interested in the king’s party.

 

So the king asks his people to invite anyone else, everyone else.

And they do, they don’t care who they ask.

 

And this is the great part about this parable:

The Kingdom of God is like a party.

 

For so long, the church and God

and everything involved with it has been

depicted as a drag, a bunch of sad, serious, wet blankets.

I remember Judy Reuning telling us that when

she was young she was told that she needed to stop smiling when

she was going for communion.

People have confused spirituality with stoicism.

And joy with disrespect.

But that’s not God’s way, that’s our way.

And that, I think that is part of the understanding of this gospel.

 

We want to do our own thing and not God’s thing.

Jesus was talking to people who forgot how

to do God’s thing all together. They forgot

all the lessons their fore-fathers and mothers had

taught about God’s love, forgiveness, inclusion, abundance,

and all the rest of it, and they decided to do things their way.

The way of the world. The way of scarcity and control.

Threats and judgment. Jesus talked about this a lot.

We talked about this last week.

 

But God’s way, God’s kingdom is like a party, a banquet.

With great food, and drink, and decoration.

Enough for everyone. But we’d rather, keep it for ourselves.

But everyone is too busy doing their own thing

doing the world’s thing and they don’t want to come

and do God’s thing.

 

But the party’s there and the food is ready,

so the King goes out and invites everyone else

everyone else who might actually do things God’s way.

Everyone that no one would have thought to invite before.

In Jesus time they mention tax collectors,

and prostitutes, and lepers. Luke’s gospel describes

the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame.

We know who they would be today.
who our own normally uninvited are in our day.

In God’s way, the table – real and metaphorically,

is opened up to everyone.

 

And that’s the other great thing about this parable,

At God’s party everyone is invited. Yay!

 

The earliest church knew this, and it was known

for having rich and poor together,

Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female,

No one else did that and they were unique in that.

they were all one in Christ.

 

As Rachel Held Evans, the popular millennial

theologian who died last year wrote:

“The apostles remembered what

many modern Christians tend to forget—

that what makes the gospel offensive

isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.”

 

And that was Christ’s intent for the church.

And that is what got him killed in the end.

He opened up God’s party and God’s power.

Satan hates that kind of stuff.

 

And the world – commerce, and business,

and government, and all our institutions, and systems –

hate that too. Because it means sharing.

I mean the world says, now a days, that it likes sharing,

but the world and its systems

do everything in their power to not share.

 

Still, today, the thought of inviting everyone

to the table and to the party is a scandal.

 

So the Kingdom of God is like a party,

and the party is happening whether we like it or not,

and everyone who normally isn’t invited to parties is

invited, (and those who ARE normally invited can come too.)

Yay for radical banquets that can’t be stopped!

 

Right now, though, in this time of

pandemic, parties are a weird thing and not just happy.

I mean I get annoyed when I see pictures

and hear people having a party right now.

It’s frivolous and careless, and callous.

 

But I get it, I understand that urge to be together.

don’t you miss just being with people,

and idly chatting and having food together,

and not giving it a second thought?

Don’t you miss coffee hour? I do.

Sometimes I walk by our coffee makers in our

atrium and I sigh with longing.

 

And if we want to do any gathering of any type in

these strange days, we are asked to wear a mask.

It’s annoying and a little uncomfortable.

But as well as being for our own protection,

it’s a sign of respect for others, care for the vulnerable,

solidarity in our common plight.

And that’s the garment we’re asked to wear right now.

 

And that brings me to the most concerning part of this parable,

the King and his wedding garment.

To us it might look like the king is just mad because someone

was not wearing the right clothes or didn’t have the right look.

I know some of those joyless preachers in the past

have used this as an excuse to dress properly in church.

But it’s not that at all.

 

Weddings at that time were kind of surprises,

the date wasn’t set a long time in advance.

When the time was right, someone was

sent out and everyone was supposed to stop

what they were in the middle of,

take their wedding robe out of the closet and go.

And if they didn’t have one, the host would

provide a wedding robe at the door.

 

To wear the robe was a sign of solidarity, unity,

honor for the host and for the rest of the guests.

To not wear it, was disregard, arrogance even.

 

Somewhat like refusing to wear a mask when

we’re with other people.

 

The man who came in wasn’t just flighty

and forgot, or too poor to afford one,

he would have had to reject it at the door.

 

With Matthew’s own flair for the dramatic,

he’s saying that everyone is invited to the party. Yay.

But it’s not just a free for all, anarchy. Yay still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we come to God’s party,

We’re asked to wear God’s garments.

To cover our status and our superiority our

self-righteousness that we have left the house with,

And to put on Christ’s garments of abundance, love,

forgiveness, joy, inclusion, service, self-sacrifice, and

care for everyone around us. Everyone at the table.

Yay again.

 

Putting on that robe, and following Christ’s way

is how we keep this party going for everyone.

 

So don’t dwell in the outer darkness,

don’t worry about the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Don’t worry. Wear your masks.

And put on Christ’s garments,

and come to the banquet that God has prepared

for everyone.