Giving a gift to God


Sermon for Sunday, November 20th, 2022

Christ the King


Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

I have to admit that I am already very excited about Christmas coming. Now I know that the Christmas season, Christmastide, doesn’t even begin until Christmas Eve; I know that next week is the beginning of the season of Advent which is its own special time about waiting for Jesus, but still I know that Christmas is coming, and you know that Christmas is coming, and I am starting to get excited about it. 

Maybe it is because this year, as most of you know, there is a new baby in our family. Part of my joy and part of my excitement this year is knowing that I get to share Christmas with someone who has never experienced it before, and doesn’t really know what it’s all about. Now our son is only 5 months old and even though I obviously think he is brilliant, at this age he isn’t going to understand the full meaning of Christmas, I know that. But he can experience joy, and probably better than most of us he can experience wonder, and mystery, and beauty. Sometimes as we get older, we spend so much time trying to figure things out that we no longer experience the beauty and the mystery that is all around us everyday. But when you are young you still understand mystery and magic. We older folks are the ones who need to be reminded of joy and wonder. So as much as I have to teach my son about the meaning of Christmas, he has much to teach me as well. 

For my part, I want him to know that the story of Christmas isn’t just a “once upon a time,” legend about people living in a far off land in an age long, long ago. I want him to know that what Christmas is really about is the God that created the whole universe, becoming a human being, a little child just like him, so that he could live with us as a part of our lives. The real king of all the earth was born in a humble and lowly stable, among cows and donkeys and sheep, so that he could gather his sheep, his lambs his children together, and live with them. And I want him to know that that same child that was born in the manger, suffer and died on the cross, and rose again from the grave, so that even death would not separate him from his children. I want him to know that God’s kingdom is in this world, but not of it. It is bigger and greater than all the kings and kingdoms of this world, but if you look closely, if you pay attention, you just might get a little glimpse of it. I want him to know that God is all around us, even if we can’t always see him. God wants to be with his children. God wants to gather his children together. God loves his children. He picks them up when they fall down. He forgives them when they make mistakes. He teaches them the right way to live and the paths they should follow, and then goes and finds them when they get lost. That is the story that we are telling here throughout the year. Christmas, Easter, Advent, Pentecost…all year long we tell this story, but this year, this Christmas I am especially excited to tell it to someone that has never heard it before. I want him to know that.

And the amazing thing is that as I share the story of Jesus and of Christmas with my son, his part, is that he shares the experience of it: the joy, and the mystery and the excitement and the wonder with me. I am reminded of what an amazing experience this is for someone who is new to it. I get to experience that joy again. I have joy in sharing the story of Jesus; new Christians have joy in experiencing the story of Jesus…and then there is God. God has joy in all this too. Afterall, the Christmas story is about God wanting to live with his children, to gather them together and share his life and his love with them. Nothing brings God more joy than having to set another place at the table; adding another person to his family. When another person comes in and wants to share in God’s life and love, that brings God joy. So when we share the story of Jesus with people that don’t know it, we aren’t just giving that person the joy of knowing about the God we worship here, we are giving God joy too. It isn’t just a gift to another person. It is a gift to God. 

But giving someone a gift, whether that someone is God or another person, giving someone a gift means making a sacrifice. Parents make sacrifices to give their children gifts. We talk all the time here about the sacrifice that Jesus made to give us a gift. God made a sacrifice to invite us into his kingdom and for us to share the good news of that, the gift of that story, we have to make sacrifices too. Sharing the story of Jesus with people who don’t know about him (and the world is still filled with people who don’t know about him) it can be simple, but it isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is very hard. It involves making sacrifices. We want to have a nice place for people to gather together to meet and worship, and that takes lots of money. We want to have good music. We need people to sing, and read the scriptures, and greet visitors, and teach, and cleanup. It takes a lot of time and talent, and treasure (money) to share the story of Jesus in this place. It takes people making sacrifices. That is why we are all called, as people who know the story of Jesus, as Children of a Heavenly king, to sacrifice from what God has given us, so that other people, even maybe people that aren’t even born yet, may come to someday know Jesus, and the love that God has for them. 

And when we make that sacrifice, when we give from what God has given us, so that God can continue to gather his children together here in this place, we aren’t just giving them the greatest gift of all, we are giving God joy too. It is a gift to God too. The money that we give to the church, it isn’t just to pay bills. It is to pay the bills, so that future generations can come to know Jesus here in this place, and that is something that brings God great joy. That is what we believe our God is all about: gathering and protecting his sheep; calling all his children together. 

Everybody has a role here in helping to share the story and the experience of Jesus. Everybody has a place in worship. Everybody, from the youngest to the oldest, from the little ones who we might wish would fall asleep during mass, to some of the older folks, who maybe can’t help but fall asleep during mass, and everyone in between. Whether we can only give 50 cents, or whether we are making a gift of $50,000, we all have something to offer, and that offering isn’t just to the church, it is a gift to God. So give what you can. I don’t care how old you are. Give what you can. I am asking you now, if you haven’t already given us a pledge card for the coming year, to take a moment and consider what you can sacrifice, what you can give, what you can do to help us tell God’s story and invite new folks into his family. Write it down and I am going to ask you after the sermon to come up drop it in the basket and offer it to God. Telling God’s story in this place takes all of us. We all have a role. Young and Old, and everything in between. Today we are asking some of our younger parishioners to take active roles in leading worship, but the truth is, in God’s eyes, every service here is being led by his children. We all have things we can learn. We all have things we can teach. And we all have a story, a true story, full of grace, hope, joy and love to share. That is something to get excited about. 

The Gospel is weirder than you think.


Sermon for November 6th, 2022


Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

The gospel is weirder than you think! And by “gospel” I am talking about the good news of Jesus Christ. That good news is written down in the four accounts of his life, the four gospels, but THE gospel, the message about who Jesus was and what Jesus did, that isn’t just a biography of a good teacher; it isn’t just a book, or four books; it isn’t just a philosophy of being nice; it isn’t a set of rules that we must follow; it isn’t a blueprint for fixing the world or establishing world peace. THE gospel isn’t about something we can do. THE gospel is a good news message about what GOD has done in the world and it is a message about what GOD is going to do in the world. We often think that the gospel is just a past-tense account or story of what Jesus said and did, but the real gospel isn’t just about the past, it is about the future too. And the real gospel, THE gospel, THE good news, isn’t just about Jesus. What makes THE gospel such good news, what makes it so compelling, is that fundamentally it is about us. Each and every one of us. The real good news is that Jesus’s resurrection is a foretaste, a glimpse of our resurrection, and that really is weirder than most people think. 

Christians have a long history of settling for less than the full good news of the gospel. We want to over-simplify it or sanitize it to make it more palatable to our skeptical friends. We want to strip it of the miraculous and make it mundane. We want to make it an instruction manual for this world, something else for us to do, and not the glorious vision of a transformed world to come that we have been offered, promised even, a place in. There is nothing mundane about a dead body coming back to life. Jesus wasn’t somebody that coded in the ER and was resuscitated. He crawled out of the grave. That is not something any of us have ever seen in our lives. You may have witnessed a miracle before, but you haven’t seen a miracle on that scale. The resurrection is a very weird thing. A glorious thing, but a weird thing. It is so weird that even people who wholeheartedly believe in Jesus’s resurrection still have a hard time believing that this is their destiny as well. It is so easy to make the gospel just about what God has done in Jesus, and not about what God is going to do in our lives, but that isn’t the full good news. 

You know, if you ask a lot of Christians what happens when we die, they are likely to say, “well, your soul goes to heaven (or maybe somewhere else).” But a spiritual, disembodied heaven has never been the full Christian hope. It isn’t the full gospel. Our real hope, our real destiny is resurrection. God taking the dust the remains from our earthly existence and transforming it into a new, living creation that is no longer subject to sin and death. That is our real hope and it is a hope that takes place in a future day at the end of all time. A new heaven and a new earth. Our blessed dead may exist now in a realm of paradise and rest in the presence of the Lord, but that is not the ultimate end. The ultimate end is the day of the Lord when the dead are rasied to a new life in a new body, in a new and very different, although recognizable and familiar world. That is our real hope, that is the real good news, the full gospel message: we have been invited to be children of God. Children of the resurrection. We have been offered the promise to some day walk out of the grave, just like Jesus did. Not metaphorically or spiritually, but flesh and bone. 

That is real good news, but it is real good news that people struggle with, in part because it is weird. None of us have seen a really dead body come back to life, so there’s that. But also, none of us have ever lived in a world that isn’t stained by death and sinfulness, so it is really hard for us to imagine what that might even be like. All of our relationships, even the most loving ones, still have the marks of this sinful, fallen world all over them. People struggle to imagine what a resurrected world and a resurrected life might look like, so the resurrection is a complicated and somewhat controversial idea for many people of faith, and that was true even more in Jesus’s day than it is in ours. There were some Jews who believed in the resurrection and hoped for it, and there were some who didn’t. The Sadducees were trying to make fun of Jesus’s belief in the resurrection in today’s gospel reading. They aren’t asking him a serious question; they are asking him a ridiculous question. A woman marries seven brothers, they all die. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? In other words: who does she belong to? Belong to! That is what they are really asking. Think about that for a second…the Sadducees can’t even conceive of a world where a woman doesn’t belong to a man like a piece of property. Jesus’s response is basically: she will belong to God. Any world where we all stand equally before God as his children is bound to look a little different than the world we are living in right now. It isn’t that our loving relationships won’t exist in the next world, but they will be transformed, in ways that we probably can’t even imagine. That is good news too. 

The devil does not want you to believe this good news. The world, and even many in the church, will sell you a gospel that is less than good news, or at least less than the full good news. Don’t settle for it. Don’t settle for anything less than the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Don’t settle for a gospel that is just about what Jesus said, and not also about what he did, AND, AND what he is going to do. Don’t settle for a gospel that is just about the past, and not also about the future. Our future, as people who have been promised our own resurrection and a share in a new world that God is creating; a world that our sinful minds can’t even properly conceive of. Don’t settle for less than that. Don’t settle for a gospel that isn’t weird. Because good news, really good news, can seem pretty weird sometimes, and even hard to believe.