Holy Agitation…A sermon for Mark 1:29-39

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD..  Isaiah 55:8

This Bible verse never TRULY made sense to me until this year.  Before then, it struck me as annoying.  Yes, I don’t know as much as God, but I thought for sure I was doing Gods will.  I’m finally following this call to ministry, behaving, learning, growing, and trusting deeply in the grace that I knew I needed for every time I inevitably mess up.

I had given up my messy history, I had stopped running from what the Holy Spirit was calling me towards, and I thought my struggles and doubts were over. I mean, I am following God’s plan, aren’t I?

But that’s not the end of learning and growing, is it?  I know the Christian culture of the United States today wants you to feel like your life will be perfect once you “find Jesus” but for those of us lifelong believers, we know it isn’t quite like that.  Life might be better, we may have peace knowing we are saved, forgiven, and be happy with the community, but life isn’t perfect just because you have faith.

I had grown up thinking at some point I would be fully grown up, fully faithful, and settled. I had even hoped maybe God might be more willing to give me a break now that I am pursuing ordained ministry.

I have been sorely disappointed.

As you well know, even beginning the fourth year, this year, of a life newly devoted to Gods will, I have struggled. “Think of the growing you will do,” others keep saying to me, reassuringly.   I know it isn’t charitable, but all I can think is, I HATE THAT I DON’T KNOW IT ALL YET!  I don’t want to grow anymore.  I want to KNOW something already.  Haven’t I been faithful enough? Working enough?

Apparently not.

Had I known all that would change and challenge me in this year here at Bethany, I don’t think I would have come.  I wouldn’t have been brave enough.  I could have gone somewhere safe and familiar, lived out the tasks of internship, checked yet another task off my list, and I would probably   just as good of a pastor.  (Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not – that’s my cynical voice, but want you to hear it in case that’s the voice that speaks to you.  You are not alone!)

But God had plans for me that were not of this world, but Gods kingdom.  Plans that involved pain, sorrow, loss.

You know. You’ve had a similar story as I did.  We all lost pastoral leaders.  Some of you didn’t have surgery, but the pain and reality of this world and its brokenness was present.  There were deaths. Problems with money, or fights in the family. Someone you hold dear may have had medical issues. You don’t have to be the one having surgery to feel the effects.  Just ask my mom, who spent an inordinate amount on a flight to support my family when I had surgery, or my sister who was here when I got the news I would have surgery, or my father at home wishing he had more time to help alongside my mother, or my wonderful husband, working early hours, and caring for his cranky, impatiently healing wife and two small children, who are lovely, but don’t care that he was tired and had JUST cleaned the kitchen comf Spirit to make us powerugh it.t the church changing, losing members, changing tradit…

This story isn’t meant to discourage you, rather to own the reality we live in.  Jesus promised salvation and eternal life, not sunshine and rainbows every waking moment.

And there WILL be sunshine and rainbows.  Just not perpetually.

In the gospel for today we hear a lot of hope. Jesus is a healing machine.  Goodbye sickness. So long demons. Jesus is here to stay!

But the next morning, Jesus wasn’t to be found.  When they found him and asked him to do more, he said, let’s move on and proclaim the message to more, for that is what I came to do.

At this point, you could say, ouch, Jesus.  Don’t you care about all the sick here?

The answer is yes, of course he did.  But now that these people knew him, they could be the ones passing on the message.  Doing the healing.  Casting out the demons and continuing to proclaim the Gospel.

Does it sound familiar?  We see leaders leave all the time. It feels personally devastating to some of us, anxiety producing to others.  Do they not care about us?  Of course they do.  They are just following a call from a voice that we are all trying to listen to.  Sometimes the voice is loud and clear and easy to follow.  Sometimes the voice is quiet, and takes years to effect change – I know, because it took over 10 years for me to finally listen to the voice encouraging me to become a pastor!

Jesus was moving to the will of God, willing to be molded and shaped into the place and time he was called.  Our leaders are doing the same, being open to the new experiences of life, risking the difficult or uncomfortable to grow, to follow the Holy Spirit.

This life we life does not have a specific date of full actualization.  There’s no time we are fully “grown up”.  I thought as a teenager, that by the time I was 30 I would have my life figured out.  I’d know ALL the things.  I could say those smart phrases my mother said, “Because I’m the grown up and I say so.”  And life would be figured out!

The reality is that now, at 30, my husband and I, though we be the “grown-ups” are continuing to reassess the life we have – continuing to learn, grow, be shaped and molded.  Learning new things about running our household, about raising our children.  In fact, the other day, my husband asked if we should allow ourselves to be punished by our children when WE do something wrong.  “It just doesn’t seem fair, that they have to stand in a corner, and we don’t,” he said.  It was beautiful – his willingness to be vulnerable, grow, and learn alongside his children is just one of the many things that make him an amazing dad – though I did tell him there should be SOMETHING that comes from having a few more years behind you, like only having to say you are sorry if you do something wrong, and not letting your four year old punish you by putting you in the corner.  I’m interested to hear what the boys think of this idea when they are teenagers…

I’m learning – slowly – that it’s not a bad thing that I’m not done growing.  The Holy Spirit is still working in me, molding me like a lump of clay, and I’ll be learning until the day I die – and who knows, maybe even in the hereafter!

I spent a few days this past week in a seminar hearing about the church changing, losing members, changing tradition, and even though I do not believe God causes the mess or the suffering, I think God is moving and working through it.  Does it make us nervous?  Yes.  Does it sometimes hurt to go through this change?  My goodness, yes.  Can we still have a positive outcome?  It can, if we remember to invite the Holy Spirit into our process, even if only to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, as Jesus did in his suffering on the cross.  God is a God who understands our suffering, and is there.

God isn’t sending the Holy Spirit to make us powerful and comfortable and at some point, perfect.  There isn’t a date when the timer goes “ding” and we are done.  We will always be growing and changing in life, in our faith, and hopefully, even in the parts that are messy and painful, we can remain open to what God is doing in this, for us.

I return to the text from Isaiah – but with a new translation.  Rather than feeling like our plans are not good enough, as the first version made me feel, this new translation gives hope in the promise that God is bigger than what we could imagine, and has plans for us that we will prosper, if only we can wait out the mess.  The new living translation says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”  Isn’t that better?  One step further – we know that there’s something new and beautiful coming out of this.  We do not need to cling to what we KNEW as the best, because different and new, that growth is new life, from God.  Isaiah 43:18-19:  Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”  One of the many promises of God, to help us forge a way, even in the hopeless, even in the times we think it will never be as good as it once was.  It might have been easier in the past, but there is always hope in the future!

Remember when I said I am not sure I would have come to Bethany had I known how difficult this year would have been for me? Rather than cling to the past that was so comfortable, or the “easy” internship I may have had elsewhere, I am grateful God was working in this place.

I can’t imagine having missed out on this community.  You, members of Bethany, have been so supportive and loving – and I would have missed ALL of that if I wouldn’t have been here.  There’s a reason I didn’t know things would be tough before I came, God had plans for me to learn here, in this time, to know YOU, to be loved by YOU, and I thank God for that.

Those voices saying, “think of how much you’ll grow” were right!  I didn’t have to like it – but there was the Holy Spirit, molding me into something new, to continue to be in this place, living out the mission of God.

So remember, in those moments where you feel God has forsaken you, agitated by what lies before you, that indeed God is right beside you, thanks to the Holy Spirit gifted to you in baptism through the death and resurrection in Christ.  This agitation is not merely an instrument to frustrate you, rather, a stirring of the Holy Spirit in your life to refresh you, and help you learn and grow.

You are a loved child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, but certainly not done growing and being renewed, thanks be to God.

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Home for the 4th

No need to beat around the bush, this summer has been tough.  We have taken residence at my parents in rural South Dakota, while working and traveling in the Twin Cities.  My mother and father have graciously offered to take care of the boys while we are away, couch surfing and working in the city, and traveling on mission trips.  Royce & Arthur are LOVING time with grandma and grandpa, and for the most part, I think grandma and grandpa are enjoying them!

I spend most of my time away worrying, and the remaining percentage trying to scramble to finish the work I have laid out for myself this summer, which includes two classes, a summer internship, a sister who is getting married and a baby shower for a dear friend.  But most of the time is spent worrying.  Worrying that I’ve asked too much of my parents – especially my mother who is staying home all day with them, worrying about what travel will do to my terrible back and neck pain, worrying I’m doing too much, worrying that they will miss me so much they won’t forgive me, worried that they will be so confused by all this switching houses and mom and dad back and forth, worrying what the world thinks of me, worrying that my husband thinks I’m selfish for working instead of staying home with my boys, worrying that I’m not a good mom, worrying that my church thinks I’m not doing enough because I’m spending too much time at home – it’s exhausting.

 

Boys watching Mom and Dad play!

Boys watching Mom and Dad play!

What I know is that when I’m home, I have so much fun with my boys – and I love watching how deeply they’ve bonded with my parents.  I remember to cherish every snuggle and silly giggle, and even the frustrating, screaming moments – they are precious, and this time is fleeting!  When I’m working with the youth at my church, I feel like I’m doing what I should be doing – I’ve had several years to get to know these wonderful people, and I cherish these last few weeks to get to spend with them – ministry seems to be about brief periods of complete joy, and all too many reminders of time’s speedy cruelty.

I know there are many who don’t approve of my traveling and spending time away from my boys this summer, and these choices I’ve made are affecting my family.  I know that my boys will remember little more about this summer than mom and dad were gone a lot, but that grandma and grandpa are so important to them because of the care and love they show.  I know my ministry has had an extra summer of blossoming, doing God’s work to help better me for future ministry.  I know Marty’s job will continue to allow him flexibility and provide us benefits that help us out immensely.  I know God will continue to walk with us as we figure things out, and I feel fairly certain we will not see these kinds of summers often – and I know I need to cherish the time with my parents as well as all these others.  Thank you, God for this time, and help me remember that all stations of life have their own ups and downs, and help me to remember to enjoy the ups rather than lamenting the downs!

Sermon on the Holy Spirit

John 14:15-21

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

 

In our text from John today.  Jesus is promising the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Coupled with the text from last week, or 8 minutes ago, our reading today is explaining to those poor, lunkhead disciples, that if they have seen Jesus, they have seen the father.  Now, we are promised the Spirit – so even if we don’t have a physical Jesus present with us, we still have God in our lives – as the Holy Spirit.

So what does this Spirit look like?  In an article from Working Preacher, our professor David Lose suggests that the Spirit looks like anyone of us, following Jesus’ commandment.  This text says it rather plainly – God is in YOU who know me, and follow my command.  So what is Jesus command?  In the Gospel of John, it’s clear – Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

So, this Spirit of God, that is in us – how did it get there?  I’m certain with a group of seminarians (and professor!) you can guess – Baptism.  The gift of the Holy Spirit comes upon us in Baptism.  We then have the gift of God’s holy presence with us as long as we live – nothing can separate us from God.  

I need you as future leaders of the church to feel the presence of God.  Pay attention to the Spirit, how God speaks to you.

Growing up, my Lutheran church and in fact, my Lutheran family (dad’s side) didn’t spend a significant amount of time on the Holy Spirit – except to critique how others felt it manifested.  “Clearly laying on of hands, healing, and speaking in tongues is crazy, right?”  Feelings are bad – make sure what you believe is on paper somewhere, damnit.  

It didn’t work well for me – I’m a feeler, and felt like God moved in every place of my life – sometimes it was hard to understand where or why or even how, but the more my mother explained how God worked in her mind, the more I felt a deep spiritual connection with God.  It wasn’t just a metaphor – I felt things, sensed things, – I truly felt the Holy Spirit.

I’ve always gotten the impression from church folk and non church folk alike – spiritual stuff was squiffy at best – it was something that didn’t REALLY exist, and therefore, something that you didn’t talk about in “good company.”

This deep sense of a real, present as a spiritual God coupled with the inability to talk about it in a way that made sense to me led to exploring outside the church’s understanding of “Spirit.”  I’ve watched (and loved) so many “Haunting” stories and the like on the discovery channel I don’t even jump anymore when things pop out, and I’ve seen Ghost Whisperer start to finish, and am to the point of understanding her theology as VERY grace centric, with plenty of heavenly messengers to help, but almost NO talk of God.  I had a problem.  I was either fed Spiritually, or theologically – never both.

This problem seemed to heighten for me in Seminary – so many people were so “TEXTUALLY” concerned, so I did my best to fall in line.  Lucky for me, if you adhere to the text, you will find the spirit EVERYWHERE.

With such a rich, Spiritual theology, it’s a shame that it took me until Seminary to find a connection in texts like this one, or one of the many others available.  My challenge for you, my fellow preachers, is to bring this promise of the Spirit to the table for discussion.  People all over have experienced a real and true part of God, and our lack of discussion of the Spirit’s real power on Earth can cause a disconnect.  Spiritual but not religious?  Let that be a phrase no more –   Give them that meaty, scripturally sound backing to think about their experience, help them to understand where this experience comes from, and help them to know God even deeper.  Don’t make those people like me get all the way to seminary before they hear this great news – bring it up – because spiritual gifts that do not benefit the community of Christ are but a clanging gong – and it’s up to you, preachers, to help educate your people on the true ways of God through the spirit.

Christmas Rush…

I’m certain no one would be surprised to learn that I dislike the “gimme gimme” attitude during the holidays.  It sets us up for disappointment – I remember when I still looked more forward to “getting” than “giving” at Christmas – and after I opened all my presents, I was depressed.  It wasn’t like the spread wasn’t fantastic – my mom does a great job of giving – it was that this stuff was not going to fill the hole that consumerism told me I needed to fill.  

Since that Christmas, I’ve focused on what is most important – giving, appreciating the gifts I’ve been given, my family – and yes, the birth of Christ.  It’s hard to do that without feeling pressure from the many ads out there.  Part of me feels for these companies – they are trying to have a successful season, and I don’t begrudge anyone their success.  But this constant barrage of “spend more, spend more here, PLEASE?” type of ads seems to suggest that Americans are only happy with more stuff.  I’m certainly guilty of wanting more stuff – but this stuff never does what it’s promised to do.  My life hasn’t been made complete by any phone, computer, clothing item or household goodie, no matter how fancy or expensive.

One ad that is particularly annoying is the J.C. Penney version of “Feliz Navidad”.  It ends with “I wanna get my family more this Christmas from the bottom of me grande heart.”  Other than the vaguely racist tones, I can’t help but be enraged by the message – my family deserves more stuff.  Not more of my time, more of my love, more of my prayers and good thoughts, but more stuff.  Also, some boots in mom’s size.

Please forgive me if I let loose a large growl when I hear that ad, or any others.  I’m not anti-fun or anti-presents, but I do wish that our society focused less on money and more on the gifts God gave us of one another and the time we have together on this earth.

Merry Christmas, God’s peace to you and your family, and may all your Christmases be white.

 

http://adage.com/article/news/jc-penney-launches-jingle-bells-holiday-campaign/245323/

How old is old?

It came in an email – “Your dad has a blockage,” – and as if in ironic empathy, I felt my heart sink.

Other things that came in that same email – “We caught it early” and “We are getting it taken care of,” and “he’s going to be ok”, didn’t seem to pick my heart back up, at least not as high as it had been prior.

My father, a man who just turned 60, has always been at the pinnacle of physical health – tall, lean, and active.  Active to the point that even NOW I feel he could easily kick my butt in hand-to-hand combat, but he’s refrained from challenging me while I was in the midst of child-bearing.  (He’s also a gentleman.)

 

 

When I look at him, and my mother (who incidentally is in a new health kick and in the best shape I’ve seen her in years), I do not see the “aged”.  I remember when I was little, if I heard someone was in their fifties or sixties, they MUST have white hair, need a cane – I’m sure you know the picture I imagined.

Those white haired people, are my grandparents.  I have all four – the eldest 86, and still checking his cattle, the youngest 78, and working as a home health aid, taking care of home-bound persons much younger than she.

My question is, who is old?  I am not yet thirty, and feel so unbelievably old – that half my life is gone and I’ve accomplished so little.  My face starts to show lines, my joints are starting to ache, and my children are starting to get more and more – wait, it’s enough to say I HAVE CHILDREN.

And then I think, aging is a gift.  A gift God has given me, and others have not had the opportunity to continue.  It’s a gift many of the young and beautiful are struggling against illness to achieve.  It’s a gift that has allowed me to continue to have earthly bonds with my ancestors, to know them as an adult in a much more meaningful kind of way. 

Hollywood has taken the beauty of youth and pushed it before the beauty of life, a full life, in which battle scars mark our faces and bodies, telling stories of our past, giving us hope for our future.  It causes us to wrongly assume that life is over once we are done being “wrinkle-free.”  To that I say, bollox.

The doctor told us my father’s blockage was in the “widow-maker” artery.  Bedside manner lacking, it told us how lucky we were to have him here, with a simple stent to allow him to be as active as ever, if only with a new perspective – not just for him, but all of us.

Our time is limited here.  As a Christian, and a spiritual being, I have hope for promise of life beyond death, but I want to remain here as long as I can, to enjoy those I love as much as I can, and to help God’s creation as much as I can.

Be thankful for the gift of your life, thankful you have gained enough time to earn signs of age, and try to forget our consumption with physical appearance – only you have control of your insides, and only God can make judgment on that!

Incredible Silence

This past week, I had the privilege to lead a mission trip – on which we served our neighbor, learned more about who God is calling each of us to be, and how to share faith in ways we might not see in our traditional setting.  What a blessing to see friendships forged and strengthened, young people stretched, and minds open to new ideas.  A week filled with noise – of the city, of the harbor, of work, of excited young people, and slightly stressed adults!

One of the most poignant experiences I had was in our visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.   I have never seen such an exuberant and giggly bunch of youth turn into a somber, slow walking and reverent group of mature adults so quickly – and with no verbal prompting.

Before we entered the permanent exhibit, our intern pastor explained that this was a place for reflection and respect, though once we entered I am certain what we saw was enough to put each one of us in a state of, well, shock.

A visitor starts by waiting in line outside an elevator designed to look industrial, dark and scary.  One notes at each point the amazing amounts of architectural detail put into every element of this museum, even the passageways from one level to the next.

Each person gets a passport with the name and story of a Jew alive during the Holocaust, which you follow up with as you go along.  When you leave the elevator, you are at the fourth floor, greeted by grizzly photos of the remains of innocent people, who did nothing to deserve this horrible fate.

The fourth floor, first that you see, is full history to educate the visitor on what let up to the events, and although we, in hindsight, can say we’d never fall for Hitler’s lies, it is shocking to see how easy it was for people of the time to believe him.  My heart sank with each new fact I read, and watching teenagers actually stop to read what was posted next to photos told me they understood just how much this impacted the world then – and how important it is for us to know today.

As the levels went on, we learned about different populations that were taken to concentration camps, what happened to people there, along with video and photograph illustrations.  At times I wondered why anyone would record such horror, but I think it’s important to have proof, so that we never forget that real people suffered the way so many Jews did during this time.

I saw many visitors that needed to sit and have a good cry, to see the brothers and sisters that were valued so little, and to get a glimpse into the absolute terror they experienced, was more than hard to see.  I choked back tears many times – especially reading (something I already knew) that handicapped persons, mentally or physically, and children too young to work, were sent straight to gas chambers.

As a person who feels memories tied to objects, I couldn’t hold back the tears when walking through the room that held just a small amount of the shoes that belonged to beloved children, children of God, neighbors to you and me.  I felt guilt for crying – I had not suffered the way these people had suffered, and I had not felt the loss their families had felt, but I do think that I could mourn the loss, and mourn that the world let this happen.

When I left the exhibit, I was surprised to see that the person in my passport survived – she lost a child, and her husband though.  I went to the memorial area, lit a candle, and said a prayer.

I remembered what the intern pastor said – these are OUR brothers and sisters.  We share a past – and even if we hate someone, they are still our neighbors – meaning if we truly want to glorify God, we show them love.  The last exhibits, talking of liberating the camps, had a large number of names of people who helped the Jews – even people who did not like Jews took them in, knowing this is what God would ask of them.

I recommend the museum to anyone – but especially those with a faith and questions about who is their neighbor.  Fear and hate can be used to push an agenda with a guise of God – it is up to US to pay attention, to do what is right, never forget the Holocaust, and to honor it’s memory by preventing anything like this from happening again.

Little Miss Sassypants…

Luke 3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

We preachers use the phrase, “wrestling with the text” when we are talking about finding meaning and diving into our sermons.  Wrestling doesn’t begin to describe how I’ve felt approaching this text.  It was more like a knock down drag out.  Now I’m not a preacher who always adheres to strictly biblical education, and in fact, I stray a bit from the text when I have a pressing message that I feel the text gives me – some feel I might be straying too far.

So when I sat down to take a good look at this text, I thought, this time, I’m going to be DEEPLY embedded in the text.  I read it.  I poured over it.  I examined it.  I read it again because I was confused.  Are you kidding me, Luke?  Tetrarch?  What the what?  So I hit up Google.  First site is Wikipedia- it (and I quote!) says “Tetrarch may refer to:” and then offers a list.  REALLY??  Definition says that it’s a ruler of a portion of a country – makes sense, but I’m not sure how important I find this information when interpreting.

I notice they say this particular rule has been for 15 years.  The articles I read speak of the rule of Tiberius Ceaser as particularly harsh – and that this might make the people of that time less concerned with spiritual well being than just plain surviving.  This becomes important in a few minutes.

We are then offered the fact that John the Baptist, son of Zechariah (and Elizabeth thankyouverymuch) has heard the word of God in the wilderness.  We then hear the prophecy, which is almost identical to Isaiah 40:1-3 (I won’t bore you by reading the subtle differences.  I’m sure Rolf Jacobson and David Fredrickson could argue why they are super different, but let’s just say for now, they’re the same!)

So this prophecy is there, why?  Is it telling us that John is saying the quote inside the quote?  Is it just telling us that these prophets of the Israelites are legit?  That John is legit?  Can that really be all I’m supposed to figure out with this passage?  I choose to say no.  (A yes would just make me cranky at this point, and that’s not terribly productive.)

So John is in the wilderness.  Wilderness is important – in chapter 4, Jesus will be sent there to be tested for 40 days, but it doesn’t seem like John is being tested.  I’m drawn to this idea that John not just hears the word of God, but he hears it in the wilderness.

John the Baptist is described very interestingly in the Bible.  In my class on Mark we talked about him wearing crazy furs, which wasn’t normal even for his time, and eating locusts and honey.  In this passage, we learn about John hearing the word of God in the wilderness.  Using that emphasis seems to set him apart – he was maybe a loner, definitely strange, and probably sharp tongued.

Ok, so not probably, definitely.  Later on He calls people seeking him out “vipers.”  This is my kind of guy.   To have license to not only have strong opinions, but to offer them very freely, without remorse (or at least we aren’t told of remorse).

Being in the wilderness, dressing oddly, eating bugs and telling people some super blunt things paints this John as a loner.  It might have been hard to be him – in fact I’m sure it was!  I’m guessing for a long time people told him how weird/wrong he was about life, and now all of the sudden they are swarming him for help with their salvation – that’s probably why he calls them vipers!  We see evidence of this when he says in verse 7, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”  As if to say, you poops, NOW you believe me?:)

So if you remember, we heard that Tiberius was a harsh ruler, people were probably having a hard time in daily life because of that, yes?  This same article asserts that a prophet that was so different as John was needed to reach the people.

What does a proclaimer of faith in the present time look like to you?  They probably have a  nice white robe, or a shirt with a collar for many of us.  They are probably dressed nicely, not in expensive clothes, but dressy, “respectable.”  But I’m reminded of preachers like Nadia Bolz-Weber and her fabulous tattoos and I think, I wish I was brave enough to have so many tattoos, and I also think, she looks significantly different than a traditional view of a pastor.  For one thing, she’s a chick!  For another, she swears.  My hero.  She’s incredibly real, and very sarcastic – she even has a blog entitled the Sarcastic Lutheran.

I think we need to remind ourselves that proclaimers of the Gospel, not just us in the pulpit on Sunday’s but ALL God’s children, need to find their unique voices in order to spread the salvation offered to us by Christ, and the love and peace that news brings.  Some of us do this in a traditional manner.  Some of us do this with beautifully detailed biblical study and education.  Some of us do this by dressing in costume and putting on a show.  Some of us do it by sharing music.  Some of us do this with emblazoned passion and earnestness.  Some of us do it by being little miss Sassypants.

Whatever your method, own it.  God made John very purposefully as a unique individual who played an important role in many faith lives.  You might not have historical books written about you, or even have a famous blog, but you impact people.  You are unique in God’s eyes, and you make the story come to life for those people you touch.  Be your wild, hairy, locust-eating self, and baby, people will listen!

A Laughing God…

When reading Chapter two of  A Reformation Reader, I was most struck with Luther’s letter to his wife, Katie.  It is one of the shorter things written by Luther that is printed in the book, and yet, the most intriguing to me.  It is so interesting to me because of the humor in relation between spouses.   Humor adds to every relationship, and it is apparent that Martin Luther used it freely in his relationship with his wife.  Martin Luther was not only a great theologian, but a fine humorist.  In fact, according to Gritch, “Martin Luther is the only ‘church father’ who incorporated humor into his life and work. He did so by posing as a court jester (an advertised self-image), a quick wit, a facetious wag, and a sit-down comedian with humorous comments in more than five thousand ‘table talks.’” (Gritche, 132)

Why is humor important?  According to Humor and Telling God’s Truth, “humor has a legitimate role in speaking God’s truth. We might be willing to argue that if the church is to speak the gospel to today’s culture, it will be required to incorporate humor into its witness” (Jacobson and Jacobson, 107).  This is true today, and most certainly applied to Luther’s era as is evidenced by his following.

Humor breaks tension, invites people to share common ground, shocks people and makes them think.  Luther used humor in many letters in order to convey meaning and tone to indicate caring, and to show incredible dissonance.  Humor relieves the seriousness and fear one might feel in putting forth ideas that seem risky.  According to W. E. Gritch,

Eschatological humor created a liberating serenity in Luther. Commenting on the only biblical passage where God laughs (Ps 2:4), Luther told his readers, “Let us laugh at raging Satan and the world (yes, even at sin and our conscience in us).”10 Such humor prevents self-righteous temptation to speculate about the “hidden” God and instead to rely only on the “revealed” God, “the Father of Jesus Christ.” Modern students of humor stress its power to guard against any presumed superiority; it “leads human self-knowledge back again from its imagined height to the right track.” (Gritche, 133)

There are those, even today who believe that humor is not the correct way to approach matters of faith and religion.  In the paper on humor by Jacobson & Jacobson, they describe:

one group of Danish Lutherans that was characterized by “strict standards of conduct, such as abstinence from common amusements.”5 More recently, when one of the authors of this essay was invited to give a presentation to a church group about The Lutheran Handbook, a woman took her leave of the presentation with the comment, “I don’t think that humor belongs in church.” (Jacobson and Jacobson, 108)

however, their paper does assert that “humor is an essential part of human nature.” (Jacobson and Jacobson, 109) Being an essential part of human life, even in a time as depressing as the medieval period could be, humor helped Luther to cope with some of the more difficult discussions, as well as allowed him to enjoy all aspects of life.

This humor that Luther uses in theology to belittle Satan, to humanize God, is something that he uses in all avenues of life – including life with Katie.  He opens the letter with a teasing greeting, conveying cute affection.  He then goes on to inform her that he is behaving badly, but he’s proud to tell her so, in order to show her how life is without her, perhaps to offer comfort that they are not currently in the same location.  “Luther tried to take care of finances as the head of a large household (five children, farm animals, student boarders, and many dinner guests) but left Katie with the ‘amazing accounting,’ addressing her with ‘dear lord’ in letters.” (Gritche, 136)

It is a comfort to use humor to confront things that we fear.  Many people of that time as well as now have fears, and much of it is attributed to evil, or Satan.  Many theologians spout pages and pages of theological reasons and comforts to not fear Satan.  Luther has solid backing, but he adds an element of humor to discredit the devil, and empower believers in Christ.

Luther used a humorous analogy to describe the clever temptation: “as soon as reason and the Law are joined, faith immediately loses its virginity.”22 Living only by the law means to fall for the devil, whom Luther came to know quite well in his monastic spiritual struggles. So one should say:

Mr. Devil, do not rage so. Just take it easy! For there is One who is called Christ. In Him I believe. He has abrogated the Law, damned sin, abolished death, and destroyed hell. And He is your devil, you devil, because he has captured and conquered you. (Gritche, 133-134)

Luther is not all humorous – serious business is discussed when appropriate in this letter to Katie – some of his dealings with local pastors and the fact that a young girl was saved – but to bring it to light he states that the devil would not be happy with that, as if we care about how the devil might feel.   He also evades humor in order to show genuine love and caring for not only Katie, but the children and the boarders.  His tone is also serious when discussing the gift he has sent to them, and business matters related to their operation.

Luther also uses humor as a means of chiding – rather than speaking harsh words to his wife who hasn’t written to him even though the children have, he makes a joke about it being the will of God, and that he hopes the will of God convinces her to write to him.

If humor is really a sign of intelligence (Jacobson and Jacobson, 110), we have not only Luther’s amazing theological writings in the Concord and everywhere else, we have his use of humor in correspondence to his wife, friends, and even enemies to help us see what a smart man he was.  Perhaps having a sense of humor is not only indicative of intelligence, but helps to develop and maintain intelligence.

Martin Luther was not only a fine theologian, but a humorist.  Luther’s use of humor in his writings helps make him relatable today.  Modern theologians, people of faith, and even people in general can appreciate Martin Luther’s sense of humor, and can relate to his ideas and works in a way that can be difficult for other writers of his time.  The Lutheran Church is blessed to have a church father with not only sound theological doctrine, but such a fine sense of humor to show that humans are indeed to whom God’s world belongs.

Waiting…

We are always waiting.  The next pay day.  Christmas.  The next time we get to see a loved one who lives far away.  A new relationship to start.  For a child to arrive.  For a sickness to end. For the game to be over – hopefully resulting in a win. For Stefanie to get DONE talking so we can leave for the day.  For something exciting – whatever that might be.

We wait for so many things, and as we all know, the ultimate thing Christians wait for is for Christ to come again.

So what do you do when you wait?  When I’m waiting, I have a tendency to be fidgety.  Super fidgety.  I have fake teeth and awful nails because when I’m waiting, I’m usually chomping, and if food isn’t available, my nails always are.

Why is waiting so terrible?  I happen to think it’s the not knowing what to do with yourself while you wait.  When you were a kid and you were waiting for Christmas – you were probably so excited with the prospects of what you might be given that you ran like a wild-person and drove your parents crazy.  We don’t have that option as adults.

So we look at this present, this gift of salvation we have been given by God in the form of Christ, and we wait.  We wait.  We wait.  We know we are not required to do anything to be saved, and there have even been arguments about whether or not good works could HARM our salvation – so you wonder and you wait.  You might look to the Bible for answers – and there are so many wonderful things in there, you will find things and think you know it all!

And then something will come crashing down, because we are human, broken, and desperately in need of Christ, which is why He came to save us.  We have to remind ourselves that it isn’t up to us to save ourselves, our faith is what saves us.

Waiting is terrible because things can change.  We are given the Bible as a guidebook, and while it has wonderful meaning, there isn’t a section of “how-to” live one’s life.  You are given many examples of what not to do, plenty of awesome, albeit vague parables from Jesus, and a promise of salvation that will come at an unknown time.  This time is not mentioned contrary to many a doomsdayer’s predictions – Christ himself said in Acts 1:7: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

So we wait.  And we wonder.  Some may panic.  Some may feel incredibly at peace.  Some may search for the answers that God only knows.

That waiting isn’t enough for this life – we all know that.  We’d better keep ourselves occupied.  Enjoy the gifts we have been given by God.  Know that the gift, that promise, is worth the hellatiousness of waiting, and be glad that Christ has already died to erase our inequities. (Be glad He only had to do it once!)  Find strength in that promise, and though the waiting is difficult, the reward will be more glorious than we can imagine.