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Sabbath is a day of setting free

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on August 29, 2013 at 1:40 PM

Luke 13:10-17


Imagine being painfully bent over for 18 years and never being able to look people in the eye.  Imagine praying for 18 years that things would change.  And then, when you had even given up hope, imagine that this man Jesus heals you and your back can straighten and stretch again.  Imagine your joy and your relief.  


And then imagine looking at a man in the synagogue who is objecting.  Who is yelling at Jesus for letting you stand up. Not because it was bad, but because it was at the wrong time.  It wasn’t in good order.  It didn’t follow the rules and wasn’t the way things were supposed to happen.


I’ve got to say, I tend not to have a lot of patience for folks like that.  Folks who feel that they always need to enforce the rules.  Who complain when things are out of place.  Well, I don’t have patience for them except when they’re me.  Unless it’s a rule that I’ve decided really does matter.  So, in the interest of being as kind to this man in the synagogue as I would want someone to be toward me, perhaps it’s worth hearing his side of the story.  


This man objected to Jesus’ healing because it was done on the Sabbath.  And that was a day reserved for rest, for worship.  It was a day that God had commanded the people of Israel to treat differently.  And the synagogue leader was in charge of making sure that the people remembered this.  It was his job to call people back to the good gift of Sabbath, to uphold the regulations that said that no work could be done, so that people would rest.  Even today, we know that sometimes we just have to be forced to rest, forced to take time for God in our weeks.  The synagogue leader was just trying to do that for the people, to uphold God’s commandment and to make space for the people of Israel to love and honor God.  


So the synagogue leader is angry that Jesus would blatantly disobey a law that is good and valuable.  Why did Jesus insist on healing on the Sabbath?  This woman had suffered for 18 years.  A few hours couldn’t have made that much of a difference in the great scheme of things.  In a few hours, Jesus could have healed this woman and everyone would have rejoiced.


So what was Jesus up to?  It wasn’t like Jesus to be contrary for no reason.  When he breaks the rules, it’s usually to teach us something important.  And this morning, he’s trying to teach us what the Sabbath is meant to be.  Sabbath was originally a gift to the people of Israel.  It was a blessing of rest from their hard labor.  It was a reminder that with the help of God, 6 days of work would be enough to provide all they needed.  And the Sabbath was a time for the Israelites to look up from their work and simply delight in the goodness of God.  


But then the leaders of Israel wanted to protect God’s good gift.  They held God’s commandments in such esteem that they wanted to make sure that they interpreted them right.  So they started to make laws about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath.  Just the same way we do in the rest of our lives.  


When neighborhoods are planned and laid out, we want to make sure that they stay places that are good to live in.  We want to make sure they are safe and beautiful places for ourselves and our families.  So, we start making rules about what we can be in our front yard and how early we can start mowing the lawn.  We make up Property Owners Associations that are so full of rules that can cause so much frustration that sometimes we’re sorry we moved to that neighborhood in the first place.  


And our governments have plenty of rules, too.  When we give out assistance, we have rules about who is eligible and piles of paperwork applicants have to fill out.  And sometimes the rules get so complicated that the very people the assistance is supposed to help are kept from getting what they need because of all the rules.  


Rules and laws are good.  They are supposed to help us live together.   They are meant to give us boundaries to live within.  Like the 10 Commandments, our laws are made to help us know the things that make for peace and to keep evil at bay.  But they are never meant to be an end in themselves.  God’s rules for us are made to be life-GIVING, not things to hold us in bondage.  So when enforcing the laws get in the way of God’s healing and justice, then they have overstepped their bounds.  If our laws don’t leave room for the freeing grace of God to surprise us, then they are missing the point.  


And that’s what was happening in the synagogue. Jesus heals the woman on the Sabbath to announce that all the rules about the Sabbath have gotten in the way of the freeing power of God.  Jesus is reminding the synagogue leaders that the Sabbath is not about rules, it’s not about making sure that no one lifts a finger.  The Sabbath is about setting us free from our worry so that we can trust God to sustain us.   It is what frees us to look up from our work so that we can simply delight in our God.  So setting this woman free from her bondage is definitely Sabbath work.  Setting people free is what Sabbath has always been about.  And setting people free has always been what God has been about.  


God set the people of Israel free when they were slaves in Egypt.  God set them free from hunger by bringing them manna in the wilderness.  And, time and time again, God set them free by forgiving them and blessing them when they returned to their God in repentance.  Our God is a God who delights in setting people free.  Even from the ways that we enslave ourselves.


So when laws, even God’s laws, become more about keeping people in bondage, rather than setting them free to praise God, then they’re not doing the work God intended of them.  When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, he’s not just setting the woman free from 18 years of suffering.  He’s also setting the leader of the synagogue free.  He’s setting him free from his bondage to the rules so that he could see the grace of God break in.  Jesus set him free to delight in God again, to  enjoy God’s work of setting free.


And we still need this.  So every week, we come to this place to celebrate the God who sets us free.  Now, as Christians, we don’t celebrate the Sabbath.  We don’t stop our all work like our Jewish brothers and sisters do to remember the day that God rested.  But we still celebrate the God’s work of setting us free.  


Instead, we come to worship on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, to celebrate the greatest of all “setting frees.”  Every Sunday we come to celebrate the open tomb, Jesus’ triumph over death.  We come to tell the story of God’s great setting free so that we can try again to believe it - that violence and sickness and even death are not stronger than God’s power to bring life.  We come so that we can remember again this unbelievable word, so that we can lay down our worry and fear and shame and sadness and simply delight in the goodness of God.  



And we come here because we need to remember and we need to be set free- over and over again, from all that tries to own us and take us over during the week.  So we come to be set free from our busyness for a moment and let God be enough to sustain us.  We come to this community to be set free from those sins and failures that plague us by hearing those words of forgiveness at the beginning of our service.  Child of God, your sins are forgiven so that you may live your life standing up straight and praising God.   


We come to hear the stories of God so we can learn who God is and what God intends for all creation.  We come to hear about God setting free- from hunger.  From fear.  From grief.  From violence.  And from all those things that keep us from being who God has meant us to be.  And we hear God’s promise to keep doing those things again for us and for our world.  


And every Sunday, we come here to be set free from our worrying about if there will be enough by gathering around this table with our brothers and sisters.  By opening our hands, feeling that bread and wine on our lips and seeing again how no one ever goes away hungry.  By seeing a vision for how God intends our world will be and learning to trust that vision.   And then, as we leave, we get to be set free from our selfishness by being sent out to do God’s work in the world, not our own.  


Jesus comes to set us free from all that keeps us from loving and following God.  He comes to heal us of those things that have bent us over, those things that hurt us and made us less than we are meant to be.  He breaks through anything that keeps us bound, in any way he needs to, so that we can stand straight up with the healed woman.  This is what Sabbath is about.  And this is what our worship is about.   Because this is what God is about- setting free.  Freeing us to be a brilliant reflection of the God who loves us.  Freeing us to delight in the goodness of God.  Freeing us to follow God in the work of setting others free. 


Something to hold onto when it's hard to trust

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on February 27, 2013 at 1:40 PM

Genesis 15:15:1-12, 17-18

So, those of you who were here last week- we talked a lot about trust.  And how Jesus was really good at it and how we stink at it a whole lot of the time.  And we talked about how freeing and amazing it would be if we could trust God with our lives, our stress, our insecurities and all the rest of the stuff that is too much for us to carry.  And we got a chance to think about one thing that we do trust God with and what a blessing that is.  And we got to thin about how we might train ourselves to trust God with a little more in the future.  


So, how’s that working out?  Did bringing to mind how good it might be to trust God make any difference?  For me it did cause me to think more about trust and think about how I should trust more, but it didn’t get me all the way there.  I still need a little more help on that so I figured we could go back to talking about trust this week.  


So, who do you think of as a hero of the faith?  Someone that you look to when you’re struggling to trust God?  Maybe you look to people like Mother Teresa or a grandmother or a friend- someone who seems to never waver when it comes to following what God wants of them.  

I have a few people that come to mind as heroes of the faith- people that trust so well that I hope to be like them someday.  But I’ve got a bit of insecurity, so I must admit that sometimes I like my faith heroes and mentors to be a little flawed, a little more like me.  They give me a little more hope when I struggle.  


That’s why I like Abraham.  He was gung ho and impetuous and daring in trusting God and would go full speed ahead, kind of like Peter, and then he’d stop, kind of like when the roadrunner stopped running when he realized there was no ground below him.  And then, the roadrunner and Abraham dropped like a rock.  


God promised Abraham that he would have a land and he would have more descendants than he could count.  That was pretty much the dream back then- our version of being famous, having a great house and having a statue built in our honor after we die.  It was an awesome promise, but not one that’s really easy to believe unless you’re pretty arrogant.  

But Abraham wanted to believe it.  He wanted to trust this God who he had known in the desert.  So he trusted like the best of them at first.  He uprooted his family and started heading toward the land God had promised him.  But then he realized what he had done- we risked it all on a voice he heard.  And now he was in the midst of people he didn’t know who may hurt him.  So, he freaks out and passes his wife off as his sister and lets her get to know the king better because he’s not completely sure that God’s going to keep him safe among all these strangers.  Strike 1 for Abraham.  


But God (and the king) set Abraham straight- a little knock to the head- and he’s off to trusting again.  Well, he’s walking to the Promised Land and all, but he’s still not sold on this promise of God quite yet.   And that’s where we meet him in the lesson from Genesis.  We get to hear him pestering God with those questions that he’s asked over and over again.  “So, you said I’d have descendants, but you know I don’t have a kid, right?”  And “You said you’d give me a land, but I’ve been walking for like 5 years and nothing.  So, about that. . .”  I’m working on this trust thing, but you’re not making it easy.  How about a little sign?  


You know the feeling?  Trying to trust that God’s got a hold on us when crappy thing after crappy thing keeps happening.  Or trying to trust that God has a plan for our future when doors keep closing in our faces?  How are we supposed to have faith when we can’t see any proof that the promise is real?   How do we keep on trusting when we’re discouraged and frustrated and when everything seems to say that promise won’t come true?  


If Abraham’s any indication, we start bugging God in these moments.  That seems to be allowed.  Sometimes the church gives folks the impression that we should be strong enough to trust God without ever questioning.  And I’m thankful that in this space and in our ministry, we understand although that would be awesome, it’s probably not going to happen.  Questions are going to be a part of our faith and instead of being a problem, those questions are simply opportunities to continue a conversation with God.  


Because did you notice what happens when Abraham asks questions?   He’s not reprimanded for his unbelief.  Instead, God takes Abraham’s questions as an opportunity to show up.  Abraham doesn’t get yelled at for doubting.  Instead, God brings him outside to say, “Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” God spoke the promises back to Abraham and gave him a sign in the sky that he could remember every night.  


And then God does some weird God-stuff, asking Abraham to set up a bunch of animals as if he’s going to sacrifice them.  And after Abraham spends an afternoon chasing vultures away from them, a flaming torch appears to pass through the animals as a sign of God’s promises.  A sign that God can be counted on to be faithful.  And as weird as it was, every time Abraham closes his eyes he can see again that flaming torch sealing the promise that God gave him.  


So, maybe we’re not into trippy visions much, but a little Old Testament-like, dazzling God-display would be nice, wouldn’t it?  Not that we wouldn’t doubt it, too, but really, it would be nice to get a little reassurance every time we doubted or questioned.  We’d like to have something to hold onto to help us with that trust thing.  


God promises us the Holy Spirit to guide us, but seeing a good tongue of fire dancing on someone’s head would be a nice assurance that the Spirit wasn’t just our imagination.  And God promises us forgiveness and love, but it might be a bit more convincing if it were said in a booming God voice as the heavens were ripped open.  It would be nice to have something to cling to and know for sure.  Something to help us when our trust is shot.  


But we don’t choose what God gives us to hold onto.  Abraham didn’t choose a vision of the stars or a flaming sword vision.  He simply had the opportunity to trust what he’d been given. And so do we- we get the choice of clinging to the simple, holy things that God gives us.  


It seems too simple and too churchy and too trite at times, but God gives us water and bread and wine.  Regular things that are signs of God’s greatest promises.  Things so abundant that we’ll run into them over and over again throughout our days.  Things so ordinary and yet so filled with promise that we cling to them for our very life when we are hopeless and questioning.


In baptism, our God called us by name and promised us that we will always be a child of God. Always.  No matter what we do.  God united that promise to the water so that the two would become one.  God chose to use water, something that we touch every day.  God chose something so basic so that every time we wash our hands or jump in the pool or wash the dishes we could feel that reminder of God’s gracious calling of us.  When we cannot trust that we are God’s treasured child because of all the things we’ve done wrong, God invites us to trust the water.  When we cannot trust that God calls us beloved because of how others have rejected us, we can reach out to trust the water.  When we cannot believe that God has a hold on us when things are terrible, we can trace that cross on our foreheads and trust the water.  


And God chose to be connected to the most wonderful of ordinary things- breaking bread and sharing wine and a meal with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  But for all those under 21-folk or those who choose not to drink, Christ can be remembered when we share any other festive drink together- whether it’s sparkling apple juice at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving or Cheerwine with friends from camp.) Christ bound the promise of his presence to a joyful, holy, celebration meal.  To the great goodness of bread and drink.  


So when we are lonely, so lonely that it feels that like no one can fill that emptiness in us, Jesus invites us to hold this bread and know we are in the presence of one that dearly loves us.  And when we are broken and destroyed with guilt, we can feel that grape juice on our throats and trust God’s forgiveness even when we cannot forgive ourselves.  And when life is overwhelming and it seems like too much, we can touch that bread and know that we are invited into a meal and a community and a love that has no end. When we cannot trust the promises alone, we can hold that bread and that cup and feel God’s promises to us.  And as we go about our days, we can touch all bread and drink as a reminder of the joyful meal we share here.  


In this life we will have moments of weakness, we will have times that our faith is slippery and there are far more questions than answers.  But in those moments especially, God comes to us to answer us.  To give us something to hold onto.  It may not be what we would choose to trust in, but it is holy and good.  And it is something that we can cling to to help us trust God’s promises.  So, people of God, I invite you to dare to trust the water.  Trust the bread and drink.  Trust the community that gathers around it.  And dare again to trust the One who is always faithful.  





Trusting God is a privilege

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on February 19, 2013 at 4:50 PM

Luke 4:1-13


The temptation of Jesus.  We read it every year at the beginning of Lent.  We hear about the tests from Satan that threatened to take him off course. And how he passed every test.  And then we prepare to hear a sermon that tells us that we should learn to resist temptation because Jesus did.  We hear that Jesus resisted temptation by quoting Scripture and you can, too, and God will give you power and everything will be ok.  


I don’t know about you, but sermons like that come up a little hollow for me.  A whole lot of “shoulds” just remind me that there’s one more thing I’m failing at which makes me feel worse which just makes me want to give into temptation to make myself feel better.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be like that, perhaps I should be more like Jesus (well, I KNOW I should be more like Jesus), but life doesn’t seem to work like that.  


And frankly, I think that a lot of the time we don’t want to avoid temptation because we actually like it.  Because temptation is often encouraging us to do the things that we would prefer to do, even if they are not good for us.  Asking us to do what’s fun for the moment.  Like being tempted to eat a cupcake when we’ve given up sweets or being tempted to procrastinate by doing something a lot more fn than your homework.  


So even if I know I should be more like Jesus, it’s not a real convincing argument to tell me that Jesus was good and I should be good like him.  Especially when he got crucified by doing that and I feel like I’m doing pretty well on my own.   So this week I struggled to find another way to approach this story.  One that is faithful to the Scripture, faithful to what God might be saying to us through it, but a way of approaching it that might actually make it a story that changes us.  


Now, we know how the story goes.  Fresh from his baptism, fresh from God opening the heavens and proclaiming Jesus his beloved Son, Jesus heads into the wilderness.  Maybe he was on a high from hearing the voice of God and knew he needed time for this to sink in (because he was also fully human and that God voice had to overwhelm him a bit!)  Or maybe he knew that God was calling him to do mighty things in the world and he needed some time away from the world to prepare himself.


But he goes.  Alone.  With nothing to depend on but God.  He takes with him the stories of his faith that he had learned from the time he was young and the words of Scripture that rang in his head.   He got rid of all the distractions and drank in the word of God.  And then he let God provide.  Provide for his hunger and his thirst.  Provide for his sanity as he spent 40 days alone.  Provide for his safety and his comfort.


And at the end of those 40 days, when he is weak with hunger and starved for human contact, Satan comes to tempt him.  And he dares Jesus to make bread- to whip up some magic breakfast.  And he dares him to take control over the whole world as long as he does it the way Satan would want it done.  And then he weirdly dares him to jump off the temple roof and let God save him.   And Jesus responds to each test with the perfect words from Scripture and seems to nail the test without even having to think twice.  Temptation beat.  Jesus wins.  Satan exits.    


It sounds like it’s about temptation, but I think the deeper reality in this account is that it’s about trust.  Jesus trusts God.  The wilderness has been a school for him, teaching his human self how to trust God.  He has spent so much time with God and God’s word that his heart has been changed.  He’s been depending on God alone for 40 das and now his heart simply trusts because that is all it knows how to do anymore.  It’s automatic.  


It may not seem like that big a deal, to trust God, but think about what it feels like to truly trust someone or something.  When you trust you are loved, you don’t have to worry about who’s looking at you or if you are measuring up.  That awkwardness and anxiety aren’t there.  Your stomach isn’t constantly in knots.  You look at the world with joy and not fear.  


Trusting means being so clear about who you are and where you are going that nothing can sway you. It means having your roots so deep that they’re not going to be pulled up in a storm.  It means that even when you suffer, you don’t lose hope. Finding one that we can trust is what sets us free.  To be truly ourselves.


But some of the things we try to trust often fail us. Relationships end, health fails, jobs dry up, friends treat us like crap, our dreams get smashed up and changed. And then life is in chaos.  Trust is all good until it fails us.  And that is why this story about Jesus in the wilderness is so vital to us.  


Because it’s about what life looks like when we place our trust in the one thing that cannot be shaken.  Confident.  And hopeful.  Free of feeling like we have to do everything.  Free of awkwardness and indecision.


This story isn’t just about Jesus being such a good, moral human being, better than we will ever be.  It’s about a vision of trusting God with all we are. Being so sure of the one that holds us that we are willing to walk into whatever life brings us.  It’s about knowing our purpose and our identity so clearly that our anxiety and stress and awkwardness just melt away.  And we are able to be fully who we are.  Who God created us to be.  


But how do we get there?  Saying we should trust Jesus more isn’t really any more helpful than saying we should resist temptation.  So perhaps we need some positive reinforcement.  


So I want you to think about what part of our life comes pretty easy for you to trust God with.   And that means not that you just hope everything will be fine, but that you know- good or bad- God will keep a hold on you and you’ll be able to make it through.  Maybe it’s your health or relationships with others or money.  Whatever it is, write it down.  


And then, what do you have a lot of trouble trusting God with?  What would you rather keep control of because you’re afraid of trusting God with it?  Write that down, too.  


And then imagine for a minute- what would your life look like if you could trust God with that second thing?  What if trusting God with that came as naturally to you as the first thing you thought of?  And what is keeping you from getting there?  


Some of you have already begun a Lenten journey.  Some of you aren’t going on one. And some of you are procrastinators who haven’t figured out what that journey should be about yet.  But in these days where the church is especially eager to support you on your journey, this might be a great time to jump in and let go.  Let go of one thing that is holding you back from trusting God.  Or learn one story of Scripture well enough that it lives in you and gives you words to speak when trouble comes.  Or spend a few minutes or days or weeks in the wilderness- of loneliness, or hunger, or life without technology.  And see what God might teach you as you trust God to provide for you.  


Because trusting God is a privilege that we are given.  We get the great joy of trusting that God’s words to us are not just nice things, but they are true!  That we ARE loved- not in some superficial way, but in a way that reaches beyond our fears and our faults and our insecurities.   That we ARE created in the image of God and that image is always there, as much as we may try to hide it or rebel against it.  And that we ARE promised that God will walk with us through every step as we follow Jesus- even when it sucks, when it’s painful and when it’s confusing and risky.  That God will be with us on the other side of our pain just as powerfully as God is with us on this side.  


So let go.  And let God be enough.