Monday, October 29, 2018

Katherine von Bora: A Reformation Life

            I am glad to be here today -- I have to say that I was quite surprised when I arrived to see the word “Lutheran” – in your name. Since Martin always said we should not call ourselves ‘Lutheran.”  We are followers of Christ – not Luther, he said.    But “Grace”!  I like that! You have a good name!    We do – live – by grace – and only by the grace of God.

            Oh!  I forgot to tell you – my name is Katherina – or “Katie” as my husband calls me, “Katie” – my rib, he would say, reminding me of the story from the Bible, from Genesis. I don’t know if you have heard of me, but I’m sure you know my husband, Martin Luther.    

            And I am here today with you because of him, because of what he did – on October 31, 1517, when he nailed 95 statements to a door in Wittenburg Germany – and then later, as he wrote about the gospel, and taught people about the Bible – translated all of the scriptures into German – the language of the people – and taught people that they were free in the grace of God 

            In one way, Martin and I were alike – we were both brought up in a monastic life. Martin chose to be a monk – he believed that God was calling him to a religious life – but me – at six years old my family sent me to a convent.  I don’t know why they did it – but I tried my best to follow God – I prayed and earned to serve God and I finally took my vows.  

            It’s true.  I was a nun.  

            But there came a time when we started hearing about the teachings of Luther – even in our convent, there were whispers about this new teaching.    We were taught that there were two kinds of life – and that if you wanted to pray and serve God, you had to do it in a monastery.  That was a religious life.  And that those who were not in convents or monasteries lived secular lives.   But the new teaching of Martin Luther was that you did not have to live in a convent to serve Christ.  Our ordinary lives were service to God.  And Martin Luther told us that we had freedom – freedom to read Scripture for ourselves – freedom to pray – freedom to be confident in our salvation and confident in the love of God for us.  It was Jesus in his death and resurrection that set us free.  Nothing else was necessary.

            So – I decided that I wanted to escape, to go and live in the world, to serve God in the world, and not in the convent.  But I will tell you – it was not just me – there were twelve of us in all who wanted to leave the convent.  And we wrote to our families, and we wrote to Martin Luther, asking him to help us.

            Dr. Luther agreed to help us in whatever way he could – and so we decided to make our escape.  It was on the Vigil of Easter– because on that evening we were up later than usual – and so after the worship and when it was dark – we made our escape --  we waited in the darkness for the sound of the wagon – and when we heard the crack of the whip – we knew it was time.   On Easter, we were going to be free.    But what would freedom be like? 

            Well – even when we were free – we all needed to find a place to go.   Most of us quickly found husbands.  But – as for me – it looked like there would not be a husband for me, at first.  Dr. Luther found one – who I turned down. And I remember that I happened to say, “I would rather have Luther than that man!”

            And that is what happened.  It is true that at first we were not ‘in love’, like so many of you are now.  But we grew to love one another – and – even more important – we respected and grew to like one another – and I believe we helped one another fulfill God’s calling for us.  We lived in a great, old, drafty monastery called “The Black Cloister”, where we raised children, hosted so many students and guests, cooked and gardened and taught the Bible and – yes – brewed beer.  

            It was a good life, although not always an easy life.  We had such joy and laughter, but also hardship and sorrow.  We rejoiced at the birth of children in our home – Hans and Elizabeth and Magdalene, Paul and Martin – and finally Margarete.  We grieved at the loss of children, Elizabeth who was just a baby, and Magdalene – when she was thirteen years old.  And of course there were always those who hated us because of Martin’s work – because of they thought he was turning the world upside down.

            Well – maybe he was – and maybe the world needed to be turned upside down.  Maybe it still does.  You can tell me what you think about your world today.  Do people know that they are free – free to serve God in everything they do?  Do they know how much God loves them – so much that he sent his son to die?  Do they know that it is not only the great and the wise and the important that are important to God?  But it is each and every one of us who are important?  Do they know that the work of changing a baby’s diaper is every bit as important as inventing the internet?  (someone told me you invented the internet.)  

            In whatever we do – we sing God’s praises.  We tell of his goodness.  In so many ways – my life was extraordinary.  But in so many ways my life was ordinary – just like yours. And – just like you – I live and serve God by grace alone.

            May my life – and yours – give him praise.



Thursday, October 25, 2018

Sunday Sermon: Living Generously, Part II:Beyond our Fear

Luke 12:13-35

            One of my earliest memories – as a very small child – is going to visit my grandma Mary in the Good Samaritan nursing home in Jackson Minnesota.  
            Grandma Mary was not my grandma – she was my great-grandmother, my mother’s grandma, and I must have been just four or five years old when we visited.  
            I remember going with my grandpa and my mom and visiting her in her small room in the nursing home. 
            She was sitting in a wheelchair, a small, frail woman with a warm smile.   
            There were no other children around – I was grandma Mary’s only great-grandchild – and I don’t remember so much about our visits, but I do remember that every time I came – she would open up a drawer and give me something to take home.  
            Maybe a handkerchief, maybe a small stuffed animal.  But she always found something for me to take home.  

            It was like she was slowly giving her life away, and she chose to give a small piece of it to me. And I don’t remember the items any more – but what I remember is the act of giving.  

            What a contrast to the rich man in Jesus’ parable today.  He had a green thumb.  His fields produced abundantly.  
            He was rich!  And then he had a problem – although I guess he didn’t think of it as a problem – he didn’t know what to do with his abundance! And only thing he could think of was to tear down his barns and build bigger ones.  
            Now he did not think he had anything to fear.  Now he didn’t have anything to worry about.  
            Now he possessed everything he needed – in fact more than he needed.  At least – that’s what it looked like.  What more could he need?

            What makes the difference between my great-grandma and the rich man and his bigger barns?  

            Sometimes I think it was just her age – sometimes you gain wisdom when you reach a certain number of years – that makes you feel differently about your life.  
            When there is more behind you than in front of you – some things seem more important – and other things seem less important.  My great-grandmother had already pared down from a farmhouse to a room at a nursing home. 
            She knew  that “you can’t take it with you” – so she was starting early, giving away the things she still had left, little by little.  

            But I think there’s something else as well.  I think that perhaps the rich man with his barns – and my great-grandmother
             – that they had different ideas of just what is valuable in the first place – they had different ideas about where their true treasure was –       and so they feared different things, and they placed their trust in different things. 

            Think about it.  
            The rich man was rich in property – and he was blessed in goods.  But you know what he didn’t have?  He didn’t have anyone to share it with.  
            He didn’t have relationships – either with God – or with a family or friends.  At the harvest, he didn’t think of having a banquet and inviting people to share it.  
            He didn’t have children with whom to divide it.  He didn’t have a partner to share his joy.  This doesn’t seem to bother him, though.   

            But my great-grandmother – well, I don’t know – because I only knew her a little, and I was very small – but I imagine.  
            She was a mother to my grandpa, and a grandmother to my mom, and a great-grandma to me.  
            And I imagine in my mind that those relationships were more important to her than any wealth she could have accumulated. 
             She had a son – and a grand-daughter – and she even had a great-granddaughter now.  
            Her legacy was not in things, but in relationships.  These were her treasures.  WE were her treasures.

            When Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives, but to seek first the Kingdom – I think that God is also thinking about relationships.        The ravens and the lilies receive what they need – but what we need most of all – more than barns and more than grain and more than a large investment portfolio – are relationships.   That's what they discovered when people studied children in orphanages.  they discovered that -- as much as they needed food and clothing and shelter-- they only thrived when they received touch -- when they were loved. 
             So when Jesus tells us to Seek first the Kingdom of heaven – I think he is telling us to seek this particular network of relationships – beginning with our relationship with God.   
            I remember once hearing a story about a young child who was on her way to visit her grandparents. “We’re going to grandma’s!’”  
            She said.  She didn’t say, “We’re going to “Bismarck” or “We’re going to “Conroe”. 
             Perhaps heaven is not so much a place as it is a face. THAT is the treasure.  

            For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  

            I remember a stewardship program once which the title “Where your heart is.,…”  it’s an attractive idea.  
            Where you put your heart – your love – there you will invest your treasure.  
            It makes sense.  If I love something,  I will invest in it.  But Jesus says it the other way.  
            And it’s not quite the same thing.  “Where your treasure is – there your heart will be….”  Where you make your investment of time, or finances, of work – that’s where you will find your heart.  
            So, Jesus says, invest in the Kingdom.  Invest in the kingdom of heaven.  
            Invest in that network of relationships, starting with your relationship with God.  
            And Invest in the values of the kingdom of heaven –  where the hungry are fed, the homeless are given shelter, the poor and the brokenhearted are lifted up. 
             Invest there – and your heart will follow….  Invest outside yourself – where people are hurting, or hungry or lonely or doubting --- where people are thirsty for grace and to know they matter – 

            Stewardship is investing in the kingdom of heaven – investing in relationships 
            – including the relationships here – and in our neighborhood.  And your congregation – Grace – is a part of that.  
            When you give to Grace – you are investing in relationships – relationships that show the face of God in Christ, relationships that bring the bread of life to the hungry, relationships that show compassion to the lonely.  

            When I think of my great-grandmother giving away her things – to me – I think maybe she saw the future in my face.  The fourth generation.  
            She wouldn’t live to see me grow up, but she trusted the future.  That was her legacy to me.  
            And I hope that my hands can be as open as hers were.  

            As for us – we see the future in the face of Christ,  the one who died and rose, the one who gave himself for us.  
            Do not be afraid, little flock.  Open your hands and receive true treasure.  The kingdom of heaven is yours.  

            It is yours – to share.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Sermon: Living Generously, Part 1: Greater than our Grief

based on Mark 10:17-31

            I recently heard a riddle that I could not figure out the answer to.  It had me stumped!  Here it is: “What’s better than God, worse than the devil?  Rich men want it, poor men have it, and if you eat it, you'll die?"
       What’s the answer?


            You wouldn’t think it would be so hard!  Right? Nothing is better than God, nothing is worse than the devil, rich people want nothing – and poor people have it. If you eat nothing you’ll die.” There you go.   

            Except that, according to the gospel reading today, it’s not exactly true.  
            The rich young man – as it turns out – he did want something.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  
             it’s an odd question, if you think about it.  I mean, what do you DO to inherit anything?  
            Nevertheless, there is something that the rich man feels that he lacks – and Jesus begins by reminding him of the commandments. 
            He has kept the commandments, since his youth, he says.  And Jesus must sense that this is not bragging but a sincere answer – so he looks at the young man with love and says, 
            “Well all right. There’s one more thing.  Sell, all of your belongings, and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me.”  

            You wouldn’t think it would be so hard!  
            In fact, it should be easy, shouldn’t it?  
            That’s what I told my dad once.  He was sitting in his wheelchair at the nursing home, and was suddenly worried about salvation.  Eternal life. What if he wasn’t good enough? He thought.
            Dad, do you trust Jesus? I asked.
            Yes, he answered.
            Well…. “You mean it’s that simple?”

            That’s what I told my dad.  
            But Jesus told the rich man, “Go, sell all of your belongings, and give the proceeds to the poor)
            And then, follow me. And the young man went away grieving, because he had many possessions.  
            And you know what? I think I know how he felt.

            And it makes me think back – to when I went to be a missionary in Japan.  
            And no one said that I had to sell everything I had and give the proceeds to the poor, but, truthfully, I could fit everything into two suitcases and one trunk that I sent ahead.  
            It was easier to go, because I didn’t have so much.  
            And after I graduated from seminary, and was called out to rural South Dakota – two farmers came up to my mom and dad’s house with their pick ups and hauled everything I owned to the parsonage. 
             It was more than I took to Japan, but it was still not a lot of stuff.

            This last move though – this one was hard 
            A whole house full of stuff.  A whole office full of books.  
            And even though no one told me I had to give up everything, I knew I couldn’t take everything. And I grieved.

            You wouldn’t think it would be so hard!    

            Trust Jesus!  They said.  It’s so simple!  They said. 
            But the truth is, when you follow Jesus, when you trust Jesus, there is grieving involved.

            There’s something else as well.  
            I think perhaps the young man thought he could follow Jesus – but just sort of keep all of his possessions on the side for when they returned from the journey.             
            Selling it all and giving it to the poor – that’s so permanent.             There’s no security in case things don’t turn out the way you planned.   
            There’s nothing to go back to if you have sold everything and given it to the poor.  
            It’s just like that old camp song we used to sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus…. no turning back, no turning back.”  

            And it’s an invitation to journey with Jesus, an invitation to life, an invitation to trust him –but don’t kid yourself that there’s no grieving involved.   
            Because trusting Jesus involves trusting him with – everything.                 Trusting Jesus involves trusting him with your soul and trusting him with your work, and trusting him with your relationships, and trusting him with your …. Finances.  Your wealth.    
            And you wouldn’t think it would be so hard. 

            There’s another side to Jesus’ hard saying.  
            When he tells the rich young man to sell everything, and give the proceeds to the poor – Jesus it not only inviting him to transform his life – he’s inviting him to transform the lives of the poor too.
            And he is creating a connection between them, between his future and their futures,  his life and their lives.    
            And that is what “eternal life” is about – it’s not simply about a secure future “after you die” – but it is a life worth living, right here and now, a life where we are walking with Jesus, and where 
            – whatever we have left behind – we have gained in a wider and more abundant community, a life of purpose, and where we have eternal value.  
            It’s the promise of Jesus to his disciples, who have given up everything.  
            Jesus promises that whatever they have given up – they will receive back 100 fold – in the abundance of family and relationships and the abundance of wealth.   What kind of wealth?  
            Well, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that it is the wealth that comes from belonging to a community of believers with a shared mission of transforming the world around them. 
            That’s treasure in heaven.

            But there’s grieving involved.  
            Whether you turn away, like the rich man, or whether you are all in with Jesus, there is grieving involved.  
            The grieving involves realizing that everything you thought you owned – was never yours to begin with.  
            The grieving involves leaving behind things you thought were important.
            Because Jesus is looking at each of us with love, and every single day he makes the invitation, “Follow me.”  
            He makes that invitation to us as individuals – and he also makes that invitation to us as a congregation.
            He makes an invitation to us as individuals to be all in – to trust him and to follow him with our whole lives.
            And he is making an invitation to our congregation to do the same.  Feed the hungry. Give Shelter to the homeless.  Give hope to those who are on the edge.  Nurture the children.  
            Share the Grace of God in our community. 
             “Trust Jesus.”  That’s an invitation to stewardship – which is to entrust our WHOLE lives to him – the one who loves you so fully that he went to the cross for you. 
            At Grace we’re a small part of God’s BIG mission – and so every October we ask you consider your gift to Grace as a small part of your total commitment to following Jesus.  
            Because through this congregation you have experienced the Grace of God – and because through your giving, we can continue to embody the love of Jesus, and share his invitation with others, so that they can see his love and follow him as well.
            And what do we want our neighbors – our community – the world – to know – through our lives – and through our giving?
             The answer to the riddle – “Nothing” – that “Nothing” can separate us from the love of our generous God – in Christ Jesus our Lord.



Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Finding Vida Nueva

It was last year at just about this time when we arrived in Lima, Peru.  There were just a few of us.  We were there to meet our mission partners, to find out more about the work the churches were doing, to meet some of the people and hear their stories.  There were just a few of us, and we had only been in Peru for about a day and a half when we set out to find a church called "Vida Nueva."  New Life.

We spent the morning in a nearby market, and then we were to set out.  We knew that the church was quite a distance away, out in the hills -- the outskirts of Lima.  The church boasted a landmark -- a large statue of of Jesus with arms outstretched.  The idea was to get to the church, meet some of the members who were waiting for us, and then climb the steps up to the Jesus with Outstretched Arms.

You can't miss him.  Jesus, that is.

And it was true.  When we neared the area, we could see the statue off in the distance.  We knew we were close, and we began to ascend into the hills, up narrow and winding gravel roads, past small businesses and houses.

And as we ascended we lost sight of Jesus.  The statue that is.  The one with outstretched arms.

We were sure we were close.  We had GPS, but it didn't seem to do any good.  We called the church, but the women there did not know exactly where we were, and did not know how to tell us what direction to go to get to the church.

We opened the windows on our van, and fearlessly questioned anyone walking by.  "Have you heard of Vida Nueva?" we asked.  Some had heard of the church, but they weren't sure exactly where it was.  Some pointed us in a certain direction.  Some had not heard of Vida Nueva.  It seemed like we were going in circles.  There were several dead ends.  It was getting later in the afternoon, and we knew if we didn't find the church soon, we would have to return home in defeat.

Then someone in the car shouted and pointed, "There it is!"  We spied the statue in the distance again.  At the same time we saw a young woman walking down the street.  "Do you know where to find Vida Nueva?" we asked again.  She used to go there, she said, so she knew exactly where it was.  She got in the van and took us there, and we were so close, but we had been driving around in circles.

Once we got to the church it was too late to make the pilgrimage up to the status of Jesus with Outstretched Arms.  But we got a tour of the small church, and learned a little bit about their ministry with children.  Then my husband pulled out his guitar and we sang a few songs together.  We sang in Spanish, a language I barely knew, and we sang songs I had been struggling to learn.  We sang "You have Come Down to the Lakeshore" in Spanish, and when the little group of women began the refrain, with the word, "SeƱor!", it was as if the Jesus with Outstretched Arms had come down to us.   I had sung this song many times before, and, truth be told, I was singing it for the first time that afternoon, with a lump in my throat and gratitude for the community.

We were so lost, and then we were found.

It has been a year since that journey, and suddenly the image of the Jesus with Outstretched Arms appeared again, and I remembered.  I remembered the winding dusty roads and the feeling of futility. I remembered our guide rolling down the windows and asking everyone she met for directions.  I remembered the ramshackle houses, and the vivid colors, and I remembered the glimpse of Jesus, and I remembered how our voices were raised together, theirs carrying mine.  I remembered the shaft of light in the small chapel.

We drive in circles most of the time.  At least I know I do.  The GPS that is supposed to tell me exactly where to go -- doesn't always work the way I would like.  Even when I know what I'm looking for (which isn't always the case).  "Vida Nueva."  New Life.   The Jesus with Outstretched Arms.

I know that is the case for my congregation as well.  Sometimes we drive around in circles.  The path to new life, it seems, should be clear, and I should be able to lead them there on a straight path.  But maybe part of the point is getting lost, rolling down the windows and asking for directions.  Maybe part of the point is the hard humility gained by going around and around in circles, until you really learn to see what is around you, what you have been missing:  the sound of the singing, the outstretched arms, the vivid colors, the hunger.

And then, and then -- Vida Nueva will find you.  The Jesus with Outstretched Arms.