Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life Overflowing: The Next Generation

Life Overflowing: The Next Generation

“Don't you see that children are God's best gift? the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?” Psalm 127:3 (The Message)

“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9

[Jesus said] “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Mark 10:14

September puts the spotlight on our children, as they head back to school and return to our Sunday Schools and confirmation ministries. “Free range” kids who’ve been on the loose over summer are falling into line once again, shaped up by their wonderful teachers (our heroes!)

By virtue of their Baptism into Christ our children, of whatever age, are the church of today—along with all the rest of us “gray-hairs.” We resist the notion that children and youth are merely “the church of tomorrow.” Amen!

And yet, these young ones are the next generation of God’s church on earth, too. In particular, today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow’s church. Watch out! They mean to take over from us! We thank God for an abundance of children to treasure today, to be formed into Christ, and to be prepared to serve God’s mission.

Birth Dearth?

But wait, do we really have an abundance of children in our midst? Folks in rural synods like ours often lament the loss of our children and young people. We look with longing at faded, yellowed pictures depicting the good old days when Sunday Schools were bursting at the seams. Nowadays it seems like we face a disheartening “birth dearth.”

But is that really the case? For years I’ve been playing a mean trick on call committees in congregations up and down western Minnesota. While discerning the congregation’s potential for mission and ministry, I pose this question: “In your local zip code area, which segment of the population is larger—the number of senior adults over the age of 65, or the number of children and youth age 18 or younger?”

Almost always, this answer is, “senior adults over age 65.” And almost always that answer is wrong! When I share the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau (available to every congregation on the ELCA website at http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Research-and-Evaluation/ZIP-Code-Report.aspx) call committee members often refuse to believe me. “On Sunday mornings it’s mainly older adults in worship—our youth have disappeared!”

But that depends upon who we’re counting as “our” youth? Surely we’re responsible for more than the children who worship regularly in our congregations. What about the other young ones who have been baptized in our congregations, whom we list on our membership rolls and responsibility lists? What about all the young ones in our local “mission field,” many of them unchurched? Just who are “our” children, anyway?

They’re All Our Kids!

More and more I’ve come to believe that they’re all our kids. If children and youth live within the mission field of our congregations, they are in some sense “ours.” Ours to serve. Ours to invite. Ours to know by name. Ours to love and care for and uphold in prayer. What if—especially in our smaller rural communities—we cultivated a radical sense of responsibility for all the children and youth who walk among us? What if we insisted that “they’re all our kids?” Hmmmm. If we followed that idea to its logical conclusion, we might take more seriously (i.e. support with our offerings and our tax dollars) both the religious education and the public school education of “our kids!”

They’re all our kids because, first and foremost, they’re all God’s kids. The God of the scriptures—the God we know in Jesus Christ—gives children infinite worth. In the words of the psalmist, they are “God’s best gift” to us in our earthly lives. Children, as Jesus reminds us, have an inside track on the kingdom of God—they “get it” in ways we adults can only envy.

Saturation Education

So what is more central in our Christian discipleship than making good on the promises we utter whenever a child is baptized—to “faithfully bring them to the serves of God’s house, and teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments….[to] place in their hands the Holy Scriptures and provide for their instruction in the Christian faith?” (LBW, p. 121; cf. ELW p. 228)

When we take responsibility for the newly-baptized, we commit ourselves to a “saturation education” that surrounds each child with the life of the Lord Jesus, “until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). Taking our cues from great texts like Deuteronomy 6:6-9, we regard the home as the critical location where this happens—which is why increasingly our congregational Christian education efforts are aiming at equipping parents and other adult family members and friends to be the primary nurturers of Christian faith. That’s why our synod continues to seek out ways to partner with dynamic faith-formation agencies like Vibrant Faith Ministries (http://www.youthandfamilyinstitute.org/).

While traveling in India last November, we learned how precious children are in our companion synod, the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC). Everywhere we traveled, in every congregation we visited, we encountered some of the most beautiful and outgoing kids on the face of the earth. Education—including parochial schools—as been and continues to be a signature ministry of the AELC.

Every Church Can Do This

Sometimes small-membership churches under-estimate their capacity to minister meaningfully among children and youth. “We could have a dynamic youth ministry if we just had more members and more dollars.” But the best things we can offer our young ones don’t cost much. In fact, I’m always tickled to observe how some of the smallest congregations in our synod “shine” in the ways they treasure their children. Here’s some ways we all can nurture the youth among us:

• Learn their names and call them by name.

• Call forth their best gifts. Don’t just give youth “grunt work” in the church. Let them shine as musicians, teachers of younger children, friendly visitors to the lonely, mission trip adventurers, etc.

• Listen to them. Bend over backwards to draw them into congregational discussions about where God is leading you in mission. Remember, they’re going to take over some day—so why wait to hear what’s on their minds?

• Do as much ministry inter-generationally as you can. Finagle ways to bring your youngest and oldest generations together.

• Mentor them in faith and in life, give them space to spread their wings, be open to their wild ideas, and above all stand with them—don’t give up on them.

• Tend the children and youth you actually have, rather than lamenting the absence of other youth.

• Be genuine. Kids can smell phoniness a mile away.

• Give them Jesus—first, last and always. And look for Jesus’ face in their faces.

Bishop Larry Wohlrabe
Northwestern Minnesota Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
God’s work. Our hands.

For reflection and discussion:

1. How is your congregation preparing youth to take over the leadership of the church?

2. Go to the ELCA website and figure out how many kids, ages 18 and younger, reside in your zip code area. How many do you see in worship in your congregation? How many of them are on your church’s membership list? How many are unchurched? Pray about and talk with others about how your congregation could treasure all the children in your mission field.

3. What might be different in your congregation’s ministry if more members believed and acted as though “they’re all our children?”

This is the eighth in a series of articles on the theme Life Overflowing—an ongoing exercise in missional theology for the disciples and congregations of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod during the year 2010. These articles may be used for personal reflection; they may also serve as background study or a devotional resource for congregation councils and other parish leadership groups.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Moochers at the Table of Grace

Trinity Lutheran Church, Moorhead

Installation of Pastors Alexis Twito, Colin Grangaard and Rick Reiten
August 29, 2010
Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely…. 7When [Jesus] noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12[Jesus] said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

These waning days of August are such a nostalgic time…reminding us of the end of so many summers, the beginning of so many autumns….and always, always the return to school.

In the next ten days thousands of students will return to classes in Fargo and Moorhead….from pre-schoolers to graduate students….so different in so many ways, and yet also so similar: all of them pondering the same question: “How will I fit in? How will I make a place for myself in this class, this school, this community of learning?”

It’s a question, really, that we bring to every moment of life: How do I fit in? How do I fashion a place for myself?

And sometimes that question gets very specific. My son-in-law who attends law school in St. Paul told me that he has a very, very definite “place” among his peers-- because they’re all graded strictly on a curve. Every student occupies exactly one spot on that Bell curve, depending upon their performance. Every class, every discussion, every test influences just where that spot is….and that in turn influences where you wind up, how good a position you will win for yourself in the dog-eat-dog world of lawyering.

How do I fit in? How do I fashion a place for myself?--questions that are as old as the hills. In fact, they form the backdrop for this gospel lesson from Luke 14.

It is the Sabbath, and people are at table in the home of a Pharisee. Jesus is present, and everyone is watching him like a hawk. Why? I think it’s because Jesus had a way of shaking things up, wherever he went.

Jesus just didn’t “do” idle chit-chat. We Midwestern Lutherans can talk for hours about nothing—the weather, our tomato plants, where to pick up the best sweet corn, and—“how about those Twins?” You know the drill.

But Jesus didn’t know the drill. Jesus only “did” purposeful speech, usually disruptive speech. Having Jesus over to dinner was always risky—he often ignored conventional etiquette, he wasn’t a keep-your-opinions-to-yourself-please guest.

So people were watching him…and Jesus, in turn was watching them, observing especially how they positioned themselves in the context of this meal.

Now here we’re at a disadvantage, because we’ve reduced “being at table” to little more than consuming the carbs and proteins we need to keep going.

For Jesus and his fellow diners, though, eating a meal together was sacred time, in holy space….which is why so much of the action in Luke’s Gospel happens “at table.” For Jesus and his fellow diners, eating together was about table fellowship, a profound way of sharing life together.

So people are watching Jesus, and Jesus is watching them, and then--true to form—he opens his mouth and says something wild, uncomfortable, and world-turning.

First, Jesus addresses his fellow-guests. They would be wise to aim low, head for the humblest position in the pecking order. After all, if you take the lowest place, you have nowhere to go but up on the social ladder.

But what sounds at first like advice from Miss Manners is so much more. The giveaway word here is παραβολη—parable, which means kingdom talk—Jesus is opening up a vista on the kingdom of God.

Taking the lowest seat isn’t a reverse-English way of jockeying for power: “After you….no, after you….no really, I insist, after you….”

Taking the lowest available seat goes beyond prudential choice. It is God’s way, as Jesus himself was forever demonstrating. Jesus always “aimed low”—headed right for where the no-accounts were seated. Jesus consistently positioned himself with the gap-toothed, knock-kneed, could-use-a-bath crowd.

Jesus’ place was and still is with those who can’t make it on their own.

Speaking of whom….Jesus offered his host a little more unsolicited advice: When you give a luncheon or a dinner… invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

It’s not just about how you position yourself, but who you position yourself with.

Our natural tendency is to hang out with our social equals, or, if given the chance, to surround ourselves with power-people who can do something for us in return. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, and we both come out ahead…although I’d be delighted to come out a little farther ahead, thank you very much!

So we’re at a party, talking with someone who all the while is looking over our shoulder to see who else is at the party. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and reciprocity is the coin of the realm.

But not in the kingdom of God. In God’s astonishing but gentle way of ruling over all things, everyone is equally beholding to the Host of the feast. Our differences are really trifling, the tie that binds us all—our common need for what only God can give.

So what if we started acting as if that were true, right here and now? Well, our meals and our parties and—come to think of it—our weekly worship gatherings would look so very much more like the “duke’s mixture” that in fact we are.

And how could we picture that more wildly, more imaginatively, than if we constructed our guest lists by starting with all the folks who could never in a million years, pay us back. People whose need outstrips their ability to pay. People who might even be a drag on us—might hold us back, might reshape us, might refashion how we look at everything—through kingdom eyes for a change.

In other words: remove reciprocity from the equation, and in its place substitute the gratuitous grace of God, the overflowing unmerited mercy of the One who took the lowest place imaginable, a Roman execution cross, for us and for our salvation.

Now, I could go on and on, but the home stretch is beckoning, so let me close by shining the light of this text on you three—Alexis, Colin and Rick. What does this all have to do with you, and the ministry partnership that we launch here this morning?

We are here to install you, after all. And installation involves putting you in your place.

The double entendre in that phrase can serve us well.

I know that none of you fell off the turnip truck yesterday. In the hothouse environment of the seminary, each of you has been a shining star. You landed on the cheerful side of the Bell Curve.

But this morning, I invite you to regard all of that as sheer gift. Your gifts are God’s gifts to you, and now here at Trinity, God’s gifts through you. If I believed in luck, I’d say: “Aren’t we all so lucky to have you!”

But there is more. As you begin your ministry here at Trinity, I invite you to aim low.

Bet you haven’t heard advice like that—you high achievers, you.

But this is kingdom talk, don’t you see? “Aim low” is kingdom talk for: situate yourselves where Jesus would be. Let God position you where you can do the most good—with those who know they can’t make it on their own. And doesn’t that really describe us all—even the brightest and best shining stars, sitting here in the pews this morning?

Trinity is richly blessed with a wonderful spectrum of folks who all share two things in common: first, they’re sinners and, second, Jesus has saved them in order to send them into God’s mission.

And you three new pastors will have entrée into their lives when they need God most. I love that old line from C.S. Lewis: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains…[Pain is God’s] megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Aim low—be where Jesus would be—and, as you help Trinity to serve God’s mission—finagle ways to keep making sure the guest list always includes folks who can never repay God for his goodness.

Last Wednesday your “Music on the Blacktop” event served over 900 people. What an amazing “Jesus party!”—truly, one of the very best things you do here at Trinity.

And I certainly hope that many of those 900 showed up just to mooch some free ice cream and bask in camaraderie…because, you know, we’re all moochers at God’s table of grace.

If Christ’s church has a future in this 21st century, it will be shaped by parties that bring all of us moochers together, positioned by God—put in our places by God--to partake of a feast we will never deserve.

So, welcome, Alexis, Colin and Rick….welcome to this table. On behalf of all the other moochers gathered here this morning, we call you to be wherever Jesus would be, surrounded by all the ragamuffin kingdom people who are simply amazed to be here.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Joining the Apostolic Strike Force

Ordination of Sheila Michaels

August 22, 2010
Redeemer Lutheran Church, Thief River Falls, MN
Luke 10:1-9

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

Thank you so much, Sheila, for selecting this great gospel text for your ordination day. It’s become one of my favorite guiding lights in God’s Word…truly a touchstone for the missional church of the 21st century.

Few gospel passages manage to seem so far removed from our current context—and yet at the same time so apropos, so close to this time and place, this apostolic moment in which we find ourselves in the year 2010.

This text, at first blush, seems so foreign to us, with its stark instructions for a strike force of 70 ambassadors who fan out across the countryside, all of them on foot, to prepare the way for Jesus’ own itinerant ministry. It strikes us as odd, even exotic, to imagine persons traveling swiftly in such Spartan fashion—we could never do that (could we?) even if we wanted to. Heading out with just the clothes on our back and counting on strangers to take us in—who would attempt a trip like that in this time and place?

And yet as odd and as far-removed as this story seems to be from the world in which we live, there is also a striking immediacy to this gospel lesson. For although our situation may have changed, our calling has not…a calling to announce God’s rule over all things—the gracious and gentle rule begun, continued and brought to fruition in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

And this gospel lesson “works”—especially well—for a service of ordination, as the church sets aside, blesses and sends another laborer into the mission field. There is good stuff here, Sheila, stuff you can use, stuff you can count on to see you through. Let me highlight three keynotes in this text.

1.  First, there is the up-front assurance of a bountiful harvest. True to form—for that is always how God operates--the promise is central here. It comes first, before anything else. The harvest is plentiful, Jesus declares.

Isn’t that just like him? Jesus leads with a promise, just as God is forever uttering promises—before we can even get a word in edgewise. The promise leads the way: the harvest is plentiful. You need to know that. Before you venture out into the field—trust in this fact: it’s going to be a bumper crop! God has decided that. And so you can count on it to be true.

Now I grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, and one thing I remember from those farming years is that you know how the harvest turns out only after every last ear of corn, every last bushel of grain is safely tucked away in the granary…

Until that point, until the combines have scoured every acre, until you are deep into autumn—not until every last threat to the crop has passed away, not until the last minute of the whole “gathering in” business, can anyone say: “The harvest is plentiful.”

But that is not how God operates. That is not how Jesus does business. God in Jesus Christ always leads with the promise, and here the promise is that there are all sorts of persons out there with ears for the gospel, Sheila. There is no shortage—absolutely no lack—of potential disciples, followers and believers. God isn’t stingy in any of that, and that is a promise you can count on as you begin your ordained ministry.

God intends to bless your ministry, Sheila. God is delighted to have you join the ranks of “harvesters.” There’s a bountiful crop out there—though we always seem to be short of “harvesters”--so adding you to the apostolic strike force is sort of a coup, Sheila.

And you can carry out your ministry in the confidence that it doesn’t depend on you, Sheila. Your warmth, your smile, your winning way, your facility with words, your great work ethic—all of those are good gifts you bring. But the harvest doesn’t depend on any of them. In fact, quite often God will succeed despite you, Sheila….and when that happens, it will simply be confirmation that you’re normal, like every other pastor.

2.  The second gift God’s Word gives you here, Sheila, is the freedom to travel as lightly as possibly.

You will find—you probably have already found--that there are plenty of folks out there who want to tell you how to be a good pastor. There are oodles and caboodles of programs and plans and 7-step approaches and how-to guides for better, more faithful, more effective pastoring.

As if all that were not enough, think of the times in which we live. This is an anxious age in the world and in the church, Sheila. And one way that anxiety gets expressed is by a desire to draw hard lines, to get everyone lined up straight and moving in lockstep fashion, a desire for uniformity on everything under the sun. I think that some of that is happening in our own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—a distrust of one another, compounded by nervous efforts to add terms and conditions and escape clauses to the simple Gospel of God’s gratuitous, overflowing love in Jesus Christ the Crucified and Risen One.

And then there are the expectations that get laid on pastors. It’s been said that being a pastor is like being a dog at a whistlers’ convention. The people of God—God bless them, God love them!—will make it hard for you, at times, to travel as lightly as Jesus invites you to travel here in Luke chapter 10. Expectations will be laid upon you, so much so that you will feel overwhelmed….and when you do feel that way, I invite you to return to Jesus’ great “reducing plan” here in your ordination text. Strip away the excess baggage and return to the basic, the foundational, the one thing needful.

In other words: give them Jesus. When in doubt, give them Jesus. When expectations mount up like the Red River in spring flood stage, give them Jesus. Shuck off all the flotsam and jetsam that piles up. Hone in on the only essential thing. Travel lightly. Give them Jesus—preach Jesus, baptize in Jesus’ name, feed people on Jesus’ body and blood—everything else is fine, but it’s window-dressing, really. Jesus is who we need the most.

3.  Third, count on help along the way, Sheila. Thank God, you’re not all alone in this adventure called pastoral ministry.

That’s of course, why Jesus could send out the 70 emissaries in such Spartan fashion-- no purse, no bag, no sandals, no picnic baskets, no ATM cards, no GPS locators. Jesus sent them out with virtually nothing because Jesus knew there would be persons along the way who would help out. Simple as that.

Jesus sent out the seventy as lambs amidst wolves….and yet not everyone “out there” was a wolf. There would be other “lambs,” there would be people of peace, there would be hospitable hosts who would receive them, shelter them, feed them, maybe even join forces with them.

And that is a great and welcome word for today’s church—the missional church of the 21st century. Gone, thankfully, is the day when we expect pastors to “do it all.” Thirty years ago, when I was finishing up seminary, we were getting ready to kiss that tired old model for ministry goodbye. The myth of the “omni-competent” pastor was starting to die, but it still had traction in many places.

This is, of course, about more than keeping pastors from burning out. It’s mainly about empowering and equipping the whole people of God to take up their callings to serve God’s mission in the world. Over-functioning pastors require under-functioning church members….but Jesus has a much better idea: a whole company of disciples who pray, and study the Word, and worship, and bear witness, and give generously, and serve their neighbors in countless ways….with pastors in the mix to serve up the Word and Sacraments for the nurturing and sustaining of all God’s baptized children.

Sheila, if I have learned one thing about you, it’s that you have a nearly inexhaustible energy for life and family and ministry. You run circles around the rest of us, and you manage to keep an amazing number of balls in the air at any one point in time.

But God has given you partners in this good work, and I know that you know that. The flock that has called you to serve with them, the good people of the Bethlehem and Nazareth congregations, they are brimming with life and energy and gifts for God’s work. So how will you form a holy partnership, a sanctified synergy that will free up everyone’s best gifts for ministry?

Of course, you already know everything I’ve said in this sermon, Sheila..but please, hear it one more time:

• The harvest is plentiful,

• You’re free to travel lightly, and

• There’ll be plenty of help along the way.

These breath-taking promises are the greatest gifts you’ll receive today—all of them from God’s own generous hand.

In the name of Jesus.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Disturber of the Peace

Tonseth Lutheran Church of Erhard, MN
Pentecost 12/August 15, 2010
Luke 12:49-56

Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace.

Let those words sink in: Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace.

If your first response is: “Oh no, that can’t be true. You must have it wrong….”

….If you’re inclined to disagree—you are not alone.

Our natural instinct is to spring to Jesus’ defense, to say: “Jesus, a disturber of the peace—it can’t be true. He is the Prince of Peace. Peace is his greatest gift to us. How can you—how can anyone say that Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace?”

The problem, you see, is that it’s not just anyone who says that. It’s Jesus himself who says that, rather bluntly, quite clearly, here in this unusual text from Luke 12.

Here’s what Jesus himself has to say: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (vv. 49-51)

Then, adding insult to injury, Jesus tells us just where the division will be most acute: in families, in the basic social unit that makes up the fabric of human community. Jesus divides not strangers but kin--fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, in-laws, the whole family system.

Division will hit that close to home, that close to the heart of life.

Jesus Christ came to bring not peace, but division….and that’s probably the last thing any of us wanted to hear this morning.

Most wise pastors, when they see this gospel lesson coming up in the lectionary, ….schedule vacation time for themselves (inviting some guest preacher—say, the bishop!—to fill the pulpit).

Even pastors don’t like this text….and I don’t blame them!

Because we don’t need to go to church to get bent out of shape. We go to church to put it back together, to find some comfort, grab some hope and get charged up for another week of work.

So what are we to make of this strange, maddening text that the lectionary hands us this morning? What does Jesus mean when he says that he has come to bring not peace but division?

Here’s my best guess: Jesus declares himself to be a disturber-of-the-peace….because he has come into the world to change everything.

And change is something we fight, tooth and nail. The only person who likes change is a baby with a dirty diaper—and even then, the baby cries like crazy while the diaper is being changed!

Jesus disturbs the peace because he shakes everything up, turns everything upside down, leaves no stone unturned. Jesus came to change everything that we’re accustomed to, everything we take for granted, every assumption we make.

Jesus disturbs the peace because he has come to change
• how we think about God,
• how we think about ourselves, and
• how we think about one another and the world.

1. Jesus has come to change how we think about, how we imagine, how we relate to God.

We assume that God—if he exists—is Someone we have to deal with, Someone we have to get on the good side of, Someone we must “do business with.”

And Jesus came to change all that. Jesus came to reveal to us, to give us, indeed to be for us a God who is hopelessly in love with us—and there’s nothing we can do about that.

Jesus came to let us know that our God is not a “let’s make a deal God.” We can’t do a blessed thing to get on this God’s good side. In Jesus Christ this God has drawn near to us, embraced us unconditionally, and promised never to let us go—regardless of how hard we might push back.

Jesus came to give us—not a God we have to work at cozying up to—but a God who is “for us,” come what may.

And that alters all our assumptions about God. How can you “do business” with a God like that? Well, you can’t…and that unnerves us…to have a God we can’t bargain with, a God we can’t “buy off.”

2. Second, Jesus came to change how we view ourselves.

Left to our own devices, we see ourselves at the heart of everything. We’re at the center of our own little solar system—everything else revolves around us. And, when all is said and done, we can’t count on anyone BUT ourselves. We must secure our own survival and success.

Jesus came to change that, and in so doing Jesus has again “disturbed our peace.”

Jesus came to pry us loose from ourselves. To stop us from imaging that we’re in the center of the universe. Jesus came to restore our true dignity—the dignity of being a son or daughter of God, whose passionate beating heart is truly at the center of the universe.

And how did Jesus do that? By allowing himself to be dislodged, by letting go of his life at the Cross, by embracing hope not survival as the ultimate good—hope that not even death can destroy.

That’s what Jesus’ life, Jesus death and Jesus’ resurrection are all about—opening us to a radically new way of living—a way of life no longer defined by clinging to ourselves, but rather defined by letting go of life, entrusting ourselves to God, realizing that God clings to us—and that is enough.

3. Third, Jesus came to change how we view one another and the world.

On our own, in our natural state, we view other persons and indeed the world itself as competitors. If our chief goal is to survive, and we’re surrounded by others with the same goal, we’re born into a state of competition-to-the-death. And we live out our days in a sort of uneasy “peace” with that fact…

…..until Jesus comes along and changes it all once again.

Jesus turns us “inside out”…Jesus pries our fingers loose from the tight grip we try to maintain, holding our lives together…..Jesus opens our eyes to a new panoramic view of the others all around us….Jesus lets us see them not as competitors but as neighbors.

If we don’t have to do business with God, don’t have to win God over to love us….we now can turn to the ones with whom we do have business—the neighbors all around us, including the earth itself….which is more than a pile of resources at our disposal. Jesus gives us the earth once again, as God’s good creation, with gifts enough for all to share as we live in the hope that God alone gives.

So there you have it.

Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace….the fragile, precarious peace, that is, of a world and of people who had it all wrong in the first place. Jesus was a disturber of this peace that is no peace—no sure, lasting peace.

That peace—that false peace of a fallen world—Jesus came to sweep it all away. And so, if Jesus brings division into our neatly ordered world, it is a division between those who still cling to the old, dying, god-forsaken world….and those who have come to see and long for the New Creation that Jesus even now is ushering in.

One last thought: I’ve been saying that Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace. But we could just as easily, just as accurately say that Jesus Christ is, Jesus Christ remains a disturber of the peace….because he is risen, he lives today, he lives within you and me and everyone else whom he has embraced in baptism, in faith, in discipleship and in God’s mission.

Which is to say: you and I may well be accused from time to time of “disturbing the peace.” In fact, such rabble-rousing is a mark of faithfulness to the God we have come to know in Jesus Christ.

I realize that most folks don’t use the words “Lutheran” and “rabble-rousing” in the same sentence.

But even for us calm, cool Lutherans, this is true: Jesus makes us uneasy with this old, dying world. Jesus shatters the false, walk-on-eggshells-peace-that-is-no-peace. Jesus living in you and in me and in all his followers continues to be a refining fire, a renewing baptismal stream, a dividing point between an old world that is passing away….and the New Creation that we point to, long for and are eager to inhabit in all its fullness.

So stir things up, my dear friends. You have nothing to fear from the change that Jesus brings. He alone gives you God as God truly is. Jesus alone bestows on you your true identity. Jesus only opens your eyes to see all humanity, to behold the earth itself, to receive God’s whole creation as the good gift it was always meant to be.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.