Friday, July 26, 2013

Fleshing Out Love

Wedding of Alexis Stadstad and Isaac Monke-Lundberg
July 27, 2013
Philippians 2:1-11 and John 13:1-5, 12-17

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.
If you’re paying attention to what’s happening in this wedding service, you know that Lexi and Isaac are “up to something” this afternoon.  They’re breaking the mold, setting aside familiar patterns, thinking and acting “outside the box.”

That’s because they want to share with us three things they believe about marriage.

First, Lexi and Isaac believe that marriage is not primarily about self-fulfillment.   Getting married isn’t first-and-foremost a way to pursue your own happiness, enhance your own pleasure or tend to your own well-being.  Marriage isn’t mainly something you do for yourself.

Not that fulfillment and marriage don’t go together!  Being married to the love of your life is tremendously fulfilling—one of the best things that can ever come our way!   Recently published research even reveals that “couples in happy marriages enjoy better health than their less happy counterparts over the long run.”[1]

Marriage is fulfilling, but it isn’t primarily about our self-fulfillment.

In fact, quite the opposite.   Marriage is about tending the fulfillment of your spouse--the one to whom you commit your life.

And there’s a weird math at work here, because love is something that multiplies only as it is divided--only as it is shared.  Isn’t that strange?  Keep love to yourself and it withers, but share it with another and it “goes viral” in your lives.

Marriage isn’t mainly about self-fulfillment.   It is, rather one of the best ways to show forth what our lesson from Philippians calls “the mind of Christ” that frees us to “look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Your marriage will be deeply fulfilling for both of you, Lexi and Isaac.   But your fulfillment will come in the round-about way that Jesus sets forth:  Isaac, as you seek to fulfill Lexi’s life, you will be fulfilled…Lexi, as you look to Isaac’s interest, you will find happiness.

The second thing you’re telling us about marriage is that it is rooted in love, but love always needs to be fleshed out.   Love as a stand-alone word is almost useless, virtually meaningless, until it’s given a form, a shape, a pattern—until love is fleshed out.

And you two believe that the best way to flesh out love is through service.   You agree with the old adage that service is “love wearing work-clothes.”

So you’ve just done something rather surprising, maybe even unnerving to us in the congregation:  you’ve washed each other’s feet—as Jesus invited all his followers to do in our gospel reading from John 13.

We sophisticated 21st century folks can barely wrap our arms around the thick meaning of what Jesus did with his disciples.   When Jesus walked on earth, it was absolutely essential to have clean feet after trudging down dusty, dirty roads strewn with garbage and manure left behind by all the critters who shared the road with you.

But washing feet was one task that not even a slave could be commanded to do in the ancient world—it was that demeaning, that distasteful a task.   So in Jesus’ time everyone normally washed their own feet—no one would ever be expected to do that for you.

….which is why Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet was so shocking.  Jesus bent as low as anyone could bend when he knelt before his followers, one by one, and washed away the filth of the road from their weary feet.

Today, by washing each other’s feet, you are telling us that you intend to flesh out your deep love for one another by serving one another—serving—and therefore loving—in ways that will know no bounds.

This, too, is definitely a Jesus-thing.   As followers of Jesus, you are falling into line with your Lord, who goes to any lengths to flesh out his love for us—even to the point of dying on a cross to save us and send us into his service.

Isaac and Lexi, I wish you much happiness—in the romance of your married life, in the joy and laughter you will experience, but also in the service to each other that will be the hallmark of your life together in Christ.

There is one more thing you want to tell us today.  And that’s that your marriage isn’t just about serving each other.   Your marriage is also about serving others, serving the world.

Getting married is consistent with your deep desire to serve others, in care for God’s world.    You have great gifts and abilities that you could use to make scads of money and buy lots of stuff….but you believe God has called you to the service of teaching.    Your mission as a married couple involves molding and shaping the next generation.

And being married to each other will help you fulfill that mission in God’s world.   The support and strength you will draw from one another will enable you to serve others, in all sorts of ways, but especially in your work as teachers of children.

You therefore help us all to see how marriage is one of God’s best ways of caring for the whole human family. Marriage will be your launching pad into the world, to become God’s hands and feet.

Thank you for gathering us here, Isaac and Lexi, to learn from you, to bless you, to witness your vows, and to cheer you on as you embark on the great adventure of marriage—a marriage in which you will fulfill one another, flesh out love in service, and care for God’s people and God’s world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.


Friday, July 19, 2013

A God Who Sits Still for Us

Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill, St Paul, MN
Pentecost 9/July 21, 2013
Luke 10:38-42
Celebrating the Baptism of Olivia Carolyn Haddorff

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

One of the great gifts of having Baby Olivia in our family is that all of us “mature adults” are reminded of how we were once helpless infants, utterly dependent upon the tender care of others.

But this is true, of course, not only for infants.

We all depend on one another.   We all live off the kindness of relatives, neighbors, and even strangers.

That subtext has been woven through the readings from Luke 10 that have been popping up in our weekly schedule of gospel lessons.

Two weeks ago we saw Jesus sending 70 disciples to fan out across the countryside and declare to all with ears to hear that God’s reign is happening now.   Those roving ambassadors were to travel light and keep on the move—relying on the kindness of others along the way.  

Then last week, we beheld the victim of a mugging brought back from the brink of death thanks to the kindness of a stranger who noticed, stopped, and helped him in his time of need.

It’s about hospitality—the hospitality on which the 70 traveling evangelists would depend, the hospitality of the Good Samaritan that saved the life of a desperate stranger….the hospitality that meets us this morning, in the home of Mary and Martha.

And we’re not just talking about a Miss Manner’s brand of hospitality, either.   We’re talking about the deep, dependable hospitality that was such a staple of daily life in the ancient world.

In a world without convenience stores, budget motels, ATMs or highway rest-areas, travelers counted on the hospitality of others along the road….in the awareness that next time, you the host (today) might be a needy guest (tomorrow) in someone else’s home.

So in our reading from Genesis 18 we see such hospitality on full display.   Three strangers arrive at the tent of Abraham and Sarah.   Abraham immediately offers his unexpected guests a place to sit in the shade, and promises them “a little water…[and] a little bread.”   But when the strangers are out of earshot, Abraham orders up a feast for them—with fresh, abundant bread…a tender veal calf roasted on a spit….a generous bowl of fresh curds and milk.

Abraham must have had a streak of Minnesotan in him—to promise so little but deliver so much!

But such was the nature of hospitality in the world of Abraham and Jesus.

So here in Luke 10 Jesus shows up in the home that Martha and her sister Mary shared, and it seems as if Martha was taking her cues from Abraham and Sarah—offering lavish hospitality worthy of a guest like Jesus.

But Martha had a sister, and that sister, Mary, was of no apparent use to Martha…choosing instead to loll at Jesus’ feet, hanging on his every word.  

Even though she tried to look past it, Martha was doing a slow burn while she served.  It ate at her— the burden of all that hospitality falling disproportionately on Marsha’s shoulders, to the point that she finally blurted out to Jesus:  "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."

As Martha dumped all that on her guest, she became quite inhospitable, both by drawing Jesus into an intra-family squabble and by making her problem her guest’s problem--in fact accusing her guest in the process:  “Lord, do you not care….?”

But in fact, Jesus did care—he cared primarily about what Martha was doing to herself, trying so hard to be the “hostess with the mostesst”:   “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…”

New Testament scholar Elisabeth Johnson points out that in the original language of this text, the word translated distracted “has the connotation of being pulled or dragged in different directions.”[1]

…which is to say that in her intense focus on hospitality Martha had completely lost her focus.

Life, especially the busy-ness of life, does that to us:  we try so hard that we blow it, we focus so intensely that we lose all focus.   In the process, our best efforts, even our attempts at “being hospitable” fall woefully short.

But that was not Mary’s problem here.   And contrary to what Martha assumed, Mary had not neglected hospitality, either.  Because Mary’s hospitality consisted of her attention, her focused listening to what Jesus their guest had to say.

Again, in the words of Elisabeth Johnson:  There is no greater hospitality than listening to your guest. How much more so when the guest is Jesus!”

And therein, my dear friends, we encounter a word made to order for us, living in this time and place. 

For nowadays we still pull off that surface-level, inch-deep hospitality.  We ready the setting, prepare the food, pour up the drinks, create the ambience—we do that with as much panache as our budgets and schedules will allow.

But what about the deeper hospitality, the Mary-like laser-attentiveness to the other person, the guest?   What about our capacity truly to attend to, to listen to, to be fully and physically present with one another?

Earlier this year a provocative article in the NY Times asked:  “can you remember the last time you were in a public space in America and didn’t notice that half the people around you were bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else?”[2]

The article, written by a neuro-scientist, suggested that with our over-focusing on “virtual relationships” by means of all our hand-held digital devices, we may inadvertently be stunting “our biological capacity to connect with other people” face to face, skin on skin.

We may be missing—as Martha did—the “one thing needful,” the “better part” that Mary lived for. 

God could show up in our midst, garbed in flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, and we might be pulled or dragged in so many different directions that we’d be oblivious to the greatest encounter with the greatest Person in our lives.

And we might miss the most wondrous miracle of all—not that a gentle soul like Mary would sit still for Jesus in her living room….but that Jesus would sit still for Mary--that we have in Jesus a God who graciously seeks us out, enters our space, continually pays deep attention to us, looks us right in the eyes to speak his “I love you” to us again and again and again.

In a wonderful new book, Andrew Root of Luther Seminary, contends that “relationships…in ministry are the place, the very space created, to encounter the living Jesus.”[3]  

Let me say that again:   “Relationships…are the place, the very space created, to encounter the living Jesus.”

What happened so long ago in Mary and Martha’s home still happens among us in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus draws near to us.  Jesus sits with us.  

And like a good host—Jesus brings all sorts of gifts with him—clean water to wash away all our dirt, fresh bread with rich wine to restore and reinvigorate us. 

Jesus draws near to us and sits with us, fashioning soul-restoring relationships in the sacred space that God opens up between us.

And the one thing needful for us is to be there and be aware in that sacred space where Jesus shows up among us.  

I think you’re pretty good at that here at Christ Lutheran Church—you understand some things about how Jesus meets us in the relational space between us.  I also think you’ve been richly blessed by a pastor who “gets it”--that God has fashioned us and Jesus has refashioned us to be not individuals to be managed, but persons to be treasured.  

You know, we Lutherans make a big deal about the Word and the Sacraments—we really and truly believe that when God’s Word is spoken, when the water of baptism is poured out, when the bread and the wine are shared, God shows up and Jesus is here to save us and send us—and we pray for Mary-like attentiveness to Jesus.

….Which means that we will also aim for the same sort of attentiveness to all those who travel with us on our journey to God’s tomorrow, from the tinest newly-baptized baby to the oldest follower of Jesus among us. 

There are two other things (besides Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) that almost made it to the status of sacraments for us Lutherans:  confessing our sin and hearing God’s promise of forgiveness….and the fellowship, the “mutual conversation and consolation” of Christian people, one with another.

It is here that Jesus still meets us and all people, in the holy space God opens up between us where there is room for Jesus, room for you, and room for me….to be deeply attentive to one another and thus to have our lives restored once again.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

[3] Andrew Root, The Relational Pastor:  Sharing in Christ by Sharing Ourselves (IVP, 2013), p. 158.