Sunday Worship Schedule
9:15 a.m. Children’s Sunday School
9:15 a.m. Adult Education and Fellowship
10:30 a.m. Worship and Holy Communion
Bethany Lutheran Church
3901-36th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55406
Office hours: M-F 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Brothers and sisters- grace and peace to you from God our Father, and Jesus his son, who is the Christ. amen ___
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. For all of you who believe Christmas is too commercial- Lent is the perfect antidote. Instead of an overstuffed season of present swapping, Lent is about self-examination, and the cultivation of spiritual practices, either reinvigorating the ones you have been doing, or seeking out new ones. Lent, according to years of Christian piety and tradition, is the 40 days prior
Brothers and sisters- grace and peace to you from God our Father, and Jesus his son, who is the Christ. amen
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. For all of you who believe Christmas is too commercial- Lent is the perfect antidote. Instead of an overstuffed season of present swapping, Lent is about self-examination, and the cultivation of spiritual practices, either reinvigorating the ones you have been doing, or seeking out new ones.
Lent, according to years of Christian piety and tradition, is the 40 days prior to the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Christ- the Anointed One. What I love most about Lent is the honesty. Consider what we are doing tonight: announcing to each one that death will claim us, and going so far to make the point that we trace a cross of ashes across our face in a visible and tangible manner. Wearing a remembrance of one’s own coming death on one’s forehead for a time -that is an honesty about the condition of life that seems all too infrequent in our modern society.
Judy Bornes, here at Bethany, has a way of stating how to deal with the tough times in life. She calls it, “Putting on my ‘big-girl’ pants”. Lent is an entire season dedicated to the putting on of big-girl or big-boy pants.
In the words of one of my sermon a couple weeks back: why? Why do we celebrate Lent, and celebrate seems to be an odd word for such an austere season? Well, to me it seems that in acknowledging our own death, the ending of our mortal life here, we magnify the importance of the days we DO have. Lent allows us to step back, review, and claim again the promises of God, and make deliberate choices about how we want to respond to that love.
I think most people are looking for a life that matters, one that has purpose, even if it hard to articulate that at an earlier age. When Christianity becomes simply a thought process, but doesn’t affect one’s lifestyle, there is a falseness to it that rightly makes non-Christian people wonder what it is exactly that a Christian stands for.
What it is exactly that a Christian stands for, what are some partial responses to God’s love, are found in today’s Gospel lesson, part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Jesus mentions the 3 fundamental faith practices of the Hebrews in his time, and indeed, still remain for today’s Jews: prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor of the community. These have also become for Christians, the traditional acts of spiritual devotion for the season of Lent.
These disciplines are not meant to detach us from the world, in fact they are meant to do the opposite. Prayer is not to be a retreat from our everyday existence, but a place where our everyday life is renewed by it’s contact with a loving God who wants to hear about the details of our hours. Fasting, and other forms of self-denial, are the means to noticing the needs of others because we are not as focused on our own. And giving to the poor, always so easy to do with a check or credit card donation, has the opportunity to be life-giving with a call to get to know one’s neighbor in unselfish interest.
But piety backfires so easily- and this is exactly what Jesus is warning about in the Gospel today. It is the kind of behavior that is not about the other, but about the effect- what can I do to get noticed, to get points? Meanwhile, the poor, the hungry, those suffering from injustice are still left out of the circle.
In some religious traditions, especially the Roman Catholic, it is important during Lent to “give up” or abstain from either whatever is particularly attractive to oneself, such as chocolate, or perhaps something which isn’t all that good for oneself, such as too much TV watching. I was asked by someone in my family if it was OK for Lutherans to do such a thing, and I replied- “Absolutely!”, and it is especially helpful whenever one has cravings for whatever one has given up to remember why it was done, and think on the themes of Lent.
Another way of looking at Lenten practices is to “add”, not “subtract”- in other words, instead of giving something up for Lent, how about adding a spiritual practice to your routine for this season? The positivity of this approach may appeal to you more.
In all of this, is Christ. Lent is a time to grow in discipleship and love of Christ, to deepen one’s relationship with the Lord. It is not what we do inside of these walls that is most important, it is outside, as we spread the Good News about Jesus Christ to this waiting world, and serve others in his name.
Today’s Gospel text is interesting (code word for difficult). Now, I could make it easier to do a sermon, by just concentrating on behavior, and telling you all what to do. Jesus says do this, Jesus says do that.
Or… I can give you theology- the reasons we believe what is behind the message of Jesus. That takes longer, and gets messier. What do you think I chose to do today?
Yep! You get theology- because in the end, knowing “why” is important, and will help you the most.
In fact, as I worked on this message, I had pages of notes, and just a swirl of different themes. It didn’t make sense yet to me, much less to anyone who might have to listen to it. How to organize? How to communicate the Word of God? And then I thought of the children…. what do they do?
If any of you have ever had a toddler, you know the drill. Why? Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to wear pants? Why does God make it so hard to love someone I don’t like? (that’s a question from one of my kids).
If I put the question Why? to this passage, perhaps it will help to unlock it for discussion. And it did. So let’s start, and listen for the Why?
We might be excused for feeling caught between a rock and a hard place today, after listening to the readings for today. In Leviticus, the collection of Torah Law, given to the Hebrews so many years ago, the Hebrews are instructed to “Be Holy”. And in the Gospel reading, Jesus gives us the commandment to “Be Perfect”.
Be Holy, Be Perfect— feeling a bit pressured? Climb the ladder of success, provide for your family, create a nice home life, and oh yeah, by the way- do it perfectly, be holy. I’m tired already, and now this pressure added to an already full plate.
Is that what Jesus is telling us in this passage? How do we deal with a command to be perfect?
Whenever we read a passage such as the one in Matthew, with the difficult commandment to “be perfect”, I believe we have a few immediate reactions. First- we tend to dismiss the commandment, or to soften it. “Well, Jesus didn’t really mean PERFECT. Plotted on the curve, with the rest of the world, I’m really doing just fine. “ And a related reaction is “Perfect- not going to happen. I’ll just do the best I can, and I’m sure I’ll get points from God for trying hard.” Or, this passage leads us to despair, as in “God won’t accept less than perfect. I’m an imperfect person, which must mean God will not love me.”
None of these responses are correct, I believe. KID: WHY?
Because Jesus meant what he said, and PERFECT is PERFECT, and as an old Gospel song tells us- “99 and 1/2 won’t do”.
But wait a minute— if you all have been paying attention to my sermons, I hope that by now you are arguing with me in your mind— “I thought you have been telling us about grace! That we don’t earn our salvation, God does the work. What’s all this now about perfection…. that doesn’t sound like grace!”. Anyone here arguing with me? That’s good!
Jesus’ command to be perfect is not about a ticket to heaven, is not about what we need to do in order to have God love us. We are all loved! Perfect, imperfect- God knows us and loves us.
What this passage is about is the way in which we live our lives today, NOW- as children of God and followers of Jesus. KID: WHY?
Because being a follower of Jesus is not only about some far off heaven, it is about what this life is about, how we live according to how God wants us to live, which is for our best flourishing. My motto, “A generous spirit is hard to resist” comes from this passage. Generosity of spirit creates a community of love that is different than the world around it.
Jesus is telling us, “You have been claimed by me. Now I’m telling you how my people live, which is for others, not for themselves.” Jesus while on this earth was constantly saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, and that’s what this passage is about- for us, as followers of Christ , to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven by acting as Christ has acted.
Because we know that Jesus loves us, we want others to know that love as well. And the best way for people to know that love is to experience it- so we act in Christ’s name and love unconditionally. It makes us different, it makes us unique. If we just get together for coffee and chit chat, we might as well shut the doors now.
Because Jesus wants us to be his hands, feet, arms, and eyes in this world. We are to love our neighbors, going beyond the usual, because as Jesus says- there is nothing new in the usual, everyone is good to their friends. But how about being good to those who you don’t like? Or those who are unfamiliar?
Christ looks at the world with a different set of values. In this passage from Matthew, Christ tells us how unconditional love functions in this world. It is a servant, it does not live for itself, and yet it is not passive. Unconditional love, God’s love, prays for those who seek harm, loves beyond the rules, creates pockets of care and concern in a world that is still “all about me”.
Galatians 2 tells us this:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Christ lives in us. That’s how we are perfect, not by our own doing, but by allowing the spirit of God to change us into a closer image of Christ. WE become the ones who are able to say, “The Kingdom of God is near”, because our actions of service and devotion to others help to bring the Kingdom to fulfillment, to completion, to perfection.
Because that’s the way God planned it, Kid!
Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Matt. 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We know these Gospel verses, don’t we? Salt of the earth, Light of the world. These phrases are so familiar they are part of everyday speech. “Salt of the earth” – those people who are steady and grounded, not flashy and shallow.
A city built on a hill; a light under a bushel. These are all images we have heard over and over, in fact we will be singing it later in the service.
How do they relate to us? How are we salt of the earth? First, there is an interesting aspect to these Bible verses. When Jesus talks about the disciples and salt and light, he is using the present tense. Jesus says, “You ARE the salt of the earth….. you ARE the light of the world”.
There is no pre-condition here, no requirement to meet before we are salt or light, we just ARE those things as children of God, as followers of Christ. God’s love makes us salt, makes us light, not anything we do.
Are we salt and light right now? On Wednesdays, in the Lutheran Life and Laughter study group, we have been working with materials from Sparkhouse, called Animate Faith. It’s excellent- a 5 minute video, and then working through questions and discussions using a journal. The material is lively, thought-provoking, and open-ended. Each week is a different study topic, and last week the topic was salvation, written by Shane Hipps.
Hipps makes the point that for too many Christians, the idea of “salvation” is something off in the distance, only accessible until we die. He advocates regarding salvation as also an integral part of this life, also pointing out that Jesus constantly refers to things happening in the present tense- now, not later, just as this Gospel text affirms. Salvation begins in this life, the healing grace of God’s mercy starts now, not in some distant future.
Well, that sounds nice, but I don’t see it, you might answer. So, let me tell you where I see salvation happening, in this life, right now:
as one of you is sick, or feeling down and discouraged, I see others in the Bethany family reaching out with love and compassion to care. Phone calls, emails, stopping by…. salt of the earth, light of the world.
as we open our building to new groups, people in the neighborhood, I see a welcoming attitude from Bethany. Your hospitality is salt of the earth, light of the world.
as so many of you volunteer around here to get things done. We have a small staff, but lots to do. You pitch in and get so many of the necessary tasks taken care of, and it is salt of the earth, light of the world.
as the world continues to be in pain, and people have very real concerns which require materials and responses for them to just to make it through their day, I see Bethany members collecting money and goods to send to those who have need. The baskets of food, the volunteering you do- that’s salt of the earth, light of the world.
as we explore new ways to be Christ’s church in this modern world, I see Bethany members who are brave, and fearless- you know that “the way it’s always been done around here” may or may not still work in a shifting culture that needs to hear of God’s love. It’s hard to break patterns and behaviors that have been ingrained into a church culture, but you as salt of the earth and light of the world, are willing to make adjustments for the sake of those who are not here yet. THAT is salvation here on earth!
How can we make this visible? I like graphics- visuals. You all know that by now! Let’s see if we can work these ideas into a simple graphic to remember.
First, God loves us- God loves everyone. Remember that! There is no person on this earth that God does not love, a fact which should give us pause as we sometimes start labeling people and groups as enemies.
So God loves us first. We can represent God’s live with an arrow pointing down. The idea is love from heaven to earth, first.
Next, we love God in response. We don’t love God so that God loves us- we don’t earn God’s love. We are loved, and we love God in return. This would be an arrow pointing up.
But we express our love towards God also in love towards other people, so we need another arrow, one that is horizontal, representing the relationships among people.
Arrow going up and down for the love between God and humans. Arrow going across for the love among people. Put them together… my goodness, it’s a cross!
We stay in balance, and in joy, when both of these relationship arrows are present and active… but remember, we are loved first by God.
I just told you about so much of what I see that I regard as heaven on earth, literally- God’s kingdom breaking into this world. When we act in love towards each other, and towards the world that God loves, we are ushering in salvation, right here, right now.
But I would like to invite you to do more. Not because you have to, not because God will love you better, not because it makes Bethany look good…. but because the needs are there. You, all of you, have been given gifts of talents and skills to be used towards loving this world in service. We would like to know about those- what are your passions? What makes you happy? Where do you feel God calling you to jump in and make a difference? How can you be salt of the earth, light of the world?
So, each one of you should have received a Salt of the Earth, Light of the World sheet. Here’s what I’m looking for. Just fill this out, if you want- there are no demands, and tell us what skills you have and what you love to do. I know many of you, and know what wonderful gifts have been given to you by God, but I want to be a bit more intention about capturing that information. You don’t have to do it now, perhaps fill it in, and bring back for next week’s offering plate. Or hand it to an usher. Whatever! Just let us know.
Thank you for all you do as salt and light. Tasty and bright is just what the world needs. May it be so!
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.