The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Monday, November 24, 2014

Interfaith Thanksgiving Service Meditation

Grace and Peace to you.
Thanksgiving memories conjure up a lot of memorable stories. Not all good, not all bad, but all memorable.
I want to tell you a bit about my grandfather.
I almost never talk about him, and people who know me well may never hear this story

But the man loved Thanksgiving.
My grandfather struggled with alcoholism and so we didn’t see him very much. I remember the last time I saw him, I was about 7 or 8, and it was Thanksgiving. He picked me up, told me how big I was getting, tussled my hair and gave me a kiss. His breath was terrible.
In the car my parents argued about how he had promised to be on good behavior and he broke those promises.
The next year he wasn’t there, but he bought the turkey and all the fixings so that we would have a nice meal.
Soon after that we learned that he had ruined the family business and was living off of food stamps. He called my mom, broke, alone and crying, saying that he was sorry, and that he was going to buy the turkey and have it shipped to us. We forgot about it, shrugged it off, knowing that he was full of promises that often went unfulfilled.
But three days before thanksgiving we received a package from him. It wasn’t big enough for a turkey. But inside were a month’s worth of food stamps with a note that said, “I’m thankful for you”.
I don’t know how he spent that thanksgiving, but I do know that it was his last.
Families, man. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t be thankful without them.   
I went back and forth on whether or not to share this story of my Grandfather with this room of strangers and I decided to for two reasons:
1)    Some people find holidays a difficult time and might appreciate such a story and
2)    Life is messy! And even when we’re not perfect, or even passable, we’re in it together.
I think- actually I know- that the reason he loved Thanksgiving was that for one day- one grand gesture, he could be in relationship with us, and be thankful for what was good, even if just that one day. For one day, he lived the life he always wanted for himself and us.
For one day, he could tussle our hair, hold our hands, and give thanks to his creator for a life full of blessings.
For one day, he could send the message to his family that he loved them and cared for them.
And we heard that message, and that one day reverberates in my head on the fourth Thursday of November each year.
There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke about 10 lepers who are healed by Jesus and only 1 returns to give thanks
That’s about right. Not one in 10 people, but I’d say we’re all usually 1/10th as thankful as we should be.  
For my grandfather his 1/10th was one huge gesture, but for others, it’s simply the act of regular worship. CS Lewis said that worship is the most perfect thing we could do as imperfect people and I think that’s right.
In our worship we have an order of confession and forgiveness in the beginning of the service, and a Eucharist- which means thanksgiving- at the end and it serves as a reminder that being forgiveness naturally leads us to giving thanks.
I have forgiven my grandfather as I hope others have forgiven me.
So this week, I pray that you have a memorable thanksgiving. Not good, not bad, but memorable. I pray that you do so with people you’re thankful for, and I pray that those who have gone before us continue to teach us life’s most valuable lesson:
Life is short, and yet full of thanksgiving.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Reformation Day Sermon: Make room for the best part

Reformation Day 2014                                 Pastor Daniel Pugh

Grace and Peace to you- and Happy Reformation Day. The audio can be found here.

I have been in the minds of geniuses this week, and not just Pastors Rinn and Goeres. I've been studying these scripture passages, people who were reforming theology ahead of their time. 
Jeremiah- 500 years before Jesus is born, preaches that a day is coming when God will give us a new covenant that we don’t earn-
That God will write his truth on our hearts and all shall know God from the least to the greatest.
And the key of this covenant is that God will forgive our sins and remember them no more.

A few years later another Genius, whoever is the psalmist of #46 writes while being a prisoner of war, in Babylonian captivity- the psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength”
A message so strong that it resonates in the mind of Martin Luther who composes a hymn, #504 in our hymnal and #1 in our hearts, “A Mighty Fortress”

Then there’s Paul, a genius in his own right, who before a single gospel is written, bridges the story of the Old Testament to the recent events surrounding the resurrection. Paul writes that the law and the prophets show us that we cannot earn salvation, but that God redeems us from our sin. That we all sin and fall short of the Glory of God. But God, in the way only God can, redeems us. Paul calls it Grace.  In this way Romans is an evolved theological opinion from the Old Testament ones. 

Jeremiah is setting forth a dream of a future where people know God.
Psalm 48 suggests that however we are saved will be in the refuge of a God who protects us.
Romans 3 tells us that what we need most protecting from is ourselves; that our sin is the thing holding us most captive.

Then John shows a conversation between the old world order, the Jewish authorities, and Jesus who is decidedly different.

Jesus offers freedom for those willing to accept the truth that he is the son of God.
The Jews in the story deny that they need to be saved.

This is the hardest thing to convince people of. We need God. We are sinners, ever digging a ditch with no way out.

When I was a kid I got chicken pox really badly. I still have scars all over from the ones I scratched. You can’t tell a kid not to scratch when they itch. My mom would tell me not to, she even taped oven mitts to my hand while I slept. But I kept scratching all night, and in the morning, I couldn’t open my eyes because they were swollen shut.
Trying to get out sin ourselves is like saying that we will forever resist the urge to scratch the itch. When our guard is down we scratch, and by morning our sin has made us blind.

We say that we can do it ourselves. That we can right the ship regardless of the storm. We want so badly to believe that we’ve got it all taken care of that we live in the lie of lies, that we don’t need God, or at least not very much.  

What’s so convoluted is when we claim that freedom is saying no to God

 Not letting God help- we say that freedom is going it alone.

My son, Thomas, was convinced that he was going to dress himself for school. He didn’t care if we were late, he was going to wear whatever he wanted to wear.

But a big problem arose when he couldn’t open his drawers to see inside. He could only reach the bottom two. So he put on shorts and a t-shirt two sizes too small. He couldn’t wear his usual shoes because he couldn’t tie it, so he put on church shoes.

I stopped him when he decided to go outside in a fuzzy pink jacket that belonged to his little sister.

It’s easy to see in this instance of a 3 year old going it alone isn’t the best path toward freedom.
But are we so different?

Do you sell yourself short in the name of self-inflicted “freedom?”

In John 8 the Jews deny needing to be freed from anything, claiming that they have no master. Like a door that locks only on the inside, they choose to remain trapped in their own prison. 

Jesus says anyone who doesn’t listen to gospel lives in sin because the Gospel offers freedom.

I wanted to find the most Lutheran thing I could do for this sermon

So I went to the Church’s library and looked up a sermon that Martin Luther Preached on this gospel.

Luther says in his sermon on John 8 that, “If you want to be free, it must be your first concern to be rid of sin. For so long as sin remains, it is impossible to be free. If I do not want to abstain from sin and become pious, I may strive to be a master, but to no avail. You must first think of being freed from that which holds you in the firmest of bonds, that is, from sin… Such a fate will also overtake us. We commit sin and are laves to sin. We want to do as we please and whatever serves the devil. We want to be free to do whatever we desire. Few devote themselves to the real problem: how to get rid of sin. The majority are content to be free from the pope; but they are not concerned about serving Christ and being delivered from sin.” (Luther’s Works, Volume 23, samples from pages 399-407)

I’ve been in the mind of a genius.

Like the metaphorical Jews that Jesus is arguing with, like Thomas faced with logic; we too love to argue with Jesus. We love to wrestle with the gospel.

We reject it. We hide from it. We lock ourselves in the prison and call it freedom

What if I told you that this passage is the only one in John that deals with the word freedom, and the word in Greek is eleuther- = "free." That's right, you can’t spell freedom without Luther!

True freedom is saying yes to God’s grace!

One more quote from ML, as it is Reformation Day, this comes from Luther’s works, Volume 48 and I bet you’ve heard it before. 

“If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, and ot a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more Boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have sin…It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Pray boldly- you too are a mighty sinner.” (Luther’s Works Volume 48, 281-2).

The genius of Luther is his reading of Paul who is reading the signs following the resurrection. God has some power- something huge and unstoppable. God’s power trumps the largest of enemies of people- SIN- which ruins us from the inside; and DEATH- which is the fate of all sinners. If Sin and Death are powerful forces, God’s strength is mightier. Paul called God’s power to defeat sin and death Grace. Even sinning 1000 times a day- which is sinning boldly- does not make god flinch. His resolve to love us despite our insistence to go it alone is too strong. God wins in our hearts every time we let him in.

Jesus’ final words to the Jews is, “my word has no place in you”

Whenever there is a big meal, I try to have a little of everything. Turkey, cranberries, stuffing, mash potatoes with cheese, sweet potatoes. But I stop short of filling up. I always make room on my plate, in my stomach, and in my life for the best part.
We Lutherans have a rich history. Luther pointed to the greatest gift- the best part, and he called it grace.

Grace is the dessert- the sweetest part and the final word.

Having grace at the centerpiece of our theology is like having dessert every day of the week.

Learning to live in grace is to not be fixated on doing things our own way, but to pray that God’s will be done. You’ll be amazed at how much doing God’s will looks like true freedom.

Learning to live in grace is not just to be in the minds of genius, but to live in the heart of God”