Tag Archives: Sermon

Preparing for Messiah is not fun…

GOSPEL: Luke 3:1-6
….the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, 
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

Some of the moments that stick out the most from my childhood were the boredom and impatience of getting ready for a special day or event. Whether it was putting on fancy and uncomfortable church clothes, packing for family vacation, cleaning the house when company was on the way over… these were all moments when the world became painfully slow and uninteresting, with lots of wondering why we we had to do this thing in the first place. 

Now as an adult and parent myself… I see the stress and pain from the other side. Frantic clean-ups as those anticipated guests arrived a little too early. Getting kids dressed, packed and out the door taking all the willpower in my body. And packing for holidays begins with mental checklists long before a suitcase is pulled out from the back of the closet. 

Getting ready. Waiting to be ready. Living in that liminal time, that in-between time of anticipation is hard, no matter how we experience it. 

Today is the second week of Advent, the Sunday that always introduces us to John the Baptist and his message preached in the wilderness. His message of preparation and getting ready for what is coming next. 

It is probably not too difficult to recall our own moments of board waiting or frantic making ready for that anticipated and special moment. 

But for the people of Israel, the people listening to John’s message, their anticipating was more than boredom or frantic last minute chores. 

John’s audience was a desperate one. They were a people waiting for something different, people looking for hope. They were living under oppression by a powerful foreign empire in the Romans. They were people taxed to the gills by every level of government, often by corrupt tax collectors also skimming off the top for themselves. They were constricted by a religious system that demanded a kind of expensive and burdensome faithfulness that few could afford, and therefore salvation and mercy were just out of reach. 

And there was no escaping any of it. No United Nations refugee programs or social media resistance movements. There were no relatives waiting to welcome them in prosperous nations on the other side of oceans, no kind church groups wanting to sponsor new lives elsewhere.  There was virtually no hope for a better life found anywhere, not even in risky options like fleeing their homeland for a the chance of a better life in a new land. 

The people coming to hear John were desperate for some kind of hope, something at all. And so they flocked out into the wilderness to hear the wild prophet, to hear about this coming Messiah that John was preaching about, to have something to hold onto in the midst of their struggle and hardship filled world. 

John’s words weren’t exactly good news in and of themselves. There wasn’t mention of God’s love, there wasn’t a kingdom coming near, there wasn’t the welcome of the Heavenly Father. But John was talking about something important. 

Our world is desperate to hold on too these days. In the Advents of the before time, letting in those thoughts that reminded us that there is still suffering in the world somewhere, was an interruption to our Holiday Season making ready. But these past two years we have been experiencing a desperation much more similar to the people of 1st century Israel. 

Even this week, as the world seemed to be inching towards equilibrium and finding its way to something new, this seemingly never ending crisis hit us again with Omicron. Travel bans and increased restrictions immediately followed. Booster shots for privileged nations that can afford them and fewer vaccines for peoples that cannot. And of course volatile stock market reactions ensued. Not to mention the devastating floods that have book ended our country, forcing people to flee their homes and livelihoods, stranding several and even causing the loss of life. Restoring roads, rebuilding bridges and homes, re-creating supply chains are reminders that this world has changed under our feet. 

We arrive at this second Sunday of Advent desperate for good news, wanting something to hold onto, seeking out hope. 

With John it is easy to get focused on the preparing, the slow waiting for the new thing to arrive or the frantic activity of making ready for a world struck by change. The realization that there is no escape, no leaving these crises behind, no waiting for the news cycle to move on or burying our heads in the sand to pretend it isn’t happening. 

The people of first century Israel were constantly reminded of the things that made their lives a struggle: the Roman coins in their pockets, the tax collectors on every street corner, and the religious laws that governed nearly every aspect of life.  

And we are constantly reminded of the things that are making our lives a struggle: the masks in our pockets, and the news alerts on our phones, and the careful consideration needed to navigate every sojourn outside of our homes,. 

John declares that the paths will be made straight, the valleys filled in, the mountains levelled, rough ways made smooth which sound like fixes to problems… yet these things are not quite the good news because John implores us to do the work. Prepare the way of the Lord, he says.

John isn’t describing the good news, but rather pointing to it. 

Or pointing to the one who will bring the good news. 

Like a frantic parent stressed about cleaning the house for company and getting angry at toys still left on the floor… John is focused on the moment of preparation. Something that we can be guilty of too… holding on to the preparations that are before hope and salvation. 

But still John points, John makes ready, John precedes the one that we truly need. 

It isn’t John’s words that are central, but who John is and what John is doing. The people of Israel don’t hear the hope of Messiah, but see it when they come out to John. They are reminded of the song that John’s father, Zechariah, a priest of the temple, sang after John’s birth. They see another miracle child promised by God, they see one called by the most high to herald the Messiah, the see a prophet who presence in and of itself is a sign of Messiah’s imminent arrival… like a servant announcing the arrival of royal, seeing John means that Messiah is right around the corner. 

John’s presence means Messiah is close. 

Our desperation wants to know what the fixes to our problems will look like, but John points to the one who will do the fixing. 

And the promised Messiah… well, it is not John but Zechariah who tells us what Messiah is going to. As Zechariah looked at his newborn son John, he sang the song we sung this morning, he sang of God’s promised Messiah: 

Messiah will save God’s people. 

Messiah will save us from our enemies. 

Messiah will show mercy. 

Messiah will free us and make us God’s children. 

And it is this Messiah that John will be a herald of. 

John the Baptist’s message for us is not about how our problems will be fixed, John isn’t the one who knows God’s plans for God’s people. But John points us to the one who does. John helps us to make ourselves ready, but it is Messiah who brings good news to our desperate world. 

And John’s strange and curious desert preaching announces for us the imminence of Messiah here too. As we seek something or someone to give us hope, Messiah comes to us again. 

Again in the gathering of God’s people, 

in siblings in faith sitting next to one another in the pew, 

commenting next to one another in the comment section. 

Messiah comes in the waters of new life that we are washed with, 

in the confessions of hearts, 

in the words of forgiveness and mercy that we hear, 

in absolution and blessing that we receive.

Messiah comes in the bread and the wine, 

in the body and blood of Christ that we share. 

The body of Christ we receive transforms us into the Body of Christ to which we belong. 

Messiah comes in the Word of promise, 

the Advent word that tells the story of God’s coming into our world, 

in the prophetic word spoken by a wildness preacher long ago. 

For people desperately waiting for the good news to arrive, today, we receive a sign that Messiah is around the corner. John the Baptist telling to us to “Prepare!” means that Messiah is nearly here. 

And on this 2nd Sunday of Advent,  as we seek salvation in our struggling and suffering world, seeing and hearing John the Baptist again is the sign we need,

to know that our salvation is on the way. 

“See, I am making all things news” – a Sermon for All Saints

John 11:32-44
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

At our house, we are still working on our haul of Halloween Candy. Even as the stores switch from the Halloween decorations and music of October,  to the Christmas displays of November (?). The costumed masses or few, depending on where you live, that roamed the streets last Sunday have been lingering this week. Modern trick or treating has a lot to do with the practice of medieval Christians making pilgrimage for All Saints. Dressing up, lighting candles, journeying on the road was all part of the belief that spirits would often wander the earth until All Saints Day, and the costumes would be to scare away vengeful haunting spirits, and the candles, often lit in each room in a house or door way that would guide good spirits home. 

As the end of the middle ages saw the Reformation, our forebears sought to reshape the feast of All Saints. Rather than praying to the Saints on November 1st and then praying for all souls still in purgatory on All Souls Day November 2nd, Lutherans and other protestants have mashed the two together, recognizing that saints are not special or holy people. But that all those who have died in faith are made Saints by God’s Holiness poured out for us. 

On All Saints Sunday, we gather to pray in thanksgiving for those who have gone before us in faith, and we pray to God that we too may join the saints and heavenly hosts in the always ongoing great high feast. We recognize today, that our worship is not something that we create, but rather something we are invited to join with the heavenly hosts. We are like thirsty pilgrims who approach the always flowing river of heavenly worship and we wade into the water again and again, week after week, briefly pulling back the veil between heaven and earth until one day we too will be swept up into the great worship of all the saints and we too will join the heavenly hosts.

And yet today is not all sweet visions of heavenly worship and dreams of joining those beloved saints who have gone before us. 

Today, we also face the reality death. Like Jesus on the road to Bethany, we are confronted with the real, messy, emotional and overpowering experience of grief. This year, perhaps more than most years, our experience with death and grieving has been more complicated. Perhaps our spirits are disturbed like Jesus’ is. Maybe we are churning and twisting deep in our beings with Mary. Maybe we are like Martha and the crowds, still reconciling and trying to make sense of all that happened over the course of the past year, over the course of the past 20 months. 

As Jesus makes his way to Bethany to mourn the death of his friend Lazarus, we are not meant to see a doctor calling a time of death, nor a pastor leading prayers at a funeral, nor a funeral director guiding a grieving family through grief. Jesus is going to Bethany as a friend, a brother to Lazarus, family to Mary and Martha. 

On this grieving journey to Bethany, Jesus meets a desperate Mary. “Lord, if you have been here my brother would not have died” she pleads. And Jesus is disturbed, Jesus is moved. The greek points to a deep churning passion, even anger within Jesus. He doesn’t just recognize and acknowledge the grief in the Mary like a therapist would. But Jesus feels it too, but Jesus loves Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Even knowing what he is about to do, Jesus feels the depths of grief too. 

The kind of grief that we all know. The kind of grief that always comes with death. And yet even  that difficult yet predictable and known experiment of grief has been altered this year. 

Funerals delayed, grieving done in insolation and from afar. Private gravesides, zoom funerals, or even simply nothing to help us navigate the strangeness of our grief. Like everything else in our world, this Pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we experience the death of loved ones and death within our community.

In the before time, we knew how to attend to those last things. We knew the rituals around death. We knew how to make the phone calls, send the cards, leave the casseroles on doorsteps. We knew to read the obituaries, to show up 45 minutes early to a funeral to make sure we get a seat, how to appropriate greet a grieving friend at a funeral lunch. 

But those rituals have been taken away, but our grief for those who have died has not. 

The grief that Jesus feels today is the same personal, raw, churning grief that we know in our lives. And while grief makes death feels so personal and lonely, death is also transcendent, cosmic, universal. It is found on the road between two friends grieving a dead brother and it also the great darkness hanging over all creation:

See, the house of God is far from mortals

Death hovers over them as their master;

they will all suffer the same fate

and death will spare not one;

Life will be no more;

there is nothing but mourning and crying and pain,

for the first things reign over all. 

This is the old heaven and the old earth, this is what All Saints pilgrims carried with them on their journey, this is the personal grief that we bring today for loved ones. 

This is death. 

This is death, and Jesus stands in front of the tomb, tears running down his face and defiantly says, “Take away the stone.”

And grief, personal and cosmic says, “But Lord there will be a stench” because death is too strong, too powerful, too overwhelming. 

Except for God. 

Except for the God who created something from nothing. 

Except for the God who is creating a new heaven and a new earth. 

And out walks a dead man, out walks Lazarus alive again.

The very last thing that Mary or Martha expects is to see their brother alive. Grief cannot imagine that there is an answer to death. That is why Jesus meets Mary and Martha in their grief. That is why God’s spirit churns with anger, that is why God grieves with us on the road to the tomb, that is why God, even knowing that the stone is about to be rolled away, weeps along with us. 

And there walking out of the tomb, the personal and cosmic realities of death collide into the personal and cosmic promises of God. The reality of stinking rotting dead flesh that we know too well suddenly smashes into the loving, heart-pounding, passionate love of God for all creation. 

As Jesus stands at the tomb, calling for the stone to be rolled away, beckoning forth a beloved brother and friend, Mary and Martha finally see the the reality of Jesus’ promise, of dreams and visions of Revelation made tangible:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Our All Saints pilgrimage this morning is the same mixture of personal and transcendent grief. We acknowledge that death comes for our loved ones and us, death comes for all.

But with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, we discover that in our grief, God in Christ meets us on the road. God in Christ churns with anger and grief, with sorrow and sadness weeping with us just as if death had the last word. 

Yet, Jesus has also come to meet us with that great Revelation promise, 

“See, I am making all things new.”

As Jesus stands there, tears running down his face, disturbed in spirit… He commands the stones be rolled away from all of our tombs. Jesus enacts the cosmic and transcendent promise of resurrection, Jesus declares that God has come to live with mortals. Jesus declares that death is not the end for those whose names we will read today, not the end for those whom light candles for… Jesus declares that death is not the end because,

“See, I am making all things new.”

As we gather on All Saints, with hearts full of both grief and thanks, of joy and sorrow, we discover a God who is deeply and powerfully and intimately involved in the affairs of mortals, who sheds real tears for Mary, Martha and Lazarus out of love.

We discover a God who cannot help but love us. A God who cannot help but love us in our grief and a God who cannot  help but make all things new in our world.

Today on All Saints we confront grief and death, we confront the personal and cosmic and we make pilgrimage to tombs and grace, sealed shut forever.  But then we see a passionate and loving God, weeping with us AND calling us out of our graves into new life.  And all of a sudden, those great promises of resurrection, those promises of a new heaven and a new earth collide with us. 

They collide with us when the creator of all things stands before us and our stones of grief and says to us, 

“See, I am making all things new – including you”

  • Header Image – Public Domain

Reformation 504 – God is still God, We are Still God’s People

Jeremiah, the 31st chapter (31-34)
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Today is Reformation 504.

504 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, on October 31st, the eve of All Saints Day or All Hallows Eve. This simple act sparked a transformation of the christians and the church that still reverberates to this day. 

As we consider the Reformation today, we must also admit that the past 20 months have been another reformation of a kind for us, with everything we are used to doing and being together as a church being upended and changed. 

There is a theory among some scholars of religion, particularly Christians, that there is a major transformation or reformation every 500 to 700 years. Five hundred years ago it was Martin Luther. Seven hundred years before that is was the split between East and West, creating the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. 400 or so years before that it was the codification of Christian belief at council of Nicea – out of which came the Nicene Creed. 

And each of these moments were, in some way or another, about re-imagining the ways in which Christians understand and proclaim the gospel. The Reformation was precisely about this issue, about the right proclamation of the gospel in community. Martin Luther’s reasons for speaking up and speaking out as he did were pastoral, he was concerned for the well-being of the people he served. He wanted to make they clearly heard the good news of God’s free gift of grace given for them, rather than an exploitative message of the church, using fear to get people to pay their way into heaven. 

Luther always wanted to turn us back to the gospel, to turn us back to the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection that saves us from sin and death. 

20 months into this 21st century pandemic, we need to hear that gospel promise from the 16th century. Though the world is more normal than last year, we are only slowly passing through this pandemic. It is hard to know whether we are nearing the end or still at the beginning. Good news is hard to come by and normal seems like an ancient dream. 

And so in the midst of darkness, in order to do our best to follow Luther’s desire for gospel clarity, we hear again the same foundational texts of the Reformation. Romans 3, the part of St. Paul’s writings that sparked Luther’s imagination towards God’s radical gift of grace. And John’s declaration that the Son sets us free, the promise of freedom in the gospel. And of course, Psalm 46, the basis for the most famous of Luther’s hymns – A Mighty Fortress. 

But what about Jeremiah, the somewhat familiar, but often overlooked reading of the bunch?

Jeremiah’s prophetic words were written for the people of Israel during the violent times of the Babylonian exile. Words about the covenant… the covenant that goes all the way back to the beginning. To Abraham and Sarah, to the promise of land, descendants and a relationship with God. And while usually a covenant is an agreement that places conditions on both parities, all the people of Israel had to do was not refuse. All the promises were coming from God, none from Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. 

And yet the people consistently turned away. It’s not surprising that they turned away, it is hard to believe in God in the midst of violence and oppression. 

Yet, most of what comes before this passage in Jeremiah is a lot of God’s ranting and raving about the failings of the people. Eventually God decides that a new course is needed for God’s people. And so God’s makes a promise. A promise that rang true in the Reformation and a promise that rings true for us today. 

So no, Jeremiah is the least famous of the Reformation readings, but it is none-the-less foundational. There is no radical gift of grace in Romans, no freedom in the Son of God in John, no A Mighty Fortress without Jeremiah. 

The problem and struggle of the people of Israel and in Martin Luther’s day is the same as it ever was. A problem that stemmed back to the garden of Eden, and problem that we too bear. 

As much as God tries and tries with us to draw us back to God, we continue to turn away. For the people of Israel, God’s promise of land, descendants and relationship first given to Abraham was always too unbelievable and also never enough. Whether it was Abraham’s own fear that God’s promises wouldn’t come true, or the people of Israel longing for Egypt and slavery as they wandered in desert, or the Israelites losing faith during the Babylonian exile. 

During the Reformation it was a church that wanted to control God’s promises, to make mercy a commodity rather than a promised gift. 

And today? We too struggle with covenant. It is too hard to trust, even in the midst of chaos and change, in the lonely and fearful world of the pandemic, in this world it is hard to accept that God’s promises are indeed for us too. The promised land seems to unreal, descendants to follow us in faith and carry the torch feels laughable. A God who loves sinners like us? Preposterous. A God who is relevant in a world that has mostly forgotten or doesn’t care anymore? Unimaginable.

It’s no wonder that God might be frustrated with us. We just don’t want to get it.  

And so God does a different thing. 

God starts all over again. 

God brings us to the foundation. 

God decides that a new covenant is needed. A simpler covenant. A simple relationship. 

When in scripture, a prophet – such as Jeremiah – utters the words “Thus says the Lord” biblical scholars call it an oracle. A message of the divine, a direct speech from God. And so it behooves us to listen, to open our ears and hear what God is about say:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 

I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 

And with that, a new covenant comes into being. One that even the fickle Israelites cannot break. Or the people of 16th century Europe, or 21st century pandemic peoples.

A covenant made manifest in incarnation. In the God who becomes flesh, the God in Christ who comes to bring the Kingdom near to us. The God whom we try to put to death, and the God who rises again on the third day. 

This new covenant, this new promise is now unbreakable. It is the promise of mercy, the promise of radical grace and forgiveness, the promise that sin, suffering and death will no longer control us. 

Because God is our God… we cannot be God in God’s place. 

And we are God’s people, we have no other identity, nothing else lays claim to who we are, not  the world, not ourselves, criss or tribulation, not sin… not even death. 

We are God’s people, we belong to the one who has chosen mercy and love for us. 

And God reminds us of this truth each and every day, week after week, season after season. 

God reminds us that we are God’s in the mercy and forgiveness that we hear proclaimed. 

We are God’s in the Word announced in this assembly and in places of worship all over the world. 

We are God’s in the Baptism that washes and renews us for life as God’s children. 

We are God’s in the bread and wine, given so that we become the Body of Christ for the world.

Thus says the Lord, I will be your God, and you will be my people. 

This is the foundation of the truth proclaimed anew in the Reformation, just as it is became the new covenant with the people of the Israel. 

And this is the precisely what God intends for us to hear on the 504th anniversary of the Reformation, during our pandemic exile and our zoom reformation, that we 21st people of faith still belong to the God of Abraham and Sarah and Martin Luther. 

That even when we try to turn away, that God’s promise is unbreakable. 

Thus says the Lord, I will be your God, and you will be my people. 

Blind Bartimaeus the Preacher and Confirmation is not what we think it is

GOSPEL: Mark 10:46-52
As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

If we are honest with ourselves, Confirmation is kind of weird. Most of us know what is involved in Confirmation. We think of teenagers sitting in stuffy church board rooms, listening to pastors drone on about the small catechism. Or terrified confirmands having to answer questions from the pastor in front of the whole congregation. Parents dragging reluctant kids with unhelpful lines like, “I suffered through confirmation when I was your age, and you can suffer through it too.”

More recently, we tend imagine a rite of passage provided by caring mentors, families and teachers for youth coming of age in the church. We picture something graduation-esque, complete with corsages and gowns that kind of look like academic robes. 

We can describe all kinds of aspects of and events surrounding confirmation, and yet, I am pretty sure that very few of us, if pressed, could actually describe or say what conformation is. Like what does confirmation mean and what is it actually. We know that baptism is the pouring of water on someone’s head, even if we attach parties, pictures and candles. We know that communion is receiving bread and wine, even if we devise complicated ways to distribute and receive it. 

But with confirmation… often we can only describe the things we attach to it and not the core element of it.  We aren’t quite sure what it actually is and that makes it a bit of an oddity. 

Deep down, we know that confirmation isn’t actually about making teenagers uncomfortable or sweat through very public knowledge tests. It shouldn’t be something to suffer through. But it also isn’t really a right of passage per se, it isn’t graduation from or to something. 

In fact, confirmation is actually something altogether different. 

The story of Jesus that we hear today kind of starts to get at what confirmation is really about, even if in a roundabout way. We begin with blind Bartimaeus begging on the roadside, when he hears that Jesus is coming by. He begins to make a scene, calling out and bothering the people around him. The more folks tell him to be quiet, the more of a scene he makes. Until finally Jesus notices him. 

I am sure we can easily imagine the embarrassment of the moment. We are people who tend to avoid making scenes, we avoid causing or enduring discomfort. 

And yet, making the scene, causing the annoyance and embarrassment is important. Bartimaeus isn’t just asking for help. Bartimaeus is proclaiming the gospel. His sermon is the same at the Kyrie we sing most week, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. He isn’t telling those around him that they need help, he is setting the example by going first, by showing the world what Gospel can for him, by making public the healing and reconciliation that Jesus provides. 

Bartimaeus shows us that on some level, making a scene for Jesus is what Christian faith is about. All these strange things that we do, the hymns and prayers, the baptisms and communion, strange robes and old books, the flowery ancient language and unusual rituals… all of it is so different than what we see on TV or hear in our EarPods or spend time doing when we are out with polite company. Maybe there was a time 60 or 70 years ago when flowery prayers, funny robes, and solemn rituals were a part of service clubs, government meetings, civic observances and even seen often on TV. But not today, Christianity is as foreign to the majority as speaking another language. Openly displaying Christian practices, openly discussing our faith can be embarrassing. Being associated with Christians who have been making other scenes and getting noticed for their misbehaviour during the pandemic is not something we want. 

Yet, living our faith out in the world, sharing our faith with neighbour, passing our faith on to successive generations is something we do want, or least should want to do. 

And in this way, Christian faith is a strange experience of joining together with other people of faith to make a scene for Jesus, to hear and then re-tell the gospel through Word, Water, Bread and Wine, through hymns, prayers and worship. And inviting others into that shared experiences and community. 

Confirmation then is rooted in being  officially welcomed to that scene making community of faith called the church. 

Now technically, confirmation has historically been the laying on of hands by the bishop that follows baptism. As the early church grew, it took Bishops longer and longer to get around to confirm all the baptisms, to lay on hands in blessing and prayer. And so confirmation was combined with catechesis, the intentional teaching of the faith to new Christians who waited for the bishop to come by every few years to confirm all those newly baptized into the faith. As Lutherans we technically include confirmation with baptism, so Katie, you have actually been confirmed for a long time.

But at its core, confirmation tied to baptism is the final blessing that joins us to the Body of Christ, that group of followers that makes a scene for Jesus.

Confirmation is a final sign of our welcome into the body of Christ, into this weird group of faithful folks who do things that are so different than everything else we see in world, that loudly proclaim God’s promises even if it is weird and strange to our ears. 

And like Blind Bartimaeus who called out for mercy until Jesus heard him, being confirmed finally connects to this group of Jesus’s followers who loudly proclaim the good news of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness for all those who would listen, even if it makes a scene and a bother. And again like Blind Bartimaeus who makes this scene, Jesus comes and meets us too. Jesus meets us in the middle of our loud bother and Jesus confirms the good news of our faith, the Good News that God’s love has indeed been given for us. In the Word of Faith, in the waters of new life, in the bread and wine that nourishes our faith, Jesus meets us with love, mercy, and salvation. 

So yeah, confirmation is weird. And even when it is explained, it is still kind of weird. 

And being confirmed is about being joined to a community of faith that does weird things together, often making a scene… but also a community of faith that is inspired together to proclaim the good news to the whole world. 

So welcome into this faith that we all share, even if it is a little bit strange. 

Letting go of what we cannot do, because God does what only God can do.

Mark 10:17-31
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone….

Here we are at yet another unusual Thanksgiving weekend. Compared to last year when we were encouraged by Public Health Officials to keep Thanksgiving to our own households, vaccines have changed what is possible. Yet, the pandemic situation in Manitoba is remarkably similar to last year, I am sure many of us are remaining cautious without Thanksgiving activities. 

Thanksgiving is not a Christian holiday. Rather it is rooted in the celebration of the harvest for the gifts and bounty of the land provided to us for the year. Harvest festivals are as old as human beings cultivating the land, and certainly thankfulness and gratitude are connected to our faith. 

And thanksgiving is a moment to step back the consider the bigger picture of our lives and communities. This year that might prove to be a difficult task. We have been living small for a year and half now, with things to both bring us hope for an end to pandemic but also realities that have not lived up to expectations. Our journey out of this crisis is going to be neither short nor straightforward. 

As we have been hearing for a number of weeks from Mark’s gospel, Jesus again encounters someone who is struggling to get it. But it isn’t Jesus’ followers or disciples, and nor it is Jesus chief antagonists the Pharisees and Scribes. Instead a curious and wondering rich man comes to Jesus with a big question. You could also say that he was having a Thanksgiving moment. A moment when he is considering the big picture of his life and asking some pretty questions. 

The man comes to Jesus right to point, ““Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Right away Jesus starts challenging the Rich man’s assumptions. Good? Why do you call me good? Only God alone is good. And lest we hear the Santa Claus version of the question, “Have you been a good by this year Timmy?” “Good”in this case is surely connected to the idea of righteousness. Being good and righteous with God is more than just following the rules of being nice, it is justified and righteous down to the very core of one’s being. Jesus is undermining the Rich man’s assumption that goodness or righteousness is something to be achieved. 

And then Jesus continues. He starts to list the commandments. In fact he lists six of them. Commandments intended for us to keep good relationships with our neighbour. But it is noteworthy the commandments that Jesus omits… all the commands that have to do with our relationship to God. Having one God, taking the Lord’s name in vain and keeping the sabbath. 

But still the rich man doesn’t hear any of Jesus’ clues in his answer. Like so many who are used to being in control, he sees inheriting eternal life as a problem to fix, a puzzle to solve. He claims that he has kept all the commandments. You can sense that the rich man is getting ready to declare victory on the whole eternal life thing. So Jesus gets ready to throw a curve ball. But first Jesus looks at the man with love. He wants this man to understand what he is asking, he wants this rich man to understand the nature of the mission that he is on, the Mission of the Messiah to bring the Kingdom of God near. 

Jesus says, “You have to give it all up. All the money, wealth, power, security, comfort and control. All of it. And then follow me.”

But the rich man can’t. Of course he can’t. Jesus knew that wouldn’t be able to do it. 

The rich man cannot let go of all the things. He cannot let go of all the things that form his identity, his understanding of the world, his certainty and foundation. 

Letting go is hard to do. We have always known it is hard, but during the past 18 months we have learned lessons how much we hold on to those things that bring us certainty and security, those safety blankets and supports around us that give us our sense of self, our foundations and strength. 

All the things that have been put to the test during this time of crisis. In fact, almost certainly we have held on even tighter. Whether it is family or our jobs or our wealth or our hobbies and passions. Even our faith and faith communities. Our convictions and opinions, our politics and biases. 

We have been holding on, hoping that if we hold tight enough to those things that we can make it through the storms around us. We have hoped that we can use those security blankets, the things we think we control, to fix our problems and solve our puzzles. And yet know that that hasn’t exactly been going well. 

With all the drama around pandemic restrictions and now vaccinations, we see people holding on to things that are making it harder. 

With revelations about our history of racism, sexism, colonization, economic inequality we have learned that holding onto our past or the status quo isn’t working. 

With this struggles being faced by churches, volunteers groups, charities and nearly every public institution, that holding on, hoping to return to the past will not fix the problems. 

We have discovered over and over again that we don’t have the solutions we wish we had. 

Jesus hammers the point home with a now famous passage saying, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 

Jesus isn’t talking about cramming a camel through the eye of the needle. He is talking about the challenge of trying to get a notorious stubborn animal who is hard to get to do the simplest of tasks when dig their heels in and comparing that to how even more stubborn human beings can be. The rich man just cannot let go in order to see what Jesus is telling him. 

And that is Jesus’ point. 

The rich man wants to know how he can inherit eternal life, and Jesus response is to first divert him from notions that there is something he can do and refocus him on caring for his neighbour. And when that doesn’t work, Jesus suggest something impossible. 

But not because eternal life is impossibly hard. But because getting there, earning our salvation by our own merit is impossible. 

Jesus message from the start has not been about how to get into the Kingdom, but how the Kingdom of God is coming near to humanity, coming near to us. The rich man is focused on himself. The rich man cannot hear what God is doing. 

The disciples ask the question that the rich man could bear to hang around and ask. They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

God is the one doing the saving. 

God is the one who saves. 

God does the work and gives us eternal life. 

We do not earn it, we do not achieve it, we don’t problem solve ourselves into it, we don’t hold onto our power, control, and security in order to find our way to it. 

God does the work. 

And that is so hard to hear. 

It is hard to hear that there is nothing we can do, because we desperately want to do something, we want some measure of power and control. 

It is why holding onto our faith and having faith are often two different things, it is why the rich man cannot do the impossible and give up his wealth. 

It is why we are so divided as a society, why we struggle to get on the same page about things, we just cannot trust those in authority or those who vote for the other guys. 

It is why we have been holding on so tight to our own personal security blankets during this crisis, whatever they may be. 

Because hearing that God is the one doing the work of saving us is unsettling to the core. 

And yet, even as grip our own power and control and security as tightly as we can… God finds a way. 

The christ enters into created life, meets with sinners, and tells them the good news anyways. 

The Messiah walks the path of salvation, even when that path goes through death. 

Jesus steps out of the tomb and into new life bringing with him dumbfounded disciples who somehow carryon that message around the globe. 

The church, despite all our flaws and imperfections, our mistakes and divisions and conflicts, still has managed to proclaim the good news for 2000 years.

We though holding on tightly to whatever we can in have still been gathered here, gathered together as community to hear the promise of the Word, to be washed in Holy Baths, to be fed by Holy Meals despite all the odds. 

No we cannot save ourselves, no matte how hard we try, no matter the power and control wield. And yet we are forgiven, granted new life and salvation, none the less. 

[Because] Jesus looks at us and says], “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”