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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

“At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come’; for everything is ready now.'” Luke 14:17

Come, for all is now ready!  These words from Jesus’ Parable of the Great Dinner serve as the invitation for God’s people to come forward to receive Holy Communion. Even with various pauses in our in-person worship life this year, I have presided at the table more than in normal years. In part this is because the associate pastor position has been vacant. In part it’s because when we have been able to worship, it’s often been in small groups and so worship has been scheduled more often. Each time I preside, I am keenly aware of the gift and blessing it is to speak these words of invitation of behalf of the crucified and risen Christ who is both host and meal.

And now we are once again not gathering around the table. How do we come when the best thing to do is stay where we are? While I am constantly aware of my need for the gifts of Christ given and shed in his body and blood, I am also sure and certain that Christ is fully present for me in his Word while we, the Body of Christ, are physically separated from one another.

Connected in Christ, we are sustained in our separation. It’s not easy, I know. Not only are we not gathering around the altar, we are also entering a holiday season in which we are asked to not gather with those outside our household. But take comfort. All is still ready. When we cannot go, Christ comes to us. His promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation come to you. His presence with you draws us together. All is still ready. Christ comes to you.

And yes, I was the first one up today, so an early blog it is. I was ready!

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of hope, your presence transcends time and space. The risen Christ fills creation. Help us during these days to feel the strength of the bonds that connect us. Give us ears hear your Word, to know your promise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: The Lyle family table, around which the five of us gather for holiday meals.

Morning Plea

“O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.” Psalm 5:3

Well, yesterday’s blog post notwithstanding, here’s an early morning edition from the Dispatch offices. As noted, Wednesdays are easier. I happen to be awake early (not by design) and Anders, the only child awake, is happily reading a Star Wars book.

In this psalm of trust and deliverance, we overhear the psalmist at prayer. Trouble is close at hand; the psalmist pleads their case. I can relate. We live in troubling days. This morning I sit with the psalmist and pray.

We do more than pray. We also watch. The psalmist’s prayer is grounded in the hope and expectation that God will act. That God will not remain silent or far off. The morning darkness is a good time to plead one’s case. The sun is about to rise; with it the promise of hope is renewed.

Pray, friends. Pray, and do what you can. Pray, and watch God do what God will do.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God, we call out to you in the night, but we know that morning is coming. Hear our cries, Lord. There is so much in this world that should not be. So much that could be that has not yet come to pass. Hear our prayer and help us watch. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Me (in Baby Yoda pajama pants), a cup of coffee, my laptop, and the Bible.

Morning Prayer

“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” Psalm 95:6

I imagine that many of you will, upon hearing this Sunday’s psalm, immediately start hearing a different tune. Specifically, you’ll hear Morning Prayer from the Lutheran Book of Worship. Psalm 95:1-7a is consistently sung as part of morning prayer, and appropriately so. The psalmist’s unbridled call to praise is a great way to start the day. Goodness, I miss singing with y’all!

Speaking of morning prayer, today is Day 247 at the Dispatch. Perhaps you’ve noticed that these posts aren’t coming out as early as they once did. Throughout the spring and into the summer, it was a delight to begin my day in prayer and writing. Just me, my cup of coffee, my laptop, and the Bible. Honestly, I can’t believe how many people look forward to this each day. Keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

But I also need to make a change. What’s missing from “me, my cup of coffee, my laptop, and the Bible?” My kids. Since school has started this fall, our family mornings are compressed. And I’ve been missing them. Too many times I’ve overheard a conversation like, “Should we ask dad to play a game with us?” “No, he probably has to write his blog.” (A seven-year old sure can put a lot of derision into the word “blog.”) I can’t do this to them anymore, not on a regular basis. So, the blog will normally wait until I get to the office. To be sure, there will be mornings I write early. Maybe even tomorrow; Wednesdays are easier because of remote learning. Still, as a matter of self-care and to better love my family, most days it will have to wait.

One of my chief goals as a parent who is a pastor is to do my best to make sure my children don’t grow up to resent the church. I need to make time for them. And I’ll never get this time back if I give it away.

I love writing, and I’ll keep blogging. For now, anyway – I can’t do this forever! I love writing and I love all of you. But I’m the only dad my kids have. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to start the day by being with them. That itself is morning prayer.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Lord of the morning, we thank you for the rest you granted as we slept last night. We praise you for the day ahead. Help us to stay focused on our variety of vocations, keeping you at the center and letting your Spirit shape our priorities. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Even the Grace sanctuary begins the day in prayer, dancing in the morning light.

I Ask God to Help Me

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

Yesterday afternoon, our new associate pastor, Troy Medlin, was ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. Due to COVID restrictions, my family and I participated through the livestream of the service (more on that below). It was a wonderful service with a good Word. My family all agreed that our favorite part was when Ole placed the stole over Troy’s shoulders.

But what most struck me yesterday were the questions. At an ordination, each ordinand is asked a series of questions. To paraphrase, they are asked if they believe the call comes from God, if they will preach and teach in accordance with the scriptures, creeds and confessions, if they will live their lives steeped in prayer and the means of grace, and if they will be a faithful witness to God’s love in the world.

These four questions come with a preface: “Before almighty God, to whom you must give account, and in the presence of this assembly, I ask.” Before almighty God, to whom you must give account. No pressure there!

Four times yesterday, Troy answered, “I will, and I ask God to help me.”

Amen and amen. The only possible way we can live out this call is with God’s help. As Paul makes clear, the whole thing smacks of foolishness. Give your whole life’s energy in service to a gospel based on the crucifixion of an itinerant rabbi from no-account Nazareth? It’s crazy. It’s also the only hope for this world. For out of Jesus’ death we are reborn, resurrected as participants in God’s project of restoration as living signs of the Kingdom that will one day dawn.

Troy’s going to need God’s help. God knows I have over these last seventeen years, each and every day. On the other hand, everything needful has already been done, gifted to us in Christ. We’re just along for the ride, helping God’s people catch glimpses of grace as they live out their God-given vocations in the world.

Welcome aboard, Pastor Troy! I’m thrilled that you and Ole are part of the Grace family. Enjoy your day off. We’ve got work to do tomorrow!

As promised, a note about worshipping via livestream. So I really haven’t done that before. I’m always on the other side of the camera. I think I need more practice! Too many distractions (especially until the Packers sealed the deal on that victory). I’m sure I’d get used to it eventually, but I think I’ll keep my day job.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of the church, you have entrusted to us the sacred mysteries of the gospel. Help Troy and all your people live faithfully in our varied vocations. Bless Troy and Grace as we grow together as pastor and people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Enjoying Pastor Troy’s ordination in our Sunday finery.

Sermon: Stewards of Abundance. November 15, 2020

Today’s Dispatch is the sermon I preached today, the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, at Grace Lutheran Church (River Forest, IL). The preaching text is Matthew 25:14-30. You can watch the service and read the bulletin, too. The photo is Torsten, and is in no may meant to betray the identity of the child at the beginning of the sermon, but he does have a lot of stuff under his bed. Be well, friends. You are loved.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace this day in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. For it is as if a man, wanting a clean home, asked his three children to clean their rooms. And two children take up the task, going through drawers, cleaning off shelves, unearthing the no-longer-used, and imagining new homes for these things. Passing them down to a sibling or cousin; saving them for the Grace rummage sale or setting them aside for Goodwill; or just plain throwing some of it away. But a third child, who of course bears no resemblance to anyone living in my house, steadfastly refuses to get rid of anything. To this child, it is all buried treasure. To be specific, it is all treasure that gets buried under this particular child’s bed. I appreciate to a degree their desire to hang onto things they may again prove useful. The problem is that, once buried under the bed, that’s where these things remain. In holding onto these old toys and treasures, they become functionally useless and without value.
  2. What is a matter of some amusement in my household takes on a much more serious tone in the second of the three parables of judgment in Matthew 25. Jesus tells of a man not with three children but three servants. The master is going on a journey and needs help managing his property while he’s away. To one he gives five talents; to another, two; to the last, one. He apportions his wealth according to their ability. While the sums differ, all three servants are entrusted with the master’s abundance. Estimates vary, but a talent was likely worth twenty years’ wages. Even at a modest $30,000 each year, this means a talent would be worth $600,000 today. The master’s resources are abundant, and he shares abundantly.
  3. The parable moves straightforwardly enough. The first two servants busy themselves, putting the money to work. Each doubles what was entrusted to them. But the third? Fearing that he might lose some of it, he takes a shovel and buries his talent in the ground. When after a long time the master returns, he sits down to settle accounts. The two are commended, entrusted with even more, and invited into the joy of their master – a promotion, it seems, from slave to member of the household. But as for the third servant? He comes cowering: “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid.” The master, wrathful at this wasted opportunity, takes the talent from him and throws him into the outer darkness. The one thing this master won’t abide is leaving the talent hidden. Abundance is meant to be used, and fear is no way to steward that abundance.
  4. The parable makes clear the reality of judgment and the possibility of condemnation. God, as we hear through Zephaniah, is not unaware of our sin, our failure to steward the superabundance with which God has blessed us. Zephaniah’s ministry followed the reign of King Manasseh of Judah, quite possibly the worst king in the history of God’s people, which is really saying something. He set up idols for star worshippers, encouraged temple prostitution, and practiced child sacrifice. The people suffered under his rule for 55 years, the faithful among them no doubt wondering why God seemed so absent for so long, no doubt asking when God would return to make things right. There can be no questioning God’s rightful wrath in the face of such sin. It burns hot. But it is not the last word. Zephaniah’s writings conclude not with doom but with the promise that God will bring the faithful home and restore their fortunes.
  5. Sin demands judgment, but with God the final word is promise. Not long after preaching this parable, Jesus takes our sins to the cross. “For God,” as Paul reminds us this morning, “has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us.” Christ, the treasure of heaven, is taken by us and buried in the ground. Upon him the judgment falls. But God will not let the treasure stay buried. In his resurrection, our sin is left behind and our fear is overwhelmed by hope. With faith in the Christ who would not stay buried, we can claim the abundance of God and live boldly and faithfully. The only thing to fear from the master is the fear we bring, the petty assumption that God will think and act like us. But God does not. God acts with abundance and invitation, creating a kingdom of grace. As for the third servant? The judgment is real, and he brings it upon himself. As the preacher Dirk Lange writes, “The third servant has not only hidden the talent, he has buried himself. The third servant is not so much condemned as he condemns himself to a place – a life – that knows not joy, that knows only darkness and wailing and grinding of teeth.”
  6. For the sake of Christ, we have been saved from sin and wrath. We are invited into the abundance of the kingdom and the joy of the master. What will we do? We begin by not following in the footsteps of the third servant. Christ is alive, unearthed; let no one bury the gifts of God. Instead, let us be bold in sharing the abundance of the gospel and the goodness of creation. Boldness, of course, takes different forms. Sometimes it looks oddly like sitting still, as when we stay home during this pandemic so that others may be kept safe from contagion’s spread. Sometimes it is the quieting of voices that have spoken too loudly for too long so that the voices of our Black sisters and brothers can speak truth we need to hear. Sometimes it is joyfully participating in abundant giving. Those of us who attended last night’s virtual gala for Harmony Community Cares witnessed this firsthand as we blew past the goal of $125,000, money that will help feed and teach God’s people in the North Lawndale community. This world’s inequalities would keep the talents of North Lawndale and its people buried, but as Pastor Brooks reminded us, God is still up to something. These treasures are being unearthed and set free. This is how you invest in God’s work in the world.
  7. And sometimes living boldly requires a faith that would risk everything. After all, the servants with five and two talents could have lost it all. Pastor Casey Baggot tells the story of Magda Trocmé and her husband André, who served as pastor in the French town of Le Chambon during World War II. They and their fellow townspeople provided refuge for those fleeing the Nazis, even though they knew they were under constant surveillance. They saved the lives of more than 3,500 Jews, most of whom were children, as well as 1,500 others. After the war, Magda spoke to those who found her courage hard to fathom. She said, “Remember that in your life there will be lots of circumstances where you will need a kind of courage, a kind of decision on your own, not about other people but about yourself.” Baggot writes, “Ultimately, their investment of personal risk and gospel love yielded an enormous reward.” This, too, is how you invest in God’s work in the world.
  8. God is not the angry master the third servant imagines. While we deserve the wrath he anticipates, what we get is Jesus Christ. His gifts of faith, hope, and love far exceed any earthly treasure. In his death, we find life. In him, our once buried lives and talents have been unearthed, set free for God’s purposes in the world. Be bold! What we must not do is nothing, for now there is nothing to fear. Christ has come out of his earthy grave; why would you choose to stay there? Get to work, investing your life – time, talent, and treasure – in acts of love and service. Yes, the master has gone on a journey. But before he left, he told us to go, to baptize people of every nation in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The treasure is to be shared and multiplied. And remember, even as we await his return in glory, we do so in his presence now, for Christ promises to be with us until the end of the age. Waiting for him, waiting with him, be about the work of the kingdom, knowing that one day, for Jesus’ sake, God will say unto you, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your master.” Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.