The Sermon on the Mount

Lent 2020

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Begin at the Beginning

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This morning we are beginning a journey through the Sermon on the Mount. From now until April we will be learning from this teaching of Jesus, seeking to understand what it means to follow him. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement our church is a part of, said of the Sermon on the Mount that it is, “a description of true Christian holiness”.

My hope, my prayer over these next six weeks is that we can see ourselves as Disciples, as those that are following Christ’s teachings and being transformed by them. As we learn and grow together, we can open ourselves up to the possibilities and potential that God has for us, with everything we discover and learn, we can be inspired to treat ourselves and one another more like how God treats us, and if that scares you don’t worry, there’s a reason we call the Gospel good news.

Lent is this season in the church where we both look forward to and enter into a new creation, the resurrection hope that all things will be redeemed and restored. The God that we meet in Christ, and the teachings of Christ that we will learn from in the Sermon on the Mount change everything. So let’s jump in.

Just before the Sermon on the Mount begins in Matthew 5, chapter 4 ends saying, “Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all those who had various kinds of diseases, those in pain, those possessed by demons, those with epilepsy, and those who were paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from the areas beyond the Jordan River.”

The Galilee was the region where Jesus was raised. Syria, in the first century, was a Roman province that included all of Judea and the Galilee. Judea and the Galilee, were Jewish communities under the Roman Empire. The Decapolis wasn’t a Jewish community, it was a Greek collection of ten cities founded by Alexander the Great – those 10 cities weren’t kosher, so many would have seen them as unholy, unclean, and godless.

Matthew writes that “Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from the areas beyond the Jordan River.” The Greek there you could translate as hodgepodge. It was this large mix of people from different backgrounds, different communities, different faiths, and philosophies, but they had all gathered to hear what Jesus had to say. Something about the nature of Jesus and the kind of teaching that he offered made folks from all different backgrounds come together.

Some of the folks in that large crowd following Jesus would have been taught since birth, if you want to be holy, if you want to be right with God, if you want to be clean, you can have nothing to do with those kinds of people, yet now they are standing side by side and all mixed together.

Matthew writes that Jesus sees the crowds and goes up onto the mountain to teach, with the disciples sitting nearby. So the scene here is a conglomeration, a mishmash of folks, gathering to learn from Jesus, to see what he has to say, with his disciples, the closest followers he has sitting up front and everyone else gathered around.

Jesus begins to teach and the first thing he says is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Christopher Moore has a hilarious, if not slightly sacrilegious, book called, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. In the book, Levi, who is called Biff, is raised from the dead to fill in some of the gaps in the gospels, especially everything from birth to 30 because Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have almost nothing to say about that. An angel takes the resurrected Biff to a hotel in St. Louis and while Biff writes a new gospel, the angel gets addicted to watching soap operas and professional wrestling on TV. Biff tells the angel, this is why God never gave angels free will. The angel then confides in Biff saying that they are going to ask God if they can become Spider-Man. […] The angel says children need heroes, but Biff thinks the angel just wants to swing from buildings in tight red pajamas.

In the hotel, Biff finds a Bible and reads the Gospels, and he can’t believe that they edited him completely out of the story – he was the first disciple and loved traveling with the Messiah because women always wanted to learn his teachings, but Jesus was celibate so it was a great way for Biff to meet women.

In their early teens, Joshua (Jesus) and his best friend Biff, travel throughout Asia and India tracking down the magi that came to see Josh at his birth. Along the way, they also learn kung fu.

There is this great scene where Jesus and Biff are working on the Sermon on the Mount together. Biff keeps trying to talk Jesus into not saying anything about lust because it’s his he likes lust so much. Jesus says back to him, “Biff, I appreciate that you feel obliged to be an advocate for your favorite sins, but that’s not what I need here. What I need is help writing this sermon. How are we doing on the Beatitudes?…”

“We’ve got: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; blessed are the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the whiners, the meek the-“

“Wait, what are we giving the meek?”

“Let’s see, uh, here: Blessed are the meek for to them we shall say, ‘attaboy’.”

“That’s a little weak.”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s let the meek inherit the earth.”

“Can’t you give the earth to the whiners?”

“Well then, cut the whiners and give the earth to the meek”

“Okay. Earth to the meek. Here we go. Blessed are the peacemakers, the mourners, and that’s it.”

“How many is that?”

“Not enough, we need one more…”

“I’ve got it: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

“Okay, better. What are you going to give them?”

“A fruit basket.”

“You can’t give the meek the whole earth and these guys a fruit basket.”

“Give them the kingdom of heaven.”

“The poor in spirit got that.”

… “Okay then, share the Kingdom of heaven.”

For some of us, the feeling that comes with the beatitudes is that it’s a nice idea, we like what Jesus has to say, but we’re wondering what this really does. What does it mean to be blessed? The idea of being blessed is nice, but if it’s just an idea, I’ll take the fruit basket.

When Jesus is teaching here, it’s in front of a large crowd filled with all different sorts of people – it’s a crowd filled with sinners and tax collectors and religious teachers and non-religious people, some are Jewish, some are not, some know exactly what they believe, others are still trying to figure it out.

In front of this crowd, where does Jesus begin, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The blessing of God, the inbreaking of divine love, grace, peace, and justice, is within the poor in spirit.

Let’s think about that phrase, ‘poor in spirit’ because it’s a negative term, right? We don’t aspire to be poor in spirit because we don’t want to be beaten down, we don’t want to be the losers that are at the end of our rope. But Jesus says blessed are the lost, the confused, the spiritually bankrupt, blessed are the deprived and deficient, blessed are those that have no idea what their next step is.

Some translators have put it like this, “Blessed are those who know how much they need God.” But that turns the idea of being poor in spirit into something that we should strive for and achieve, it’s something that we do for ourselves – it’s like if someone tells you they are the humblest person in the world.

To be poor in spirit isn’t an accomplishment, it is not something that we seek to attain, and Jesus says, in that emptiness, when we are lost, when we feel alone, when we have nothing, God is with us.

Μακάριοι is the Greek word that’s used here, and some translate it as happy but that doesn’t quite fit because in the next thing that Jesus says is “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” I really doubt Jesus meant to say happy are those who mourn.

Blessed isn’t happiness – to understand blessed is to remember that God saying “I am with you, I am on your side.“

This is an announcement, it’s not an if/then, it’s not something to strive for or achieve. Jesus doesn’t begin with instruction, he doesn’t start this sermon by saying here are the three easy steps that can connect with God and one another. Jesus doesn’t begin with blame, Jesus doesn’t begin with shame, Jesus begins with the buoyant good news that says when you think there is no way love could ever find me, there is no possibility for me to have a second chance, there is nothing on my side, it is in that moment where God says, I am with you.

The Gospels were written in Greek because Greek was the most common language in that region – the language that Jesus would have used in the temple or in the synagogues was Hebrew, but in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is speaking to a diverse crowd, filled with people that know Hebrew or Aramaic but everyone there would have had, at least, conversational Greek.

That’s something we should pay attention to, because while Jesus speaks in Greek he says Μακάριοι he says blessed, and blessed in Hebrew is used in a certain way.

‘Baruch’ is the Hebrew word for blessed. Barukh atah Adonai elohaynyu melekh haolam. “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe.” That phrase is common in Jewish liturgy and prayers. Barukh atah Adonai is said three times during the blessing of the Sabbath meal.

Prayers like this, barukhs, always thank God for what God has done, for what God has commanded us to do, baruks, blessings, are prayers about who God is.

Jesus begins the Sermon on the mount, essentially, with a prayer, but turns things upside down. The familiar language for the religious folks in the crowd was to say God is blessed, but in this prayer, Jesus doesn’t begin by thanking God, Jesus doesn’t begin with blessing God, Jesus begins by saying God is with us. Jesus begins with this good news announcement about a love that will never let us go because that’s Gospel.

Jesus isn’t giving us a to-do list, Jesus isn’t offering advice, Jesus isn’t telling us what to strive to be, Jesus is saying in your emptiness, no matter how lost or confused you may be, God is with you and you are loved. Jesus begins by saying everyone that you can think of and imagine a reason why God would never be on their side, God is already on their side.

Has anyone here ever been water skiing? If you have ever stood up and not fallen while you flailed across the water you are a better water-skier than me.

A number of years ago I did a wedding on Lake Okoboji for a friend. It was a small wedding, they rented a couple of cabins on the lake and over a holiday weekend, we had their wedding and a great party. Part of that party was supposed to be teaching me how to water ski but I never got the swing of things because when they tried to teach me how to water ski they kept saying things like, just let the water lift you up, don’t try to stand.

Naturally, I tried to stand.

The more you try to pull yourself up by the ski rope, the more you try to stand on your skis, the more your struggle by your own strength, the more you will fall down.

What they kept telling me, and what I never quite figured out, is that if you want to get on top of the water, you have to stay down, if you want to move forward in the water, sit back and let yourself be pulled forward, because if you don’t you end up doing awkward splits where everyone crosses their legs and says ow just by looking at you.

To water ski, you have to trust in that counter-intuitive impulse. It’s not your own strength that lifts you.

That’s what grace is.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus saying blessed are those who have no reason to be blessed. Blessed are the pathetic, blessed are the arrogant, blessed are the annoying, blessed are the addicted, blessed are the losers, bless are the lost, blessed are the atheists, blessed are the fundamentalists, blessed are you and you and you and you, not because of what you have done, not because of what you can do, you are blessed, you are beloved because that’s what God does.

The favor of God, the love of God, is with everyone that doesn’t deserve it. That’s the announcement Jesus begins with.

For religious people, this isn’t always what we want to believe. We’re the ones that have repented. We’re the ones that had said our prayers, made our offerings and put in our volunteer hours. Too often we want to be blessed for what we have done and achieved, but that’s not where Jesus begins.

It’s not our work, our efforts or our skills that make us blessed, it’s simply God’s love, freely given.

In 1974, the French tightrope walker Philippe Petit committed what has been called the most artistic crime of the century by walking between the towers of the World Trade Center. The night before the walk, Petit and a group of friends parked in an unmarked van outside of the World Trade Center, snuck in with forged IDs and then spent the night rigging the galvanized steel wire across the top of the still unfinished Twin Towers. When he first stepped onto the wire, he said, “I couldn’t help laughing – it was so beautiful.”

For 45 minutes, Petit walked back and forth on the wire, at times, sitting, lying down, even dancing on the wire while a crowd slowly gathered and watched from below.

Petit had a lot of fun avoiding the police that positioned themselves on at the top of the Twin Towers, he invited them onto the wire, but police on both towers declined.

After 45 minutes, Petit was arrested and on the arrest, the officer wrote, “man on wire” because they weren’t sure what else to say when he was taken into custody.

As you might imagine, a lot of people wanted to know why, they wanted to know what inspired him to walk that wire and take that risk, Petit was surrounded by media when he was arrested, all asking why to which he responded, “why, why, why, only an American would ask why.”

Why – because.

Grace isn’t earned or given or achieved, it is simply given because that’s what God is like.

Blessed are those who don’t have it all together.

Blessed are those who have run out of strength, ideas, will power, resolve, or energy.

Blessed are those who ache because of how they know the world is not as it should be.

Blessed are those who stumble, trip, and fall in the same place again and again.

Blessed are the agnostics.

Blessed are they who doubt, who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised.

Blessed are those who have nothing to offer.

Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.

Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.

Blessed are those that come out and lose one family but find another.

Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together.

Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at school lunch tables. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted.

Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented.

Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms.

Blessed are the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like them.

Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.

Blessed are foster kids and special-ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.

Blessed are the trans folx that get called by the wrong name.

Blessed are the burned-out social workers and the overworked teachers and the lawyers that take pro bono cases.

Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak.

No matter what you are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are you, for God is with you, God is on your side, God meets you in that place.

The gospel is the counter-intuitive, joyous, exuberant news that Jesus has brought the unending, limitless, stunning love of God to even us.

There habits and routines that we should reconsider. There are new ways of living and being in the world that would make us more just, gracious, and merciful. We have to make amends, we have to be kind, we have to have boundaries, we need to protect ourselves and one another.

There are all sorts of things that we can do, that we should do, but that’s not where the Gospel begins, that’s not where the good news that God has for us gets started.

We begin with a place at the table, a welcome, an inclusion, a love that is with us no matter what because we’ve done nothing to earn it just like we can do nothing to lose it.

In 2005, the movie, ‘A History of Violence’ we released. In it, Tom makes the news for saving his family from a pair of petty thieves that try to rob his restaurant. For his bravery, Tom makes the news, much to his chagrin. As the title of the film makes blatantly clear, Tom has a history of violence.

As history does, it catches up with Tom, and now people are after him. Tom realizes that if he doesn’t stop every last one of them, they will never stop hunting his family. So he decides to do what needs to be done.

Tom’s wife feels like she’s been lied to, his children don’t know what to think about their dad, everyone is lost and confused, as Tom enters back into the life that he tried to leave behind.

At the end of the film, after he has literally washed the blood from his hands, Tom goes home, not sure how anyone will greet him, not even sure if they will still be there.

As he enters the home he sees his family having a meal around the table, and there’s an extra chair, but Tom isn’t really sure that spot is saved for him. But his daughter gets up from her seat and makes a place for him, his son puts food on his plate, and his wife looks at him, knowing there are all sorts of things that need to be said, there are amends that have to be made, but first, there’s a place at the table, welcome home.

 Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Blessed are you, for you are loved and never alone.

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Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

Salt & Light

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

– – – – – – – – – –

This morning we are continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount. We just got started last week and began at the beginning with Jesus saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. When it comes to how we talk about our faith, it’s important to begin at the beginning, to start with ourselves in the same place that God starts with us – and that isn’t blame, it isn’t shame, it isn’t guilt, it’s blessed, it’s beloved, it’s this goodness and grace that comes to us no matter what we have done and no matter what has been done to us.

The Gospel announcement is buoyant joy that says you are loved.

If that’s where Jesus begins, that’s where we should begin too.

There can be, and too often is, a tendency in Christianity to start with sin and depravity, to begin by looking at everything we’ve got wrong, to see ourselves, as John Edwards said in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” that we are, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: [God’s] wrath towards you burns like fire; [God] looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire…”

That’s the uplifting and inspiring message that we all need.

God is abusive and angry, you should be afraid.

For centuries in the United States, that kind of ideology has shaped and influenced our religious and cultural imaginations.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with blessings, with love, with grace and peace. But now that we’re past the start, we should expect God to hold us over the pit, right? Too often we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next thing to be the worst thing, but just as Jesus began, he continues to see greatness in us.

God knows we become what we behold. We become what we believe about ourselves, we become what others tell us about who we are, we become whatever the voice in our head says about who and whose we are. If we begin by telling ourselves and one another that we are deprived abominations, what do we expect ourselves to act like?

Jesus begins with blessing, with hope, with grace, with love, Jesus says this is who you already are, not because of what you have done but because who God is. And then Jesus continues, saying, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say you could be the salt of the earth. Jesus doesn’t even say you can be the light of the world. Jesus says this is who you are.

As Jesus is teaching, we’re told that he is on the hillside with the disciples close to him, and the crowd gathering around. Jesus is speaking to his closest followers, looking them in the eyes, and saying you are salt and light. So let’s look at the kind of people the disciples were.

A few chapters later in Matthew, Jesus is debating with some other religious leaders about ethics and religious purity. Jesus ends the debate by saying our character is less defined by what goes into our mouths than it is defined by what comes out. Peter, the excitable disciple, perks up and says, “Explain this mystery to us” and Jesus responds, I imagine with a heavy sigh, “Don’t you understand yet?”

In the Gospel of Mark there is a moment where Jesus is telling the disciples about his death and resurrection and it’s written that the disciples, “…didn’t understand this kind of talk, and were afraid to ask him.” (Mark 9:32)

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation and all of a sudden you have no idea what’s being discussed? Apparently that’s what the disciples were like, nearly all the time. They were a bit dull, a few fries short of a happy meal.

Throughout the Gospels, the disciples are confused, they’re not always sure what they’re doing, more than that, it doesn’t seem like they even know what to think because when Jesus tells them a story they have to ask, “that parable’s about God, right?”

There’s a point in the gospels where Jesus is talking about humility and service, about how the greatest are those that humble themselves, because two of the disciples were arguing about who’s more important.

But it’s not like any of us have ever been tripped up by our own egos. Luckily for the disciples Jesus sees their greatness, even when he wants to do a face palm.

In the Gospel of Luke, we learn about the female disciples that paid Jesus’ bills. That’s a whole sermon for another time there. Luke writes about Joanna, Susanna, “and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.” Jesus sees the greatness in these women.

Another of the women that followed Jesus, one of the disciples, was Mary Magdalene. Luke writes that a number of the women following Jesus had been cured of their demons. This is Luke’s way of telling us these women had a past, they had lived through some pain and some loss and some hurt and with Christ they found the way to move forward knowing Jesus saw their greatness and potential.

A couple of chapters later in Luke, Jesus’ disciple John rushes up to him and says, “Master, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he isn’t in our group of followers.” (9:49)

Now, I don’t know what your thoughts are about demons, but, generally, the fewer demons there are, the better. The less we are haunted, abused, belittled, the less we are held captive by every pain that can only be called demonic, the better. Regardless of how anyone wants to define demons, no one is really excited to be more demonic. But John, in his zeal to maintain the in group, in his rush to assume who is in, who is out, who’s right, who’s wrong, sees someone doing good in Jesus’ name and tries to stop them.

Jesus replies to John and says, “Don’t stop him, because whoever isn’t against you is for you.” (9:50)

The Greek there is Jesus saying to John, “Are you stupid?” And yet, Jesus still sees the potential for greatness in John.

Just a few verses later, Jesus and the disciples are walking through a Samaritan village and the disciples don’t feel like Jesus was as welcomed as he could have been. In the passage it’s written that the people didn’t welcome Jesus to their village because, “he was determined to go to Jerusalem.” (9:53).

Jesus is on the move, he’s got places to go, and it seems like the Samaritans villagers are ok with that, they don’t roll out the red carpet for someone that is just passing through town. But this gets on the disciples nerves for some reason.

Jesus, who has taught the disciples to live in the flow of grace and peace, to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, is a bit surprised when the disciples ask him, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to consume them?” (9:55)

Jesus responds, “Have you missed the point of everything I’ve said?”

In their arrogance, in their lack of understanding, with all they get wrong, with everything they don’t get right, with all of their histories and stories, to these people that remind me a lot of myself, Jesus tell the disciples, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.”

Jesus reminds them, just as Jesus reminds us, that our worth, our value, our dignity, our greatness comes from the grace of God. Jesus tells the disciples who they are by reminding them whose they are. As beloved children of God, they are salt and light. Jesus doesn’t tell us what we can be, Jesus tells us who we really are.

When Jesus says to them, “You are the salt of the earth” we should notice the difference between of and from. As the season of Lent begins, these holy days that bring us towards Easter, we began, on Ash Wednesday, a couple weeks ago, thinking about the dust that we are made from. But in this moment, Jesus doesn’t want us to think about what we are from – he doesn’t need us to look down on ourselves – we are frail and we are fragile, from dust we came and to dust we will return, but in this moment Jesus says to his disciples you are the salt of the earth, you enhance, you bring out the flavor, you make this earth better.

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching about a new way of life, about the in-breaking of God’s grace and movement of the spirit in our lives and the world. Jesus sharing his plan to change the world and it’s you. Salt of the earth, light of the world. Too often we tell ourselves and we let others tell us that we can’t be the ones to change the world, we can be the ones that make wrongs right, we can’t be the change we want to see in the world because we’re impulsive, we’ve got a history, we don’t always understand what’s going on, we’re not exactly sure what we believe or think, but Jesus says you are salt, you are light, you are beloved.

Jesus says what God has been saying all along, “I believe in you.”

In John 14 Jesus says, “I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.” (vs 12)

Jesus tells us, you won’t just do what I do, you’ll do more, you’ll be amazing, you are greater than you know.

If we’re beating ourselves up all the time, if we’re second-guessing our sacred calling, how are we going to be what Christ says we already are? Be careful with Jesus, because he will pull greatness out of you. Jesus trusts and knows the simple truth that God has faith in you.

In Exodus 19, just before the 10 commandments, there is a covenant a promise, between us and God about how we will live together. God has always been looking for partners that will reflect goodness and grace, that will seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, so God says in Exodus 19:5, “if you faithfully obey me and stay true to my covenant, you will be my most precious possession out of all the peoples, since the whole earth belongs to me.“

When we live in the flow of grace, forgiveness, love, reconciliation, justice, and joy, we will live as people that show others the divine. You are called to be holy, you are called to be a witness to grace and love.

Through our action, through our speech, through the way that we live and move through the world, we show others God because God has said “I’ve chosen you to be my precious possession.”

You are not cast aside.

You are not insignificant.

You are precious and holy.

In 1 Peter, chapter 2 it’s written, ”…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (vs 9-10)

You can hear the echo of Exodus, right? This promise, this claim, that you are here with a divine responsibility, a holy calling to be the people that say and do wonderful acts that show others God.

This matters because when you hear church – is that what you think?

Do you think of revolutionaries changing the world? Do you hear a holy calling? Do you know the best of you is being inspired and enlightened? When you hear church meeting do you think, yes, this is where the action is, this is going to make a difference.

God wants the best from us because God believes in the best of us.

You are loved, right now, no matter what.

In Exodus 20, just after the ten commandments are read, it’s written, “the people shook with fear and stood at a distance. They said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die.”

Yet Moses says, “Don’t be afraid….” (vs 19-20)

How many times do we stand at a distance from ourselves, from life, from God, because we’re afraid to believe what God believes about us?

If God believes in you, will you believe in yourself, will you believe in one another? Will you step into the holy calling that God has placed on your life? We can stand at a distance, we can step back afraid, or we can walk forward knowing that God believes us.

If we are salt, let’s talk about salt. You might be the kind of person that has to cut back on sodium if every time you hear the word salt your mouth waters a little bit. But there’s a reason our mouths water when we think about salt. Salt makes everything better. It enhances the flavor, it brings about the best of the ingredients. A little bit of salt makes us want to have a little bit more of whatever we’re eating.

The invitation of God is for us to enhance this world, to bring the goodness, to bring about the fullness of potential and possibility.

And it only takes a pinch. A little salt will go a long way just like a small light can illuminate a dark room. Jesus isn’t telling us that we have to change, that we have to start over, that we need to scrap everything we know and begin all over agin, Jesus is telling us we are already salt and light, we simply have to embrace the gift that we are, we have to live into this holy lure that invites us to become more and more of ourselves.

A little grace, a little forgiveness, a little kindness, a little mercy, a little joy, a little justice, will go along way. It is easy for us to be overwhelmed with everything that we could do, everything that we should do, and in the midst of our uncertainty and insecurity, Jesus reminds us who we are, we are salt and light, a little of either goes a long way, anyone that’s ever stubbed their toe at night knows how just a little bit of light could have kept you from that pain. Anyone that’s ever had a potato knows how boring it is without salt. We’re here to enhance, to shine, to bring out the best as we witness to the goodness and grace of God that empowers us to believe what Jesus already believes about us – we are loved, and we can make a difference.

A few of years ago the priest and professor Barbara Brown Taylor was invited to speak at a military base just before Christmas. A solider named Ralph had been sent to the airport to pick her up and show her around the base.

As they walked together towards the baggage claim, Ralph and Barbara were talking, but every now and then, Ralph would say excuse me and disappear for a moment. Once it was to help a woman whose suitcase had fallen open. Another time, Ralph helped a mother hold up her two children so they could see Santa at the airport. Another time he gave directions to someone.

Every time Ralph would find his way back to Barbra, he would be smiling, and Barbara asked him, “Where did you learn to live like that?”

Ralph told her about how during is deployment it was his job to clear mines, how with every step he had to pay attention to everything that was going on around him. Ralph said, “I learned to live between steps. I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I’ve been that way ever since.”

Barbara Brown Taylor went on to write that our, “job is to find your own words for what matters most and then to give yourself fully to speaking them, so that anyone who looks at you can see God’s own truth come to life.”

The German writer and activist, Dorothee Soelle puts it like this, “How to be a Christian is something you learn not from books or information packets but primarily from other human beings.”

You are salt and you are light.

Not might be.

Not could be.

Not maybe possibly one day you will be.

You are.

You are salt and light. Salt which gives flavor and preserves and keeps. Light which illuminates and guides.

The word we hear from Jesus is not that we might become these things, but that we are these things.

And yet, there is a warning in this passage, there is a danger in this text. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.”

We can lose ourselves, we can lose our flavor, identity and strength, we can think less of ourselves, we can dismiss what God believes about us. When we do, it feels a lot like being trampled under people’s feet too. There are times that I don’t feel like I enhance much – last week a number of people told me “you do really well with adding media to your sermon”, and this week I got nothing because, frankly, this sermon is a Saturday special so I hope you tolerated it. I don’t always feel like salt, I don’t always feel like light, maybe you don’t either, and yet that’s what Jesus says we are.

Maybe our fear is not that we are insignificant, maybe we aren’t afraid of our inadequacy. In the end, our deepest fear might be that what Jesus says about is is true – we are salt and light, we are beloved and brilliant and talented and gifted and graced to be shine, to love, to bring a flavor that only we can. God sees greatness in us and Jesus calls us to live into our holy and blessed calling to be just as great as God knows we can be.

Pretending that you are not beloved doesn’t help anyone.

Pretending that everyone else isn’t salt and light doesn’t help either.

Let your light shine and inspire others to do the same.

You are salt and light, you are blessed, you are gifted, and God trusts you to be exactly who you are. So may your light, this week and always, shine before others. Amen.

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Posted by GraceDesMoines on Sunday, March 8, 2020

Matthew 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven.

Guardrails and Grace

Matthew 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

We are continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount. In the season of Lent, as followers of Christ, we take intentional steps to follow the teachings of Jesus, to be transformed by God’s love so that we may be that love for one another. This year at Grace, we are learning from the Sermon on the Mount because it is Jesus’ most direct teaching about what it looks like to live with this love and joy of God in our lives.

The Sermon on the Mount starts with Jesus giving the beatitudes, these blessings, that remind us how God is on our side. Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This sermon begins with Jesus saying God is not absent or indifferent, God is with us, God is for us, exactly at the moment we think there is no way that God could be with us there is a grace that is already there.

Following these beatitudes, Jesus goes on to say that we are salt and light. Jesus doesn’t merely tell us that we are blessed and love, Jesus goes on to tell us that we have to live out and share this hope we have in God. And it’s not that Jesus tells us we could be salt and light, Jesus doesn’t say if we change how we live we might be salt and light, Jesus tells us to embrace the unique gift of our lives and share it, cherish it, empowering others to do the same. Jesus puts it like this, “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your [God] who is in heaven.”

Because God is on our side, because grace and peace is with us before we could do anything to earn or deserve it, because God trusts and believes in us, we are invited to live in a certain way, we are called to be a certain kind of people, Jesus tells us to walk in his footsteps.

My garage isn’t attached to the house, and this winter when there was snow on the ground, a few times, I didn’t want to take the long walk around to the front of the garage to open it up, I just wanted to walk through the backyard and open the door. The only problem was the snow that stood in my way. The first time I walked that path, I tried to take the same steps every time. I knew if I could just keep my feet on that same path, I wouldn’t get soggy socks. I could choose to go other ways, I could have taken other steps, but I knew that if I kept walking in the steps that were laid out before me, I wouldn’t have to worry about it.

This is one way that we can think about the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus is laying out for us today. Jesus is showing us the footsteps, the path that we should walk in.

But before we get to that, I want to tell you about the music that I listen to while I write sermons, because I’m sure you are curious about that. The band that I almost always listen to when I write sermons is, as you would expect, called, “Murder by Death”. They are an indie rock band and their last album is, as you would expect, a western that takes place in space.

They had a show in Des Moines this week and I was there, front row.

For some reason the only pastor in the crowd.

The opening act was another artist that I occasionally listen to while writing sermons, “Amigo the Devil”.

I’m not sure why there weren’t more church folks in that crowd.

It was an amazing show and my ear is only, slightly, still ringing.

Now, I don’t only listen to sad folk music while I write my sermons. Now and then I need to listen to something, but I don’t want to be distracted by the lyrics. On those days I listen to the German rapper, “Alligatoah”.

Because Alligatoah raps in German, I have no idea what he is saying, but it’s fun to listen to.

All that I have told you about my musical tastes might not have surprised you, but there is a chance that you’re looking at me like a confused dog.

Occasionally, something catches us off guard. We thought a conversation was going one way, and then it veers off into a completely different direction. When you’re studying the Sermon on the Mount, it can feel like the tone and the direction of Jesus’ teaching changes drastically. On first reading, it can seem like Jesus is talking us up only to take us down.

Has anyone ever been in a performance review and your boss told you that they were going to give you a compliment sandwich? Or even if they didn’t tell you that’s what they did? Because we all love to have one good thing said about us, only so we can be insulted, but then have one more nice thing said to soften the blow.

Let’s look closely at what Jesus says just after our reading for last week, but before what we read earlier this morning, because when we understand the move that Jesus makes, we can understand that he isn’t changing tone, he’s reinforcing what we’ve already learned.

Jesus says, “Don’t even think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality.”

With the rhetorical genius that Jesus has, he says, essentially, “I bet with everything that I’ve said so far you think I’m going to say anything goes.” And let’s remember what Jesus has said so far. Jesus has told us that no matter who we are, no matter what we do, no matter what has been done to us, no matter what we get right, no matter what we get wrong, no matter what we believe, God is on our side. Jesus has said blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the spiritual zeros, blessed are the losers and the lost, blessed are you, no matter what, because God loves you.

As if that wasn’t enough, Jesus goes on to say that we are, not that we could be, not that we might be, not if we follow these five easy steps we will be, Jesus says you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. Jesus tells us that we are blessed and beloved children of the divine that are empowered and entrusted to make a difference in the world.

Can you see why Jesus now says, “Just to be clear, ethics still matter.”

Jesus has given us the gift of this buoyant good news, this love from God that is with us and will never let us go, and now Jesus says, because this love from God is with you, and with everyone else, in and through and with all of creation, how we live our lives together is really important. Are we going to live lives that tangibly express this grace and peace, are we going to be a people that care for others as God cares for us, or are we going to take this love for granted?

If, in our weakness, in our brokenness, in the moments when we deserve no mercy God is still there with mercy, how then should we be with one another?

When Jesus brings up the law and the prophets, Jesus is talking about morals, but he’s making a point about moralism and there is a subtle but important difference between morals and moralism. Our morals are how we define and differentiate between right and wrong, moralism is saying we are right and they are wrong because we have an inflated view of the observance of our morals. Our morals help us to know the difference between good and evil, but our moralism tells us about the orientation of our hearts.

When Jesus tells us that he is not going to get rid of anything in the law or prophets, Jesus is telling us that our behavior matters, that how we act and how we treat one another is important, but Jesus goes on to say that we have to also look at the orientation of our hearts.

Robert Stroud is best known by another name, the Birdman of Alcatraz. Stroud was a convicted murderer, the first time he went to prison for manslaughter he was known as inmate 1853, and he was also known for being now of the most violent prisoners, often starting fights with inmates and guards. While in jail for manslaughter, Stroud stabbed another prisoner who reported him for stealing food from the kitchen, he assaulted a hospital orderly that caught him trying to steal morphine, and stabbed another inmate that was involved in another attempt to smuggle narcotics.

With all of these attacks to his name, Stroud was transferred to the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. His behaviors were transferred with him and at that facility, Stroud murdered a guard, which he ultimately received a life sentence for.

It was while at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth that Stroud found a nest with three injured sparrows in it. They were abandoned and alone in the prison yard, and he raised them to health and adulthood. From there, Stroud went on to raise nearly 300 canaries from his cell and wrote two academic books on avian pathology.

The movie, “The Birdman of Alcatraz” takes some liberties with Stroud’s life, but it’s still worth your watch, and I assume most of us have a lot of free time at the moment so I figured this was a good sermon for movie recommendations.

In the movie, Stroud and the warden, Shoemaker, are debating back and forth about the nature of prison life and if things are getting better for inmates. Shoemaker thinks things have never been better, the ball and chain are gone, there are educational programs, but Stroud counters back saying, a little bit like Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride”, you keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

Again, you’re probably going to have some downtime this week, so check in on your neighbors, donate blood if you’re healthy, call your friends that are at long term care facilities or the hospital, send a thank you card to doctors and nurses, go for a walk to your favorite local business and buy a gift card, but give yourself some time to enjoy a couple movies too.

In the Birdman of Alcatraz, Shoemaker says to Stroud, not once have you shown any sign of rehabilitation, and Stroud says back, “I wonder if you know what the word means, do you? The unabridged Webster’s International Dictionary says it comes from the Latin habilis. The definition is, to invest again with dignity. Do you consider that part of your job? To give a man back the dignity he once had? Your only interest is in how he behaves…You want your prisoners to dance out the gates like puppets on a string, with rubber-stamped values impressed by you, with your sense of conformity, your sense of behavior, even your sense of morality. That’s why you’re a failure…Because you rob prisoners of the most important thing in their lives, their individuality.”

Rehabilitation is to invest again with dignity, rehabilitation is about giving back to one another the worth and the value that we have as not only individuals but beloved and blessed children of God.

At this point in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has made a few things very clear – we are beloved and blessed, God is on our side, not only that, God entrusts and empowers us to be on each others side, and because of that we have to rehabilitate one another, we have to invest again with dignity.

Following the rules is one thing, having a transformed heart is another.

Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their [sibling] will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.”

“You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.”

“It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

“Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.”

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your [God] who is in heaven. [God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly [Creator] is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”

This is not an easy lesson, but it is necessary. If we, like Jesus, are going to embrace the best of who we are, if we, like Jesus, are going to live as beloved children of God that trust in goodness and grace, then we have to admit and own up to the worst of us.

As Jesus teaches about murder and anger, adultery and lust, he is teaching us something about rehabilitation, because in our anger, in our lust, we don’t invest in one another dignity, instead, our desires become a demand and individuals become objects.

We spent two weeks talking about how Jesus is investing into us a dignity from God that can never be taken away from us, Jesus went out of their way to say in every situation we are blessed and beloved, no matter what we have done and no matter what has been done to us, Jesus goes on to say we are trusted, that God believes in us, and now Jesus has to remind us about how quickly this blessing and grace can be taken for granted.

Do we, like Jesus, see ourselves and one another as whole, beloved, and blessed? And if so, are we willing to treat one another like that?

I want to turn specifically to the section of the Sermon on the Mount that we had for our reading today because while we can get into the nuance and the distinction with all that Jesus says, the point of this passage does not seem to be an ethic defined by a list of rules, but an ethic transformed by grace.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.”

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your [God] who is in heaven. [God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly [Creator] is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”

The idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is found multiple times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:17-21, Deuteronomy 19:21). Because we are on this side of history, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary this step was, and how our legal system is still shaped by this idea. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is about proportional justice. The whole idea is to diminish retaliation when it comes to the justice that we seek with one another. Lawyers call it, lex talionis.

My younger sister and I would occasionally play a game called who can hit softer. She would always go first and she would always win.

There is something within us that wants to seek the worst for one another, but Jesus demands that we seek the best of one another, that as our hearts and lives are transformed by love, we turn the other cheek, we forgive, we give to those who ask, we, as Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your [God] who is in heaven. [God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.”

It’s Iowa, so we are all connected to agriculture one way or another, but even we can take for granted that God makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.

In the United Methodist Church, we call this prevenient grace.

One of the biggest reasons why, as a follower of Jesus, that I am a part of this Methodist movement, is our focus and instance on grace. We believe and trust and live out this great love that is with and for all persons. And, like Jesus, we know that this doesn’t mean everything goes.

We are all for grace, our church is named for it after all, but for us to be a people of grace, for us to live and express grace in all that we say and do, we need to have guardrails too.

In this teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to guard our hearts and to guard one another against anything that would diminish or deny the love of God that is already with us. Jesus, in this teaching, tells us again and again and again that we must never reduce one another to an object, that our desires cannot become a demand that robs anyone of their dignity.

As we continue to live into the blessings that God has already given us through the beatitudes, while we embrace our calling to be salt and light, we are transformed by the love of God, this movement of the Spirit in our midst, that focuses on grace and yet gives us the guardrails to uphold the promise and hope of this great love that is with and for all people.

Jesus says, “just as your heavenly [Creator] is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”

If your dignity is being diminished in a relationship, it is important and necessary to define your guardrails so that you and they can live with grace.

When the dignity of our siblings is being diminished, it is important and necessary for us to rise up for the sake of one another by defining the guardrails that help us all to live with grace and peace.

In Venice, there is a statue called, “The Man Who Measures the Clouds (Monument to the Measure of the Immeasurable)” and it was inspired by the movie The Birman of Alcatraz. At the end of the movie, Stroud finally receives parole, this didn’t happen in real life with Robert Stroud, but that’s not a very satisfying movie ending so we’ll allow the artistic license.

Stroud is finally released, he’s free, he has been rehabilitated because he’s finally been reinvested with dignity, and he’s asked, “What are you going to do” and Stroud responds that he’s “going to measure clouds”.

How is anyone going to hold up a ruler and measure a cloud? It is as absurd as it is beautiful, right?

Living with this love that God has given us and entrusted us to share may seem just as absurd, but it is even more beautiful than measuring clouds.

The word apocalypse doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means. These days it’s associated with the end of the world, but the root of the word apocalypse doesn’t mean the end of the world, it means to unveil, to uncover.

In this apocalypse, a lot is being revealed. How we treat one another, what we take for granted, how our lives and society can come together or fall apart.

What would it look like, as people transformed by and for grace, for situations like this to reveal what God already believes about us – we are loved, we can make a difference, we are trusted and empowered to be a positive force for love in the world?

In the days and weeks to come, may we be a people, may we be a community, that can truly call itself Grace. There are guardrails that we have to live with to uphold each person’s dignity, and there is grace with and for all persons that we must witness to and strive for. So may we all, as Jesus calls us to, “be complete in showing love to everyone”. Amen.

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Sunday, March 15, 2020

Matthew 6:1-4

Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your [God] who is in heaven. Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your [God] who sees what you do in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your [God] who is present in that secret place. Your [God] who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

Practice or Performance

Thank you for joining us in our second week of online-only worship. I hope you have been able to stay connected with Grace. Almost every day we’re posting a video on our Facebook page and thanks to the work of Ben Campney our website is updated with the videos each day too so even if someone doesn’t have a Facebook account they can stay connected with us. As we head into the second week of social distancing, please continue to reach out to one another and check in with each other. I know a lot of us are helpers and that makes it difficult to ask for help, but this is a moment to admit that we can’t do everything on our own, so if there are ways we can help, please let me know.

There are just a couple of things to lift up before we get going. First, this afternoon at 4 pm we are going to have a digital hymn sing. Our music staff put out a survey a few days ago to learn your favorite hymns and they will be singing them at 4 pm in the live-stream. We will be sending out the information about our first bridge the gap groups together soon, hopefully tomorrow. We’ve had several folks sign up so far and there is always space for more. If you’ve missed the link to the form to sign up, after our service this morning we will post the link in the comments of the service and post it again in our Facebook feed.

Finally, I just want to thank you all for your support and help in the past week. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know that this matters and makes a difference. If you are still looking for a way to help and you’ve been a part of the Grace community, the biggest way that you can help at this time is by reaching out to one another, check in with your friends, family and neighbors. Our staff is trying to write cards and notes and make phone calls, and it helps us immensely to know that others are reaching out too. If you’ve not been a part of the Grace community or if you’re new with us this morning, think about who you can reach out to – who can you send a card to, who can you call just to say hi. In times like this, it can make all the difference in the world. And because we’re talking about support, another way that you can support Grace is by giving online. At our website, gracedesmoines.org there is a link to our online giving and that is the best way to financially help our church as we continue to pay all of our staff. I know a few people have paid their pledges in advance and at a time like this that helps a lot. If paying online isn’t your thing, you can send your offering in the mail too.

Before we get to our reading this moment, let’s prepare our hearts and minds for worship, let’s pause, catch our breath, and center ourselves in the love of God that is always with us. Let’s take a moment of silence, and then I’ll say a prayer and we’ll jump right in.

Holy One, you are always near. In this moment, we ask that you fill us where we are empty, that you restore our souls and spirits with your mercy and grace. As we linger together in your presence this morning, may we be nourished and encouraged to be the people you already know we are – beloved and blessed children of the divine. May we hear your voice among us, and may your hope fill us with courage for the days to come. Amen.

We are continuing to learn from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus says, in Matthew chapter 6:

Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your [God] who is in heaven. Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your [God] who sees what you do in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your [God] who is present in that secret place. Your [God] who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

If you have been on this journey with us through the Sermon on the Mount, you’ve seen how there’s an internal logic to what Jesus says. It’s not as if Jesus starts with one topic and then jumps to another, and then moves to another. This is not some rambling or meandering teaching, it’s intentional. If you have missed any of our messages, you can always watch the videos on our website or Facebook page and if you want to read any of the messages, they are here on Facebook and our website too.

There is a growth and development in the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s the same growth and development we see in our lives.

Has anyone ever learned how to golf. I never did. When you first learn how to swing a golf club, you get a lot of well-meaning, but ultimately worthless advice. Someone probably told you, “It’s all in your hips” and if you’re like me when someone gave you that advice you muttered back “if it’s all in my hips why did you tell me to keep my left arm straight too?”

Or if you’ve ever taught anyone how to swing a baseball bat, you’ve told them to keep their eyes on the ball. We all know that’s good advice for baseball, but have we ever stopped to think about how it’s not helpful? When someone is trying to hit a baseball they’re not actively looking elsewhere.

Think about learning how to cook. When you first learn to cook you hear things like a pinch of salt, but how much salt is that? What quantity is a splash of olive oil? If you’ve never brought water to a simmer, how are you going to know the difference between simmering and boiling? There is a good reason why the first cookbook in my kitchen was called how to boil water because I needed to start with step one.

When you are learning something new, it’s only natural that it’s frustrating, confusing, and even frightening. When we are beginning, when we are learning something new, it doesn’t seem natural or normal, because it’s new, it’s different. The advice and instruction that we get, as necessary as it may be, may not make sense, because we haven’t internalized it yet.

It’s almost like the word has to become flesh.

If there is no embodiment, if our ideas are never enfleshed, they don’t take hold. The word has to become flesh, it has to be transformed from an idea to an actuality.

So let’s just take a moment to admit, together, that we are all new to this. None of us have been here before. We are all beginners. We should listen to the experts, we should follow their advice, but even those that have studied pandemics before can admit that this is new to us.

Because we are all beginners, it’s natural to be frustrated and confused and anxious because we’re new to this. Together, we are all learning and discovering what it means to live at a time such as this, so let’s admit that it can be frustrating and worrying, and let’s also have patience with ourselves and one another, because we’re all beginners, we’re all learning and discovering together.

As we learn, things shift from new, to normal, to second nature.

That’s how we progress and grow and develop. From new, to normal, to second nature.

I learned how to cook in college by watching a lot of the food network. At first, I was a little arrogant when it came to my abilities because I would watch a show, not write down the recipe, and then go shopping because I could remember it all. I never did and there was always some key ingredient missing.

The peak of my arrogance came when I made a lasagna for the first time and I didn’t have potholders. I told myself that it couldn’t be that hot and I was only going to hold the pan for a couple of seconds so what’s the big deal.

As I scrubbed the floor I knew what the big deal was.

As you learn, you pick up habits, and routines, and a vocabulary. Slowly, everything that was once brand new becomes normal and eventually what is normal for you becomes second nature and you can act without having to stop and think. The small tricks and tips that took so long to learn are now behaviors and habits. Over time a pinch of salt isn’t a mystery, it’s just a pinch of salt.

That’s the progression that we see in the Sermon on the Mount too. There is a growth, a development, a continual invitation for us to become who God knows: beloved, blessed, and empowered.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus teaching us we are blessed. The Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus saying when we are lost, confused, anxious, worried, afraid, and feel like we are at the end of ourselves, when we imagine there is no way that God could be with us, God is on our side. That’s how the Sermon on the Mount gets started. We are blessed because God is with us, no matter what.

Next, Jesus says, because we are blessed and because God is with us, we live as salt and light. Jesus does not say this is who we could be, Jesus doesn’t say it would be nice if you decided to live as salt and light. Jesus simply makes this announcement about what God knows we already are.

It’s from this place of being salt and light, of having a flavor, an enhancement, a light to shine before others, that Jesus tells us just as our heavenly God is complete in showing love to everyone, so must we be complete in showing and sharing grace and peace.

This is who we are, people that forgive, that seek justice and reconciliation, that continually seek to move from anger to grace, that move from anything that belittles, demeans, or denies the belovedness of another so that everyone, and everyone means everyone, can live into the fullness of love that God is.

When we arrive at our reading today, Jesus says, “Whenever you give to the poor” because as the kind of people God knows we are, Jesus doesn’t have to say “if you give to the poor”, or “it would be nice when you give”, Jesus simply knows that we are a people of generosity, of abundant joy that we share freely.

For us as followers of Jesus, because we know we are blessed, because we are salt and light, because God has trusted us to be who we are, it’s not if we give, it’s not if we pray. We will, and we do, since our lives are grounded, centered, in generosity and faith.

Jesus says, “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your [God] who is in heaven. Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get.”

In this passage, two words in Greek stick out, because they are both theater terms – θεάομαι (theaomai) and ὑποκριτής (hupokrites).

Theaomai is in verse one and in English, it’s often translated ‘to be seen’ or ‘to draw attention’. The root of the word comes from theater and is directly translated as, “to gaze at the spectacle”.

Have you been performing for anyone? Putting on a show? Have you ever set yourself on fire in the hopes that someone else might feel warm?

When Jesus says, “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your [God] who is in heaven.” Jesus is reminding us that when we put on a show, when we are a spectacle, when we’re simply performing, we’re not participating.

Reward comes up several times in this passage and when Jesus talks about a reward he’s not saying that we’re given payment. The reward that Jesus is speaking about is our participation in the love and the movement of God. Think of reward in this passage like recompense, reward as an equivalent return. If the reward that we are seeking is approval, status or prestige, if the reward we seek is simply for our ego, we can find that reward, and miss God.

Jesus starts by asking us who we are performing for because he’s going to ask us if we’re wearing a mask.

Jesus says, “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get.”

Hypocrites or ὑποκριτής (hupokrites) in Greek is another theater word that Jesus uses. There is a lot of speculation that when Jesus was growing up, Joseph and maybe Jesus too, would have worked on a massive construction project that was done in Sepphoris, the next town over from Nazareth. There was this large theater that was built in Sepphoris when Jesus would have been in his teens and I know we often think about Joseph as a carpenter but a better way to understand Joseph’s career in the first century is to think of him as a day laborer. Joseph would have had all kinds of different jobs, so while there’s no direct evidence of Jesus and Joseph working on the theater, we do know that thousands of day laborer were hired for this job and for the number of times that Jesus uses these theater terms it’s interesting to think about.

To be a ὑποκριτής (hupokrites) in the first century was literally to wear a mask, to be a stage performer. Stage make up wasn’t a think in the first century, so all the actors would cover their face with a mask.

It’s one thing to seek a reward, it’s another to hide behind a mask and pretend to be someone that you’re not.

This is not the time for hiding under a mask or putting on a show. In our relationships and our life together, it’s never really the right time to hide under a mask or put on a show, but especially now, we need to be brave enough to be honest, to be open, to be who we are, to take our masks off.

In a time such as this, what reward do we get for putting on a show and pretending to be someone that we aren’t? Is pretending to be someone else worth couple likes on Facebook? Is that fleeting feeling worth it? You don’t have to keep up with the Jones’ anymore because they’re stuck inside too. Check in on one another, care for each other, but let’s all drop our masks. This is not the time to hide ourselves or pretend we’re anyone else. There’s no reward for wearing a mask.

And yet, there is an enduring love that lingers through our participation in the divine life of God. Jesus teaches us, over and over again in the Sermon on the Mount, to be who God already knows we are. We are blessed, we are loved, we are salt and light, and we can live this way not to impress anyone, not to put on a performance, we can live like this because this is who we are.

This is why Jesus says when you give don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing is Jesus’ moment of zen in the Sermon on the Mount. At first, it can sound like one of those proverbs that we don’t know what it means, and that means it must be wise.

When Jesus says that we should live with such a generosity that when we give our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing, Jesus is making a statement about our consciousness, about how something that was once new, and it became normal, only to become second nature.

I’ve been told there comes a point in golf where you don’t have to think about your hips any more when you swing. There is a moment when you learn to play baseball that you learn what it means to keep your eye on the ball. There is a moment when you learn how to cook that you don’t have to think about the difference between chopping and dicing because our behaviors have become second nature.

In our life of faith, there comes the moment where we don’t have to think about helping, we don’t have to think about reconciling, we don’t have to think about caring for one another because that is simply who we are.

Jesus says, “…when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your [God] who is present in that secret place. Your [God] who sees what you do in secret will reward you.”

At this moment, most of us are doing a lot more than praying with our doors shut. We are living behind shut doors, and Jesus says in this moment when we don’t put on a show, when we aren’t performing or wearing a mask, when we are who we truly are, God is there and our reward is this enduring love that lasts even at a time such as this.

This is all new, right? So the question is, in our lives right now, what’s going to become normal, because that’s going to become second nature for us. When you don’t have to perform, when you don’t have to put on a mask, when you can step back and recognize that we’re not living this way for anyone’s attention, how now will you live?

Jesus says that we can live into the reward of God with us. Jesus says we can participate in the word becoming flesh. The way that we pattern and orient our lives changes everything. This is new, so what will become normal, because whatever your normal becomes, that will eventually be your second-nature response and your left hand will not know what your right hand is doing.

When we give, when we pray, when we care, when we love, what reward are we seeking – are we, with Jesus, making these words become flesh, or are we putting on a show?

The great Alice Walker wrote in ‘The Color Purple’, “Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not to find God.”

It’s not like we have to find God. God has already found us and called us good. What we need to do is embrace our true reward, our participation in the word that becomes flesh, because what was new will become normal and whats normal will become second nature.

We have a chance to define our new normal, so let’s make the most of it. May we live into the love of God that is with and for us by sharing patience with ourselves and one another.  May we be a people that care, a people that reach out, a people that give and prayer because of course we would be a people that give and pray. Let’s live with such a love that our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing, and with that, may we all seek to know and share grace and peace.

(Prayers in the comments)

Let us pray…

Christ may we follow you to all the places in our lives where the heavens and earth meet. You are the Word made flesh, so help us to put flesh onto your teaching. Let us live with the love you have for all people and may we be so inspired by your grace that we not only share it with others but accept it for ourselves. When we are weary or afraid, when we question the path ahead, Christ reveals the reward of your sacred presence with us. We never go alone and as close as our breath, God is here. By your Spirit, inspire us to be with and look after one another. All this we pray through Christ who taught us to pray saying, Our Father*, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

If you are a part of the Grace community, your continued support makes a world of difference right now, and if you are new to Grace your support means a lot too. If you would like to give an offering online you can do so at gracedesmoines.org and click on giving.

But this week, may we not only give an offering of our finances, let’s be the kind of offering that Christ calls us to be. May we give, may we love, may we pray, not seeking a reward from others, because our reward is participating in the divine love that is moving with and through us and everything else. God is with us, so as best as we can, may we offer this love to ourselves and one another.

Thank you for being with us this morning. If this was helpful and you know someone that you’d like to share this with, feel free to share this video. Even if someone doesn’t have Facebook they’ll be able to watch it here or on our website at gracedesmoines.org

May we all go into this week with the promise and the presence of God’s love. This is new, let’s not forget we are beginners, so let’s remember that our new will become normal and our normal will become second nature, so may our left hand not know what our right hand is doing, because it’s only natural and normal that our hands would be seeking God’s grace and peace.

Sunday, March 22 - Matthew 6:1-6

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Sunday, March 22, 2020

Matthew 6:7-15

When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your [God] knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly [God] will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your [God] forgive your sins.

The Prayer Jesus Taught

Matthew 6:7-15

Thank you for joining us at Grace – it is great to be with you all today, thank you for being with us on Facebook or watching from our website. We are continuing to journey through the Sermon on the Mount together and as we do there is one announcement that I need to lift up before we move on.

As you may have noticed, the date of Easter is different every year. Christmas is always December 25 but Easter moves around because at the Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. The reason for celebrating Easter as we do is that the seasonal change mirrors the resurrection that Easter speaks of. It also keeps us connected to the Jewish holiday schedule that Christ would have known. Just as life is springing back after winter, with Easter we celebrate this same Spirit springing us back to life.

This year, the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox is April 12. The current State of Public Health Disaster Emergency that Governor Reynolds prohibits gatherings of ten or more people are prohibited and that prohibition is currently set to expire on April 16, with schools opening on the 13. With everything that we don’t know at this moment, there is a chance that we will be back together on April 19 at Grace, but as COVID-19 continues to spread, our first in-person gathering may be pushed back farther than April 19.

Here’s what all this means for us – we’re going to celebrate Easter twice this year. It will be Easter on April 12 and it will be Easter when we come back together at Grace. There’s a hymn called, ‘Easter People, Raise Your Voices’ and one of the verses says, “Every day to us is Easter with its resurrection song.”

What I’m holding onto is that when we get to come back together, we will do so because we came through this together. That’s resurrection.

Until we get to that first worship service in our sanctuary, continue to reach out to one another and check in with each other. I just got a card yesterday from Dan and Mary Paulson and it made my day. The small acts that we do to let one another know that we care aren’t so small in this moment. So keep doing what you’re doing, be a people worthy of being called Grace and live with the love that God has already given us.

Now, let’s take a moment to center ourselves, to catch our breath and remember that God is already with us. So let’s take a moment of silence and prayer.

God you invite us into your presence, weary or heavy-laden, we dwell in the presence of the divine. We come with our grief, our anger, our fear,

our hopes, our dreams, our love, trusting all is welcome here. We come to hear and proclaim the Good News that sets us free, believing that love is yet alive, come and the Spirit is stirring among and within us. Open our hearts and minds so that we might be renewed together. Amen.

Our reading from the Sermon on the Mount this morning comes from Matthew, chapter 6, verses 7 to 15.

When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your [God] knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly [God] will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your [God] forgive your sins.

– – – – – – –

We have been journeying through the Sermon on the Mount, looking at this teaching from Jesus and seeing how it builds and develops. At first glance, the Sermon on the Mount appears to be this meandering teaching that wonders from one place to another, but together we’ve been able to see how it builds and grows and develops.

If you have missed any of our teachings on the Sermon on the Mount you can find them on our Facebook page, at gracedesmoines.org and we’ve started a youtube page too and the last two weeks of this series are available there.

Last week we looked at what Jesus meant when he said, “…when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. In teaching us to see ourselves at the people God already knows we are, Jesus is reminding us that things in this life go from new, to normal, to second nature. When we are just getting started, when we are beginning, when we are learning, everything is new which means everything doesn’t come naturally. And yet, as we learn, as we continue to grow and develop, the patterns and habits of our lives become normal and from there they become our second nature, like riding a bike.

When you first learn how to ride a bike you have to think about every aspect of getting on the bike, picking up one foot, picking up the other, and keeping your balance. But over time it becomes normal and your movements become natural, so natural you don’t have to think about it anymore, it’s second nature.

In times like this, when everything is new, when the world is shifting all around us in a multitude of ways, we have to remind ourselves that this is new, it isn’t our normal, but we can learn, we can grow, we can be patient with ourselves and one another as we discover this new life together.

As comforting as that is, we also need to admit that when everything is new and different, when we are beginning, things are also frustrating, confusing, and we can be anxious.

I was thinking back to my brief time as a baseball player in elementary school. I was on YMCA teams that started with t-ball, and as we learned the game we would progress to coach pitch, and from there we were finally able to pitch.

I would get distracted during the game, I’d see someone I knew in the stands, I’d watch cars drive by, my head wasn’t always in the game, so I played left field. But there were times when I paid complete attention, and that was when I was at bat. I loved being up to bat as a kid because when it’s t-ball or coach pitch, almost everyone is an amazing batter. It’s more of a struggle to stay off base than it is to get on.

Even when I moved up to the next level, I was decent as a batter, for a kid playing against other kids that were still learning how to play baseball. But all that changed the first time I got hit by a wild pitch.

There was a game where at my first at bat, I was hit. And I was hit at my second at bat. And I was hit at my third too.

One of my more vivid childhood memories is getting hit three times during one game and I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t like playing baseball anymore.”

I know that if the person I am right now went back in time and talked to little Nate and said, “Keep your chin up kid, things will move from new to normal to second nature”, little Nate would have said back, “If second nature is getting hit with a baseball, I quit.”

We all have the moments where we just want to quit.

Has anyone else been exhausted?

There are days when I can hardly keep my eyes open till 9 and when I think about my day I just retrace the different places I sat to read or write or make a call. None of my activities are physically taxing, and yet, they are exhausting because that’s what stress does to us.

We are beginners, we are learners, we are discovering what it means to love ourselves, one another, and God in this moment, but when everything is new, it’s natural and normal to find ourselves feeling frustration or even anger because we don’t have a new normal that we can fall back on.

Too often we confuse our capacity for love and understanding and mercy from the well that we draw from.

I don’t know how you’re feeling at this moment, but for myself, all I know is that if I can only make it through this with my love and understanding and mercy, I’m not going to make it and I’m going to keep finding new grey hairs.

Too often we confuse our capacity for love and understanding and mercy from the depths of the well that we can draw from.

This is why after Jesus teaches us what it looks like to grow, after Jesus reminds us that we are beloved and blessed no matter what we’ve done and no matter what has been done to us, after Jesus says that we are, not that we could be, not that we can be, but that are we salt and light, after all this, Jesus teaches us to pray.

When we pour ourselves out into this work of caring for one another, into learning new ways to live and be in the world, as we empty ourselves, we have to be refilled. That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray.

When you think about prayer, what sorts of words or images come to mind? One picture that I often think of with prayer is a painting that was in both of my grandparents’ homes and it was of an old man sitting down at a table with some bread and he had his hands folded and his head bowed down.

Maybe we picture a scene like that, maybe when we hear the word prayer we think of pious individuals, we see monks or nuns. On the other hand, when we hear the word prayer maybe we imagine the televangelists that somehow make it onto national news and say this virus or any other natural disaster is God’s anger directed at us.

Prayer can be a tricky word. At it’s best, it’s sweet like a peach, but at the same time prayer is hard like the pit.

Before we get to the prayer that Jesus teaches you, I want to tell you a story about St. Patrick.

St. Patrick’s day was a couple of weeks ago and St. Patrick is celebrated as the apostle of Ireland. It’s a little difficult on this side of history to imagine it, but there was a time when Irish Catholic was a phrase that didn’t make sense.

St. Patrick grew up in England, and when he was in his teens, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates. Imagine Bono with a parrot and an eyepatch.

For six years, Patrick was held in captivity. During those six years, Patrick spent a lot of time in prayer, seeking mercy, understanding, patience, and forgiveness. This practice of prayer influenced other areas of his life, and Patrick started to see that God was already with him in countless ways. Prayer, for Patrick, wasn’t about asking for anything as much as it was about paying attention.

After six years, Patrick heard a voice, he had this vision in his mind of a ship waiting for him at the shore, and the voice told Patrick that soon he would be home. So Patrick started walking towards the shore, which was 200 miles away.

28 days later, Patrick saw a ship waiting at the shore, and he sailed home.

But that’s not where the story of St. Patrick ends.

He studied, became a priest, and eventually traveled back to Ireland as a missionary.

As a missionary, St. Patrick took an interesting approach to telling the people in Ireland and about the God we know in Christ. Because St. Patrick didn’t condemn them, he didn’t say they were all going to hell if they didn’t believe as he did, instead, St. Patrick said you already know this God, you just don’t know God by name. St. Patrick started explaining the Christian faith in a new way, famously with a shamrock, explaining the trinity like a three-leaf clover.

When St. Patrick taught people to pray, this is what he did:

Patrick would tell people to imagine they were in their garden (because in a time without grocery stores everyone had a garden). Patrick would say imagine you are in your garden, and Jesus is there talking with the disciples. Now, when Jesus says talking with the disciples, he meant the 12 closest followers that Jesus had, he also meant Mary, Martha, and the other women that followed and supported Jesus. Patrick also meant the desert fathers and mothers, he also meant Paul and the authors of the New Testament. Patrick wanted people to imagine a crowded and talkative group of people that we trying to follow Jesus, spending time together in their garden. Patrick would ask, as he taught people to pray, imagining all these people in the garden, what are they talking about?

St. Patrick wanted us to open our imaginations up with prayer, to see ourselves as taking part in this ongoing dialogue with the divine.

Prayer, at its best, cuts through the noise and the fear and the ego that gets in the way of the ever present interior conversation that we are having with God.

Before Jesus teaches us to pray, Jesus says, “When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your [God] knows what you need before you ask.”

According to Jesus, prayer isn’t a check-list that we go through, it’s not something to achieve or accomplish, whatever we need God already knows. For Jesus, prayer is less a ritual or routine as it is a reality to embody.

In Greek, Jesus says that we should not battalogeó when we pray; we shouldn’t “pour out a flood of empty words”. You could also translate it as don’t blubber on and on with nonsense.

I sometimes think about it like this – have you ever been talking with someone and you know what they want to ask you for a favor, but they feel like they need to butter you up first, so they are chatting and complimenting you, but in your head, you are thinking, “just get to the point!”

In our reading this morning, before teaching us what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says to us, it’s not your words that makes God hear you. Jesus says that God, “knows what you need before you ask…”

The essence of prayer is the love of God and sometimes we confuse the mechanics of prayer with the essence of prayer. The mechanics, the words, images, techniques, and styles of prayer that we have, it’s all there to open us up to the love that is God.

When Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, Jesus gives them a new imagination, to see and understand prayer in a different light.

Like the disciples, sometimes we think that we don’t know how to pray. And yet, at the very same time, we pray, not because we are religious, but because we are human. There is something in each one of us that longs to reach out to the divine.

Does anyone else underlines passages in a book or writes notes in the margins? I do that all the time and recently I was re-reading a book from school and there was a passage that was underlined and as I re-read it this week I found that sentence confusing but another passage was profound.

When that happens, when other words stand out to you, it’s not that the words in the book have changed, you’ve changed.

Prayer is not the words or the images that we use, in the end, those are only excavation tools that help us enter into the ever-present and ongoing conversation that we have with God about the life we find ourselves in. If you’re not sure how to pray, what words or phrases or images help you to get back into that conversation? Can you imagine Jesus and the disciples hanging out in your yard? What would they be talking about today?

If you’re still not sure what to say or do, try this – think about your favorite song or the song that inspires you to turn up the radio and sing along because it’s your jam. When the music plays, what’s happening within you? How has the music and lyrics taken a hold of you?

Sometimes when we pray, we have all the words and they come to us quickly, but other times, we just don’t have any words at all. So in those moments when you can’t find the words for yourself, whose words can you draw on? Maybe your prayer could be your favorite song? Or could prayer be the songs or the poems that bring you joy, what inspire you? Could you pray and live through the music and the lyrics that bring you peace and therefore brings you closer to God?

Jesus says, “Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly [God] will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your [God] forgive your sins.”

Prayer is never simply the words that we say, it’s the life that we live. As Christians, we cannot pray for our lives to go one direction and then finish our prayer and start living another way. That’s not prayer, that’s just babbling on and on.

Prayer is a challenge to live differently, to be faithful and trust in grace.

Jesus invites us to pray for, and embody, the love of God, to be a people that, just like Jesus, live as we pray and pray as we live, grounded, centered, and rooted in the love of God that will never let us go.

Of all that can and should be said about this prayer that Jesus teaches us, the one idea that has struck me the most this week is that Jesus says, “God knows”.

In a time of worry and stress and uncertainty, in a time of disarray and confusion, as we try to move from new, to normal, to second nature in this new life that we are living together, with everything that we don’t know, God knows.

Sometimes the difference in our souls between defeat and determination is a millimeter.

What keeps me moving a millimeter at a time isn’t my strength or grace or mercy, it’s the depths of grace that I draw from, it’s the prayer that forces me to remember that God already knows.

If you don’t know what else to pray, saying to God, “you already know” is enough.

As the great poet Pablo Neruda said, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”

There is an insistence, and persistence in life that keeps unfolding without our energy or effort.

We cannot confuse our energy or our efforts with the well that we draw from.

There is a depth of mercy and grace and love that is far deeper than anything within us, and the good news is that God already knows, God is already with us, and God will renew us.

By our efforts, by our energy, we can only go so far, and God already knows. We can and we should strive to take every step forward possible, but we can only do so if we remember that when we give, when we pour ourselves out, we have to receive and be refilled.

As Teresa of Ávila prayed:

“..May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.

May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.

May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”

As we come together in prayer now, let’s remember those in our community and in our lives that we want to lift up, feel free to write in the comments any prayers that you have. We’re going to join together now in a prayer written by Anna and M of enfleshed and we will provide a link to them in the comments if you are interested in their work that speaks to the God that already knows and is already with us. Let us pray:

Divine Companion,

when loved ones, strangers, and kin are tucked away in isolation,

fighting for their breath and yearning for home,

the chasm between us feels impossible to bear.

Will you, Sacred One,

whisper to them the words of comfort we long to speak?

Will you wrap your embrace around them as if our arms?

Let their hands feel our gentle squeeze.

Their cheek, our kiss.

Upon their chest, a calming hand,

a promise of our care through the rising and falling,

in every reach for life…

Assure them of your love, and ours.

Call for a holy cloud of witnesses to surround –

draw close every saint who knew and loved them.

You do not abandon anyone to suffer alone.

Wherever there is pain, fear, or distress,

You are already there,

willingly sharing with us in our hardest hours.

If death comes,

welcome them gently into the fold of eternal love

where peace and rest await.

In life and in death,

we take refuge in your Presence that stretches across time and space,

a Sacred meeting place where we find each other

even when we are apart.

May it be so.

Amen.

If you want to give to Grace during this time, one of the best ways for you to do so is to give online. You can visit gracedesmoines.org and give there, you can also feel free to put a check in the mail and send it to the church. As we continue to pay and support our staff so that we can all support one another, your gifts are making a huge difference.

In addition to what we can give financially, together let’s think about the ways that we can be an offering to ourselves and one another. If prayer is how we refill and renew ourselves, if prayer is how we fill ourselves from the depths of the well that is God’s grace, mercy, and peace so that we may share grace, mercy, and peace with one another, what are the ways that you can refill and renew this week? Or if you are spending time with others at home, my guess is your home feels a little smaller than it used to by now. How can you give one another space, how can you refill yourself and what can you do to help someone else feel renewed? Maybe it’s going on a walk, working on a craft, taking a nap, listening to your favorite song, or simply saying to God in prayer, you already know.

God knows what you need, and God knows we can give ourselves everything we need on our own. So may you let yourself be renewed and refilled by the God that already knows and with that, may we all live with grace and peace. Amen.

Sermon from Sunday, March 29, The Prayer Jesus Taught

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Sunday, March 29, 2020

Matthew 6:19-24

“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Palms and Gates

Thank you all for joining me this morning at Grace, my name is Nate Nims and it is an honor to join you between two palms. It is great to be able to have this time together. If you are watching with us on Facebook, introduce yourselves to one another in the comments, say hi, to the friends and neighbors near and far that are joining us.

As you do that, there are just a couple of announcements that I want share. Today is Palm Sunday, it’s the start of Holy Week and we’re going to have a couple of extra services together at Grace online. Thursday night we’re going to have a digital potluck. Maundy Thursday is when we celebrate and remember the last supper that Jesus shared with the disciples as well as the command to love one another as Christ has loved us. Thursday at 6 pm I hope you will be able to join us on Facebook in our digital potluck – on Thursday we want everyone to swap recipes, share pictures of what you are eating, and we will come together and share a meal with one another. So that’s will be on Thursday at 6 pm.

On Friday we will have a brief Good Friday service at noon as we remember and commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion and find ourselves at the cross.

I hope you will be able to join us at both of these opportunities, and, as always since we are online, if you can’t be with us live you can always catch up with us later. Speaking of which, if you don’t know what to make for our digital potluck on Thursday and missed my cooking video during the week you can find that here on Facebook and learn how to make Kimchi and Spam Fried Rice.

As we prepare ourselves for this time of worship and study together, let’s take a moment of silence to catch our breath, find our center, by remembering that God is with us…

Let us pray,

We cry out, save us, O God! Protect our children. Give rest to our elders. Watch over our caregivers. Bring peace to all our hearts. In our moments of uncertainty, may we be certain that Christ hears us because Christ is one with and for us. Living among us. Living within us and there is no greater hope than this! Blessed are we and blessed all who come in the name of love, so may our hearts be turned towards this great love now and always. Amen.

We are continuing to study the Sermon on the Mount and this morning our reading is from Matthew, chapter 6, verses 19 to 24. Jesus says:

“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

If you have been with us throughout this series of teachings from The Sermon on the Mount, you’ve been able to see how this teaching from Christ builds and develops on itself. There is a beautiful internal logic that inspires us to be the people God believes we are.

I don’t know about you all, but for the last few weeks I’ve been shocked, even though I should be, but I’ve been shocked at how relevant the Sermon on the Mount is to our lives today.

The Sermon on the Mount is one of Jesus’ most explicit teachings about what it means to follow his ways, and amazingly it has a lot to tell us about our lives in this very moment.

So just to review where we’ve been so we can have a clear picture of where we’re going, let’s remember that the Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. In this teaching, Jesus doesn’t begin with shame or blame or guilt or fear. From the start, from the very beginning, Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who are confused, blessed are those who are lost, blessed are those that are trying to keep it all together, blessed are those that can’t keep anything together. This teaching begins with the love of God that is with us and everyone else regardless of what we have done or what has been done to us.

If we are going to be a people that follow the teachings of Jesus, we have to begin at the beginning. If we can’t get step one right, we’ll trip as we try to take step two. The first step with Jesus, the first step with God, is always love and grace and an abiding presence of mercy that is with and for us and everyone else.

Next, Jesus goes on to tell us that we are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world. It’s not that Jesus tells us we could be, it’s not that Jesus tells us to follow these five steps and then we will be. Jesus doesn’t give advice, he makes an announcement – you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world, the good that you do, the way you live and move in this life, the mercy and grace and justice that you witness to gives glory to God and only you can light up the world as you do, only you can enhance the flavor of this life like you do.

From there, Jesus begins to shape an ethic that is transformed by love, an ethic that is centered on caring for one another with dignity and respect, seeing and treating everyone as whole persons that are beloved and blessed by God. The way that we live as salt and light is honest, it’s caring, it seeks reconciliation instead of retaliation and always seeks the common good while especially seeking the good of those who are the most vulnerable among us.

Because we are giving ourselves to this life of grace and peace, because we are pouring ourselves out into the hard work of love, Christ knows that we need to be refilled, we need to be renewed.

That’s what we were talking about last week as we looked at the prayer Jesus taught. As Jesus teaches us to pray, Jesus reminds us that God already knows – when we can’t put our feelings into words but we still feel them, God knows and God cares. When we feel lost and aren’t sure what direction to go, God knows and God cares. Jesus teaches us to pray by teaching us to say to God, you already know.

Too often we confuse the depths of our love and mercy with the well that we draw from in God. I don’t know about you, but my mercy, my grace, is limited and if I’m not refilled and renewed, I’m going to run dry.

The good news is that God already knows and is always with us to refresh and renew our spirits.

With this renewal in mind, Jesus now moves towards telling us what it looks like to trust in this movement of God. If we live knowing there is a well that we can draw from, if we remember that our depth of love is only a glimmer of what we can find when we are renewed with in God, how will we live together?

Jesus says, “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Essentially Jesus seems to be asking us, if you believe you can be refilled and renewed, why would you ever need to hoard?

It’s almost like Jesus is asking, if you know the toilet paper shelves are going to be restocked, why do you have to buy a years supply on every trip to the store?

Let’s first say what this passage isn’t about, because we can all likely think of wealthy people that are generous and wealthy people that are greedy just like we can think of people that are poor that are generous and we can think of people that are poor that are greedy.

This teaching isn’t about how much or how little we have. Instead, it’s about how we see, use, and share what we have.

It begins with a choice – Jesus tells us that we can store up for ourselves treasures for our own benefit, or we can store for ourselves treasures in heaven.

It’s important to notice that when Jesus is talking about where we find our treasure, Jesus isn’t talking about now or later. When Jesus says heaven, he’s not talking about the future as much as he is speaking to an eternal reality that begins now and lasts forever.

When the Sermon on the Mount begins, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Jesus isn’t saying that the poor in spirit get an atta boy because someday God will be with them. When Jesus talks about heaven Jesus is talking about the presence of God that is with us now and will never let us go. Heaven is not an abstract future idea, it is an eternal current that is now and forever.

Are we seeking a treasure that endures, that sustains and renews us, or are we seeking a treasure that can be lost, that fades away?

In the New Testament there’s a letter called 1 Timothy where they expand on this idea of storing up for ourselves treasure on earth. It’s written there, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

When it’s written, “Command those who are rich” it’s our default to assume that they’re talking about someone else.

I don’t know how you all are doing at the moment, but I, against my better judgement, took a look at my retirement fund recently. When I saw the graph change direction I quickly looked away. I’m not going to check it again for a couple of years and I’m lucky enough to be able to do that.

Just a few sentences before it’s written, “Command those who are rich” they define what it means to be rich. It’s written in 1 Timothy, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

If you have food, if you have clothing, you have riches enough for contentment.

At a deep level within us, we all know this is true. Wealth does not come from having more than enough, true wealth comes from having enough and being content with that.

But at the very same time, while we all know that money can’t buy happiness, money can buy a jet ski and I’ve never seen anyone frown on a jet ski.

In the ethic that Jesus teaches us throughout the Sermon on the Mount, there is a clear and consistent call to take care of one another, especially the most vulnerable among us. Jesus teaches us to take care of one another, to look after everyone just as God is looking after us, to see one another as beloved and blessed children of the divine, which is why Jesus has to ask us about the orientation of our hearts and our treasure.

Do we trust in what we can provide ourselves, do we trust in our own strength, our own abilities, our own goodness and grace, do we trust in what we can hoard and cling to, or, do we trust that God will renew us, do we trust that when we have reached the end of ourselves God will still be there to take care of us?

Jesus is asking us, after teaching us to pray, after telling us that whatever we truly need God already knows, Jesus is asking us, do you trust in scarcity or abundance?

If we believe in a life of scarcity, of course we are going to claw our way into hoarding anything and everything we can because at the core of our being we don’t trust that there is enough to go around. If we believe in scarcity, if we trust treasures for our own benefit only, than we will never have enough because we don’t believe this life can provide enough.

But if we trust in abundance, if we believe that God will not only renew but refill us, when we can pray and live knowing that God already knows, when we look at the world we don’t simply see enough to go around, we see more than enough, we see joy, we see hope, we see love, we see abundance that will not only get us through but will provide for everyone else too.

This is why Jesus says next, “The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be!”

We all know that there is more than enough to go around, we can all be clothed, we can all be fed, we can all live with the contentment that is found in the prayer we say every week as we ask for our daily bread. Maybe we can’t all have a McMansion, maybe we can’t all have a super yacht, but we know, we all know deep down, that there is more than enough to go around. The question isn’t is there enough, the question is do we trust that there is enough, the question is, how do you see things? Full of light full of abundance full of renewal and redemption, or do we see scarcity, do we see lack, do we see emptiness?

Just think of the moment that we find ourselves in right now – are we isolated or are we protecting one another and making sure the most vulnerable among us are taken care of? Are we separated and alone or are we in this together?

Here are a couple of questions that you can ask yourself each day this week to check with yourself and see how you are really seeing things:

What am I grateful for?

What goodness have I contributed to?

What grace came my way?

Ask yourself those question each day this week:

What am I grateful for?

What goodness have I contributed to?

What grace came my way?

Every day there is a something that we are grateful for, every there is a goodness that we can be a part of, every day there is a grace that comes to us.

Today I am grateful for the time that we have together, for this connection, for these moments that remind us we aren’t alone. I’m thankful for the rabbits that are making a nest in my yard. Irene and I know there’s more than one rabbit, but Irene calls every one in our yard by the gender neutral name, Francis, and Francis reminds me that this life is more beautiful, simple, and profound, than I realize.

I hope I have contributed to some goodness with you all. I made Irene coffee this morning so I know I contributed to goodness there. (Partially because in the first draft of the sermon, I said I named Francis and I don’t want to see that look again.)

And I thank God that I woke up today. I thank God for the simple grace of each breath, for each way that you take care of one another, that we continue to be a people worthy of calling ourselves Grace.

Jesus wants to know if the trust that we have in the God who already knows gets translated into how we see the world.

Which brings us to Palm Sunday.

In John 12:12 it’s written, “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem” When you are reading the Bible, never be afraid to ask the obvious question – in this case – what festival are people celebrating?

In Jerusalem, the Jewish people were getting ready to celebrate Passover and remember the Exodus, the liberation and freedom that God brings. While they were slaves in Egypt, God heard the cry of the oppressed and rescued them. God took the side of the oppressed, the overlooked, the beaten down, and God said I am going to raise you up.

Passover is the festival that brings that freedom to life – it’s remembering that the story of Exodus didn’t just happen, it happens, this isn’t a story from history, it’s our story, it’s our way of life, where we join with God in making things right, in working for liberation and freedom from anything that enslaves us or anyone else.

Jesus is coming to Jerusalem for the Passover and, “They took palm branches and went out to meet him. They shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the king of Israel. Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Don’t be afraid, daughter Zion. Look! your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”

The significance of palm branches is like the significance of fireworks on the 4th of July.

Palm branches are a bit like protest signs – people are holding up the hope, the promise, the justice, the joy that they know God wants for us and for everyone else.

In 141 BCE, Simon Maccabee, aka Simon the Hammer leads a revolt against the Syrians that had tried to occupy and rule over Jerusalem.

Simon Maccabee wins this war and it’s written in 1 Maccabees that, “…the Jews entered [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs. A great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.” (13:51-52)

Around 10 years later there was another war, the Bar Kokhba revolt. It was a war against the Roman empire and to encourage the people to fight against Rome, new coins were minted so wherever people went, whatever they bought or sold, they would see palm branches. The coin was a reminder that while this war may rage on, we’ve been here before, we’ve won, and God is still with us.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem, what are the people saying, what are people doing, they’re waving palm branches to say it one way, and then they just come out and say it, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the king of Israel.”

Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, comes to us as a very different kind of king. If a king came looking for war, they would be on a horse, but what kind of king comes humbly on a donkey? We would expect a king to show pride, to lift themselves up, to make the most of their position and power, but Jesus comes into Jerusalem humbly, riding on the back of a donkey.

Zechariah 9:9, written roughly 500 years before Christ says, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you, He is righteous and victorious. He is humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.”

Through humility, through grace, with this patient and persistent love we find God’s righteousness and victory.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount and today on Palm Sunday wants to know how we see things. Do we see the God that already knows? Do we see the grace that is all around us? Do we see God riding to victory? Can we see hope on the back of a donkey?

Today we remember that God is with us, so where do we see the God that is always with us?

We’ve got our palm branches ready, what are you crying out for? What do we see, what potential, what possibility, what hope are you looking for, and what do we need to see? Where is love going to be made real? Where is hope going to be made manifest? Where is grace going to be enfleshed and embodied?

If this was a regular, in person Sunday at Grace, today would be a morning we would be sharing communion with one another.

This might not be a regular moment, and yet, we are still here together, invited by Christ, to recognize that everyone is welcome here. Every time we have communion it is my privilege to say this table belongs to Christ and at Christ’s table everyone is welcome because when we see a table we see what Christ sees.

When Jesus shares the his last meal with the disciples, he tells them to do this in remembrance of me, to see the simple and every day elements of bread and the cup as a sign, a witness, a promise of God’s goodness and grace.

For Jesus, every table is an altar.

I don’t know if you have crackers and grace juice at home, but whatever you have is a blessing, a grace, a goodness blessed by God that can be received in remembrance of Christ.

Jesus is no longer physically on earth, yet every time we gather around a table, God is present with us in Spirit.

Not only is God with us, we can also want to call to mind those who need our prayers and God’s comfort.

Those who have lost loved ones

Those who are sick and recovering

Those who are caring for loved ones who are sick at home

Those who are caring for persons in medical care

Those who are separated from loved ones

Those who are feeling alone and isolated

Those who are helping and are so very tired

Those who are struggling to find friends, food, and comfort

Those who are afraid

In addition to all those that we know, may we also take a deep breath on behalf of all those we do not know and cannot call by name. As we do so, we know that God knows that the breath and the Spirit of God, is moving within and around us as compassion and presence.

As we eat, as we make our way through this week, as we take things one day and one moment at a time, may we have eyes full of light, that we can see, and taste, and live into the goodness and grace that is with us in this and every moment.

Your coffee, your tea, your bacon and eggs, are communion with the God that calls us to remember and know that we are blessed and beloved, we are, still, and even more than ever, a community of grace and peace.

Let us pray,

Holy Comforter, we have gathered in your name, welcomed by the invitation of Jesus as we are bound together with your Spirit in union with one another. Today, feed our bodies and our souls with your comforting presence so that we might be your comfort to others. Bless us with eyes full of light so that we might see the fullness of your love that is with and for us and everyone else. All of our tables are an altar, so may our hearts be broken open, may our love be poured out, so that we might be refilled and renewed with your grace and peace. All this we pray through Christ who teaches us to pray saying…

If you are a support of Grace, please continue to financially support Grace online. You can visit our website, gracedesmoines.org and give there. At this time that is the best way that you can financially support our church, but you can also put mail an offering to the church. It’s one thing to give an offering of our finances, but it’s another to be an offering in our lives. May we live this offering as we build up for one another treasures in heaven right here, right now. God is with us, so may we shelter not only in place, but in peace. May the peace and comfort of Christ be present with you now and forevermore. Amen.

Thank you for joining us at Grace this morning, I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Palm Sunday

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Sunday, April 5, 2020
Holy Monday

Holy Monday

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Monday, April 6, 2020
Holy Tuesday

Holy Week - Tuesday

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Holy Wednesday

Holy Wednesday

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Maundy Thursday 
Maundy Thursday

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Thursday, April 9, 2020
Good Friday
Good Friday

Music and readings for Good Friday (previously recorded)

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Friday, April 10, 2020

Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly [God] feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith?

Don't Worry
Easter – Don’t Worry

Matthew 6:25-34

It feels a little different to say Happy Easter this morning, and we’ve got to admit that from the start.

And yet, we have still gathered together today in a way unlike ever before to celebrate the promise that is resurrection. Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.

On this unconventional Easter morning, we’re likely to identify with the Easter story in a new way, maybe in a way we’ve never thought about it before. Because after Jesus’ death, the disciples were filled with fear, they were afraid, they too were locked away with worries and anxieties and doubts. Everything that they knew, the life that they had given themselves to, had disappeared. But what do we know about that?

After everything that the followers of Christ had been through, they must have wondered to themselves, “Are things every going to be OK again?”

I don’t know what you are facing this moment, I know we, just like those first followers of Jesus, find ourselves locked away with questions and worries, and yet, whatever you are facing, I want you to know that there is hope.

Easer reminds us that the resurrected Christ brings joy and peace and justice and grace to us even when we find ourselves closed behind fear and helplessness.

Today, hope is unlocked, so may we open ourselves to this hope now, and always.

I’d invite you to join with me in a call to worship, and after I speak, I’d invite you to respond saying: Christ is risen!

This year, Easter is different. Even so…

Christ is risen!

We long to be together. Even so…

Christ is risen!

While we are apart, we are in this together.

Christ is risen!

Beauty, joy, love, passion, and justice cannot be canceled.

Christ is risen!

The Spirit of Life cannot be contained.

Christ is risen!

Let us pray,

Holy One, you tell us that there is an everlasting love that will never let us or anyone else go. When our days are filled with isolation, and our nights abound with questions and concerns, unlock hope within our hearts. When we feel closed in by fear, in our greatest pain, in our heaviest grief, open our hearts and minds to your hope that cannot be contained. Give us faith, O God, to trust that your Spirit is at work, even now, for resurrection continues to unfold around us and within us. Amen.

Together we are continuing to learn from the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount, and our reading Matthew 6:25-34. Jesus says:

“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly [God] feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly [God] knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

– – – – – –

If you’ve been around Grace as long as I’ve been preaching here, you know that I have a few odd habits. In addition to my appreciation for true crime and professional wrestling, over the past few weeks I’ve started to watch ‘Doomsday Preppers” on Netflix. It’s great because I can watch it and imagine what my life would have been like if I started panicking before it was cool.

One of the unique things about the show ‘Doomsday Preppers’ is that after everyone on the show tell you how they are preparing for the end of the world, their level of preparedness is graded and if they don’t get an A+, 10 out of 10 grade, they quickly come up with some explanation about why the experts are wrong.

I wonder how those folks are doing right now.

The people on ‘Doomsday Preppers’ have dedicated themselves to worst-case-scenario planning and here we are. Is this their dream or their nightmare? Are they happy that they worried so much and for so long? Have their worries made them any safer than the rest of us?

In our reading this morning, Jesus says, “don’t worry about your life” and part of me wants to say back, “you can’t be serious.”

Worry sometimes feels like a tangled string of Christmas lights. We tell ourselves that it should be easy to get everything unraveled but as we try to pull things apart sometimes we find ourselves in a bigger knot.

And yet, Jesus asks us, more than that, Jesus commands us, “don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly [God] feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you”.

The Sermon on the Mount builds and develops on itself. This isn’t a meandering sermon where Jesus jumps from one topic to another. If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that we examined what it means to see the world with eyes full of light. Jesus tells us that since we are blessed when we are poor in spirit, since we are empowered and entrusted to live as salt and light, since we are to see everyone as our siblings in God, it’s not just that we start to live in a new way, we also see ourselves and one another in a new way. Because we are a people that know and trust in God’s goodness and abundance, we don’t live with scarcity, we don’t cling and claw our way through this life, rather, we seek to be perfect in love as God is perfect in love.

Last week as we looked at what Jesus said about how we see ourselves and one another, we also heard Jesus say that we cannot serve God and money. If you look carefully at what Jesus says, Jesus never says that money in and of itself is evil, or bad, or wrong. The point that Jesus is making isn’t that wealth is immoral, Jesus is saying that if we seek pursuit of wealth and money and make that our master, our Lord, or goal in life, we will be lost.

This morning, Jesus tells us why the money is a poor master, because if all we seek is more and more and more we can believe that there is less and less and less to go around.

If we are not careful, when it comes to how much we need, the answer will always become just a little bit more.

Love operates from a different sort of economy. Love is not stockpiled, it is not hoarded, love is freely shared. When we live into this love, this abundance, we live into what Jesus calls the kin-dom of God, the family of God, the care and community of God, don’t worry becomes an actual option for us and we know what it means for hope to be unlocked.

Jesus dies on the cross not to balance some cosmic account of our sins. If we are tracking and counting wrongs vs rights we aren’t living into love. With love their is no score card, there is no I did this for you so you must do this for me.

Jesus died on the cross because those in power were so invested in their world of scarcity that God’s abundance was terrifying. How could they cling to what they had if everything was God’s to share? How could they justify their exclusion if God’s love includes and welcomes everyone?

Rather than living into this great love, scarcity and fear Christ was crucified, but God doesn’t operate from fear or lack, only love. In response to the cross, God resurrects, God creates again and again and again, giving life even to the dead.

This is the hope that Jesus invites us to live into – resurrection.

Easter blooms with our wildest hopes in the face of our most withering doubts.

Today the tomb is as empty as our sanctuary because the hope that resurrection has unlocked cannot be contained. What seems empty at first is actually abounding with joy and love and peace for us and for everything because God says fear never gets the last word.

In the Gospel of John it’s written,“Early in the morning of the first day of the week while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” All the Gospel writers tell us that women were the first to arrive to the tomb, the first to announce the resurrection, because church ladies are always the first to get what needs to be done, done.

When Mary first arrives at the tomb she is weeping, she is afraid that the stone has been rolled away and she assumes all is lost. In this moment, it’s not enough that Jesus is dead, now she can’t even grieve properly.

As Mary is weeping, she sees someone and assumes they are the gardner. Mary says to them, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him…because I am in no mood this morning” Somehow the second half of that sentence missed the final edits in the New Testament.

Mary doesn’t recognize that the gardener that stands before her is Jesus until he calls her by name.

Resurrection is transformative, it creates anew, which is not simply resuscitation.

With resuscitation things can go back to how they used to be but resurrection is transformation, it’s renewal, it’s the new creation that springs forth from within us and all around us.

What this means for us is that if we are struggling, anxious, worried, feeling isolated or alone, what we will experience is not resuscitation, we will not always fall back into those feelings because fear and worry will not last forever.

For this to happen, for resurrection to take hold, something has to die. Anxiety is replaced with hope, fear is replaced with grace, and our worries are replaced with love because God is making all things new.

We see this when a seed turns into a flower or a caterpillar turns into a butterfly or a tadpole turns into a frog. Each turns into a new thing, metamorphosed into a transformed life. They are not resuscitated into what they once were.

If you look at the chrysalis of a butterfly, what you find is an empty tomb. The caterpillar is gone and now the butterfly lives. Caterpillars crawl while butterflies float. Butterflies know what it means to share their beauty by not resuscitating their old ways but resurrecting into new ways.

When Mary recognizes Jesus she goes to give him a hug and he says something kind of strange to her, Jesus says, “Don’t hold on to me…”

Jesus has to practice social distancing too, but there is something more going on here.

Mary realizes that Jesus is here, he’s back, death does not have the last word, love wins, so she goes to embrace him, and Jesus says, “Don’t hold on to me…”

Jesus says don’t hold onto me because Mary assumes that things can go back to how they used to be, back to the good ol’ days but that isn’t what Jesus has in mind. Resurrection isn’t about the past, it’s not about how things once were, resurrection is about the eternal life that begins now, it’s about a fresh start that makes us new.

Resurrection is the hope, the promise, that everything broken, everything estranged, anything that belittles, or dehumanizes, or demeans, no matter how troubling or painful, it is, ultimately, temporary.

Yes, there will be hurts, yes, like Jesus we will face betrayal, misunderstandings, and loss, and, like Jesus, we will be resurrected and renewed. If betrayal can’t stop us, if misunderstandings can’t stop us, if the cross can’t stop us, than nothing can.

I know things can make us feel lonely, I know we have reasons to fear, but hope is resurrected today. Evil, injustice, fear, anxiety, does not get the last word, love will always win.

If you can survive being people being angry, being misunderstood, being betrayed, beaten, if you can endure the cross, one of the worst ways to die imaginable, if that can’t stop you, if you can come back from all that, you know what it means to be fearless.

There are times when life is brimming with grace, and love, and hope, and forgiveness, life even seems…holy – moments that remind us that some divinity, some power, that God is holding everything together.

Those moments of fulfillment and grace, those moments of goodness and justice, and joy, they are not a random escape from this life, they are a sign, a promise, a preview of what should be, of what will be, because resurrection is making all things new.

Resurrection didn’t just happen, it happens every time we live the good news, every time we show others how much they are loved, every time we say that’s not our problem and make it our responsibility, every time we, with God, don’t merely resuscitate our old ways, but are transformed into a new creation, like the caterpillar resurrects into the butterfly.

Resurrection is a vibrant victory because yes, in this life you may be misunderstood, you might be betrayed, you might feel like everything is lost, but that loss, that death, does not have the last word because Christ has gone into the darkness and shined a light that will not be overtaken. Resurrection is always right around the corner, greeting us in our lowest place because we know that this is not the end, it’s a new beginning.

Hope is unlocked because the resurrection cannot be contained. We are Easter people, because the earth is not a cold dead place, we are Easter people because life is filled with potential and possibility, we are Easter people because love wins, we are Easter people because the worst day is never the last day and as Easter people may our lives be proof of the resurrection.

Let us pray:

Risen Christ, we come today trusting in the power of your love. Like Mary when she found the stone rolled away, we find unimaginable things unfolding before us. Together we lift up those who walk alone and confused through the darkness of anxiety, illness and death.

Like the disciples who ran toward the tomb, our minds race toward anything that might bring us hope. Together we lift up those who labor on our behalf to find answers, make decisions, and offer responses in our communities. Grief-stricken like Mary crying out to the Gardener, we weep in exhaustion and beg for help. Together we lift up those who care for the sick, who walk with the grieving, and who offer essential services for us all.

Like Mary reaching toward Jesus, we grasp for security, and find it elusive. Today we lift up those who face the insecurity of lost jobs, closed businesses, and financial distress. Lord in your mercy, unlock hope within our hearts today. Do for us what you did for Mary and the disciples: Open our eyes to see that you are with us; open our ears to hear you calling us by name; and turn our hearts toward others, that we might share the good news of your resurrecting and redeeming love. All this we pray as you taught us to pray, saying…

Thank you for being with us this morning at Grace. If you are one of our members and have pledged to support the work of our church, one of the best ways that you can give is online at gracedesmoines.org If you are not one of our members but want to support the work that Grace is doing in our community, the best way that you can financially support Grace is by giving online at gracedesmoines.org. You can always send a check to the church too, our mailing address is 3700 Cottage Grove, Des Moines, IA, 50311.

As we’ve said each week we’ve been apart, your financial support continues to make our church possible, especially now, but the support that you give to one another, the offerings of your prayers, cards that you send, calls that you make, the offerings of your love and care is the resurrection in action, so may we continue to unlock hope every way that we can.

To end the service this morning, we’re going to join with a global choir singing, Christ the Lord is Risen today, because we’re not alone, we are in this together, and together we are celebrating the goodness and grace of God that will never let us go.

Easter

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Sunday, April 12, 2020

Matthew 7:7-14

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your [child] asks for bread, will give [them] a stone? Or if [they] ask for a fish, will give [them] a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your [God] in heaven give good gifts to those who ask [God]! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Is This About God or Us? Yes

It is great to be with you all today. Together, we’ve spent a couple of months walking through Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, seeing how it builds and develops, discovering what it means for us to live into the life that God wants for us. Next week we will be finishing up the Sermon on the Mount. There were a few ideas that I had in mind for this summer, but our plans have changed, so if there is anything that you are curious about, anything that you’d like to learn more about, let me know and we’ll have some fun.

Before we jump into this text, let’s pray:

God, give us your peace so that we might be present with one another and with you, to see ourselves, and one another, as you see us, with love, with hope, with grace. Inspire our hearts and minds to hear the word that you have for us today. Amen.

Jesus tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your [child] asks for bread, will give [them] a stone? Or if [they] ask for a fish, will give [them] a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your [God] in heaven give good gifts to those who ask [God]! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Essentially, Jesus says, if you want to know what ethics are in the scriptures, just treat people like you’d like to be treated, you know, by not being a jerk. But on top of that, Jesus tells us that if what we ask for will be given to us, what we seek we will find, and when we knock on a door, it will be opened to us.

When you hear these words from Jesus, ask, seek, knock, what comes to mind, what sort of images and ideas well up within you?

Maybe, you, like the late, great artist, prophet and poet, Janis Joplin have this come to mind

Oh Lord, if I could just have a Mercedes Benz, a color TV, and a night on the town, all would be right in the world.

There is a tension in this text because in the United States there are a lot of well known and wealthy pastors that can tell you that God wants you to have a Mercedes Benz, and if you say the right prayers and keep giving them money, they’ll get another one and you might get one too.

This sort of theology and faith can make us queasy. It just doesn’t sit right because the idea of God as a cosmic genie that grants wishes doesn’t work. There’s more tension with this passage too because there’s the time that we asked for cancer to go away and it didn’t, there the family member that we keep searching for the right rehab for, and they never found it, there’s the door that we keep knocking on, but it never opens.

My guess is, when you hear Jesus say ask, seek, knock, your gut impulse is to assume that Jesus is talking about prayer and our relationship with God, but could it be that this passage in the Sermon on the Mount first and foremost about our relationship with one another?

Let’s remember the ground that we have covered so far because when we see how we got here, we can really get a sense of what Jesus is pointing us towards.

In Matthew Chapter 5, the Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus saying “Blessed are the poor in Spirit”. From the start, Jesus needs us to know and remember that we are not alone, we are not cast aside, when we are at the end of our rope, when we just can’t hold it together anymore, at the very moment we feel like we can’t keep going, God is there and we are loved. Jesus then spends the rest of chapter 5 talking about the kind of people that God believes and knows we are.

Jesus starts this teaching by telling us that God is not distant or indifferent, Jesus tells us, over and over again, we are blessed, beloved, and entrusted to be a people that live with grace and peace, we can share the endless love with one another that God has first given to us. Jesus tells us that we are salt and light. Jesus doesn’t tell us that we could be, that we might be, Jesus simply states that this is who we are, a light that shines before others, and a life that enhances this world.

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus shifts from telling us about who we are, who God has created us to be, and moves into telling us how we can trust our lives to God’s love. Jesus teaches us to pray, saying anytime we pray to God we can simply say, “You already know”. Jesus tells us about the birds of the air, how they don’t reap or sow or hoard toilet paper and God takes care of them. Jesus tells us about the flowers of the field, they bloom today but are gone tomorrow, and yet their beauty is beyond any outfit we have. In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus is teaching us how to be a non-anxious presence in the world. Because we trust our lives to God, it’s not that we never feel fear or worries or anxiety, is that we acknowledged those feelings, we own them, we don’t try to hide them or cast them aside, but instead of letting our worries get the last word, we remember that God already knows, and with that grounding, centering our hearts and minds in the love of God that is always with us, we move forward together. We live with hope, we orient our lives with this grace and peace, justice, and joy, that God wants for us and for everyone else.

As we saw last week, Jesus starts chapter 7 by shifting us into trusting one another to God’s love. When Jesus tells us not to judge, to take the plank out of our eye before we worry about the splinter in others, that we shouldn’t cast our pearls before pigs, Jesus is saying, all that stuff I just said about you, remember that it’s true about them too.

Our judgments often come out of guilt or shame or critique and it’s a not so subtle way to attempt to control one another, to take charge of their lives by forgetting that God already knows what they need too. But sometimes it’s not guilt or shame or critique that we use to try to control others, sometimes it’s the pearls, the gifts that come with strings attached.

Since Jesus has just told us that we can trust our lives to God, that we don’t have to control one another because we can trust everyone’s life to God’s grace, could it possibly be that when Jesus says to ask, seek, knock, Jesus has something to tell us about the goodness and the mercy that can come our way when we live in right relationships with one another?

Jesus tells us to ask because when we ask, we’re not making a demand, we’re not trying to be in control. When we ask, when we come to one another humbly, we’re honoring one another, we’re recognizing each other’s gifts and skills and abilities, we’re seeking their wisdom or insight or help, we’re trying to connect with one another. And when we ask, we know that they can always say no.

And yet, when a friend calls us at 4 am in tears, are we going to hang up and tell them to call us back in a couple hours? How often, when someone who has nothing comes to us and asks for something, are we going to send them away empty-handed?

Jesus says ask and you will receive.

I went to Simpson College in Indianola and through a camp that I worked at I got to know a lot of the students at Ankeny First UMC. Since I knew so many of their students, I was asked to volunteer with their youth groups, I made a counteroffer for gas money, and they brought me on as an ‘intern’ at the church.

This was my freshman year of college and that year my older sister, Elisabeth, was also at Simpson, in her senior year. Our parents gave us a car to share and it wasn’t anything special, but it worked.

One day my sister and I exchanged keys and she told me that the car was starting to drive a little weird, it felt like the alignment was off, and I drove it from Indianola to Ankeny and knew exactly what she was talking about. The steering was just a little off and the car was driving louder than it used to. Spring break was coming up soon, and like good college students instead of taking the car to the shop ourselves, we called our mom and had her set up an appointment for us when we were back home.

In the meantime, my sister was driving to her internship, I was driving back and forth to Ankeny a couple times a week, and the car was now noticeably shaking as we drove, especially on the highway.

Our confidence in the car was shaky, but not as shaky as the car now was, but we were still driving it because this was before uber and what else were we going to do? Ask a friend to borrow their car?

The last time I saw that car, I was driving back from the church in Ankeny towards Indianola. I had just got onto 35 south and made it past exit 92, which, if you know that spot on the map, you know that means I just made it out of town.

It was late at night and because there wasn’t much traffic on the road, I got up to the speed limit as fast as I could which was still pretty slow, but then thought about the homework that I still needed to do and pushed it a little faster. That’s when the car started to bounce a little faster too. It was a bumpy ride until all of a sudden it wasn’t because the front driver-side wheel had completely fallen off the car. Instead of bouncing, the car was now skidding down the highway with sparks flashing from where the wheel used to be.

It wasn’t just that the tire blew, the entire wheel was gone because what was throwing off the alignment, and getting louder and louder until the car started to d bounce was the axel slowly breaking into multiple pieces.

When I was able to get the car off to the side of the road and come to a stop, I couldn’t get out on the drivers-side because the wheel well and door were kind of welded together.

As I crawled out the passenger door, I looked ahead down the road to see if I could track down the wheel that just fell off our car, but it left the vehicle at about 80 miles per hour, so I quickly gave up that search.

While I surveyed the damage and reveled in my safety, I noticed a car had stopped behind me. They asked if I was OK and then asked if I needed to use their phone, which I did because this was 2004 and I didn’t have a cell phone.

Had that car not stopped, I don’t know what I would have done, but because they stopped, I was able to call my parents, who were able to call a tow truck, and called one of their friends in the area so I could be picked up off the side of the road.

The car that had stopped to make sure I was OK stayed with me until my ride came.

Friends, church members, family, if you saw that I lost not only a tire but an entire wheel off my car, if I was stranded and needed help, if I asked, would you say no?

In our relationships with one another, when we have trusted ourselves and each other to God’s grace and love, Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive.” And yet, how often do we refuse to ask? Could this be why Jesus says the gate is narrow and few people find this path? Because let’s be honest, how often do we say something to ourselves like, I don’t want to be a bother? Or we imagine that they already have enough going on and we don’t want to burden them. Sometimes we simply don’t want to swallow our pride and admit that we can’t do everything on our own.

If you have a friend or a family member that has just made it through one of the most challenging times of their life, if they felt lost and alone and confused, but just kept a stiff upper lip, when they finally tell you about how desperate they were but now everything’s better, what do you think?

Why didn’t you tell me before?

Don’t you know I would do anything to help?

Eventually, you’re going to wonder what kind of person they think you are – did they think you wouldn’t care, that you wouldn’t drop everything to be with them?

Our desire for independence can create a lot of dis-ease, can’t it?

I want you to fill in the blank of a sentence for me:

Francis _______ lives at home with their parents.

I am willing to bet that a lot of you filled in that blank with an exasperated “still”.

If Francis is 10, that’s fine and we feel bad for judging them. But if Francis is 52 and lives at home because their investment in Beanie Babies never took off like they expected, we think Francis has some issues. Francis needs to move out and take all their cats with them as soon as possible because Francis needs to grow up.

In the United States, there is a certain trajectory that we have in mind when it comes to growing up and gaining our ‘independence’.

The story, the trajectory, that we so often have in mind is that you graduate from high school so you can go to college so you can get a job and be on your own. That’s what it looks like to pull yourself up from your own bootstraps, that’s what it means to be a contributing member of society. But how often is that trajectory achievable? Is life ever that simple? I have been very lucky in this life, I’ve been able to achieve a lot, and yet, I know I’m only a few accidents away from crashing in my parent’s basement, again.

If this moment is teaching us anything, it’s that as independent we think we are, we are inter-dependent and we can’t pretend otherwise. We are not as autonomous as we like to imagine. Our lives are intimately interconnected and we have to take care of one another because if we live like we are independent beings that can do whatever we want without worrying about the consequences that might happen in someone else’s life, we’re part of the problem.

In our life together, because we have trusted our lives to God, because we have trusted one another to God’s justice and grace, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your [child] asks for bread, will give [them] a stone? Or if [they] ask for a fish, will give [them] a snake?”

Bread, in the first century, like a slightly well-done dinner roll today, could look a bit like a stone. And certain fish are just slippery and slimy enough that we might, at first glance, confuse them for a snake. But if we are taking care of one another, we’re going to take the time to not get any of that confused.

By now, I’m willing to bet that at least one of you is thinking, “Yeah, but you don’t know my cousin Lenny because they just keep asking and searching and knocking and they waste whatever has been given to them. Last week Lenny showed up and asked for gas money to get to work and I had to ask Lenny why he drove to my place instead of work and that only made things worse.”

You’re right, I don’t know your cousin Lenny and it sounds like they might have some issues to work on. But beyond those issues, shouldn’t we have an honest and difficult conversation about what it means to really help one another? About how living connected, supportive, and inter-depending lives means we aren’t living with unhealthy codependence?

As you may know, church members have a tendency to talk about their pastors – I know you do, it’s ok, because pastors also spend a lot of time talking about their members.

When I worked at another church, in my first week, a pastor in the area gave me a phone call and said, “I need to tell you about one of your members, they are going to ask you for money, often, and you can’t give it to them because if you give once they will ask you every time and it’s almost never used like you want it to be.”

About a week later, I got the first phone call asking for help. It wasn’t for a lot, they needed help with rent and told me their next paycheck was coming just after the rent was due and they would pay me back as soon as possible. I told them I’d be glad to get in touch with their landlord and figure something out.

While they appreciated the help, the next time they called for assistance, they said “I’d rather not get my landlord involved in all of this. They are already looking for a reason to kick me out and if they think I can’t pay rent they’re just going to cut me loose.” In my head, I thought to myself, “You can’t pay rent on your own, so you’re landlord isn’t too far off” but against my better judgment I wrote them a check.

Then I asked them if they were going to pay me back for the last time I helped them. They had some story about a repair that they needed and how they would pay back their tab.

The next time they needed help their son was moving back to the area, looking for a job, and while they wanted to have them at home, they didn’t have a second bed yet. They told me the bed would be coming soon, they already had that taken care of, but since they didn’t have a second bed yet, they asked if I would put their son up in a hotel, just for the night, because the bed would be there by tomorrow.

I asked them what hotel they wanted to stay at so I could pay the bill and they said they hadn’t figured out all those details yet. On top of that, they weren’t sure when their son was going to be in town, so it would be best if I just gave them $150. I told them I know that’s not the going rate for a room that I’m going to add to their tab and talked them down. We went back and forth for a bit, but eventually they agreed to my counter offer, sneering only slightly when I wrote them a check.

The next day their son called me and said, “I didn’t get into town until about two in the morning so I just slept on the floor at my dad’s place for the night. We decided to use the money you gave him for groceries. Is there any way that you can give me gas money?”

After a long pause, I said your dad can give you gas money and take it off my tab.

That was the last time I ever heard from that family.

In our relationships with one another, sometimes we have to say no and I don’t have an easy answer for when you should say yes and when you should say no. There’s not an easy answer here, but I find comfort in what Jesus says, “Which of you, if your [child] asks for bread, will give [them] a stone? Or if [they] ask for a fish, will give [them] a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your [God] in heaven give good gifts to those who ask [God]!”

The word that Jesus uses as evil, in Greek, is πονηρός (pon-ay-ros) and the root word means full of labors, annoyances, and hardships. We could read what Jesus says as, “If you, then, though you are toilsome and full of annoyances, know how to give good gifts…”

As good as God created us and calls us to be, we can admit that the human condition is full of toil and annoyances. On top of that, when we are honest about our interdependence, our need for help, when we with everyone else, ask, seek, and knock, there’s a chance we might bump up against one another in ways that only add to our toil and annoyances, especially, when we, like Janice, ask for a Mercedes Benz, a color TV, and a night on the town.

And yet, we still seek the good of one another, we still want to help, we still want to do what’s right.

Sometimes, the right response to someone asking is no. I can’t give you a rule for when no is the good gift that someone needs to receive from you, but what I’ve experienced in my own life is that you feel the need for that no when you have to say it.

Jesus says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your [God] in heaven give good gifts to those who ask [God]! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Quickly, Jesus makes a couple of interesting shifts here. Jesus is talking about how we, with one another, can ask, seek, and knock, that we need to be in interdependent (not co-dependent) relationships, but then Jesus shifts into ask, seek, and knock as a prayer, saying that God will give good gifts to those who seek God, and then Jesus shifts back into a social ethic saying, “So in everything, do to other what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, is Jesus talking about our relationships with one another or our relationship with God? Yes.

Often we are either/or thinkers. Jesus invites us to view faith as both/and.

Later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment and Jesus replies saying, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Jesus will not let us separate how we think about God from how we treat one another.

In the New Testament letter of James it’s written, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and [Creator], and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

The Letter of 1 John it’s put this way, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

If you want a clear and defined line of distinction between loving one another and loving God, you won’t find that with Jesus. Jesus continually blurs that line because we cannot separate the devotion that we have for God from the care and devotion that we have for one another.

Together, when we ask, and seek, and knock, even when we have to say the difficult but necessary no, even when we have to accept that no, or in the times when we remember that our help may be limited but it’s still the help we have to offer, do you know what happens? We quit taking one another for granted. We can’t ignore each other. We see one another and enter into a beloved and blessed community that is in this together, but better yet, we know that God is with us too.

Ask, seek, and knock. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Offering

Your continued support of Grace makes everything we do possible and each week I am here asking, seeking, and knocking for support and you are there to respond. Thanks to your our confirmation class continues to learn together. Thanks to you our youth group can meet online. Thanks to you our small groups have found new ways to gather. Because you’ve responded to the ways our church has continued to reach out to the community. Your support of our church makes everything we do possible and financially the best way that you can support our Grace is by giving online at gracedemoines.org.

During these times, and always, we remember that our offerings aren’t only financial, they’re relational, they’re the ways that we reach out, that we hear someone asking and let them know we’re here for them and in this with one another. So keep being an offering of support and care for your friends, family, and neighbors. And if you need to, ask, and seek, and knock by letting me know how our church can help you. We have resources available and ready, we just need to know what you need.

Thank you all for joining me this morning, it has been incredible to spend this time with one another, thank you so much and we will see you all again next Sunday.

But before we go, there is a song that I want to wrap up our time together with and it’s from the Broadway Musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen’. It came through Des Moines a couple years ago and has stuck with me ever since, especially this song, “You Will Be Found”. Some songs you just keep going back to, because you have to.

I try to have everything nice and neat and put together in these moments that we have with one another, but I’ll be honest, this is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, I have had amazing moments of rest and peace because in the last month trusting that love that is God is the strongest force in the cosmos hasn’t been a mental exercise, it’s the only way I can get out of bed right now.

We’ve all had those overwhelming moments of sadness, and grief, and confusion, when we feel like we’ve lost all control, because we have. I had a nightmare this week about people wanting to shake hands with me.

This is one of those times where if you never knew what it meant to be poor in spirit, you know what it means now.

And it’s ok to feel all of that. We can’t distract ourselves from it, we can’t hide from it. The only way that we have is forward, through this, and we’re going to make it through this. So we take a breath and remember we’re not alone.

When we reach out, when we make the phone call, when you ask, seek, and knock you will be found and feel that support and care and love that lets you know we really will get through this, as much as we are apart, we are unified together. You will be found. I know you will. Grace and peace everyone.

Sunday April 26 - Matthew 7:7-14

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Posted by GraceDesMoines on Sunday, April 26, 2020

Matthew 7:15-29

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Bringing the Sermon on the Mount to a Close

Today we are wrapping up our series on the Sermon on the Mount. For the last couple of months we have been walking through Matthew chapters 5 to 7 to see what Jesus has to say to us and I have had a great time with you all. Next week we are going to be looking at one of the least known mothers in the Bible and I can’t wait to tell you about this story, the week after that we will have a special service that has been put together by the Bishop and Superintendents of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. As you may have seen, our Bishop in Iowa, Laurie Haller, has asked that all churches continue to meet online until at the earliest June 1 and as we get closer to that date the Bishop will be re-evaluating that. In the meantime, our staff and administrative board have started to put together guidelines that we will follow as reopen in person, when the time is right, in a number of phases that will keep us and our community safe.

Before we bring the Sermon on the Mount to a close, let’s take a moment to pray:

God, we have heard your words and wisdom through Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. We know what you believe about us, we know you call us blessed and beloved, so help us to believe that about ourselves and one another. May Christ’s words take root in our souls so that we may truly be who you already know we are. Amen.

As the end of Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a number of comparisons, giving us these warnings. Jesus tells us to watch out for false prophets, the one’s that dress like sheep, that say all the right Christian-ease, and yet they act like wolves, they are not only cruel but vicious.

Jesus then goes on to tell us about trees and their fruit. If a tree is healthy, the fruit should be healthy too. It’s as if Jesus is reminding us that what we and others produce, our exterior life is representative of our interior spirit.

Jesus follows that up by telling us about building a house and having a foundation that is bedrock or or having a house with a foundation that’s sand. The house that is built on bedrock can withstand the winds and storms that confront it, while the house built on sand will never find it’s balance.

Sheep and wolves.

Trees and fruit.

Bedrock and sand.

Why would Jesus bring the Sermon on the Mount to a close like this?

What is so important about these comparisons, what is the point that Jesus doesn’t want us to miss? And it’s clear that, whatever the point Jesus has it, it’s important enough that he has to bring it up three times.

Maybe to understand what Jesus is saying as we come to a close, we have to remember everything that Jesus has said up to this point. We have seen, each week, that the Sermon on the Mount builds and develops, it has this brilliant flow that continues to crest with wisdom and hope.

Jesus has told us that the poor in spirit are blessed. When we are lost, or afraid, when we feel like we are alone and at the end of our rope, God isn’t just there God is on our side. Jesus has told we are salt and light. Jesus has talked about how we are supposed to treat ourselves and one another. We’ve been taught about honesty and compassion, about justice and mercy. Jesus teaches us to pray remembering that whatever we need, God already knows. We pray for our daily bread which means we pray for the moment that we find ourselves in right now. As we pray for our present moment we also pray for the past, we ask for forgiveness, but not only that, we pray for our future, we pray to be lead by God so that we might make things right, so that we can be a part of this unfolding Kingdom of God. Jesus told us about planks and pearls and pigs, because we don’t just trust ourselves to God’s grace, we trust everyone else’s life to the grace of God which means we can’t try to control one another, guilt and shame and critique can’t be the motivation behind our relationships because trust, honesty, and mutual inter-dependence has brought us together so that we can ask, and seek, and knock. Jesus seemed to sum a lot of this up last week when Jesus said, “Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the law and the prophets.” Other translations put it like this, “Therefore, don’t be annoying.”

There has been a trajectory to the Sermon on the Mount, because while it is about our past, present, and future, while it is about the way that we should see ourselves and see one another, while the Sermon on the Mount is all encompassing of ethical ideals, it is, as Jesus comes to a close, a reminder that we have to choose, again, and again, and again, to live this way.

As the Sermon on the Mount comes to a close, Jesus has to say be careful and pay attention to the voices that are speaking into your life. Those that sound like sheep may not be. Are the voices that you are listening to, are those that are shaping the way that you see yourself and the world speaking in such a way that continues the kingdom of God or not?

As the Sermon on the Mount comes to a close, Jesus has to tell us to be careful and pay attention in our relationships, to notice what keeps coming our way. Are things thorny and rotten or are things life-giving?

As the Sermon on the Mount comes to a close, Jesus has to tell us to be careful and pay attention to what ground us. When we are worried, when we are anxious, when we are afraid, what keeps us centered?

What Jesus keeps telling us is that sometime what seems normal, what we are used to, what we put up with, shouldn’t be, and we have to change. Every now and then, the way that you headed will not take you to where you need to be.

Before COVID, all the way back in the BC era, Irene and I would often go to Barn Town on Sundays. It’s great for us because they do really well with her food allergies and for a post-service Sunday meal option, depending on how we’re feeling, we’d get brunch or we’d get lunch. We even ran into Dorothy Johnson there one Sunday.

To get to Barn Town from Grace, you head west on Cottage Grove and turn left to go south on 42nd street. After about half a mile you turn right and merge onto I-235. Barn Town is in West Des Moines, and if you are headed there after church you know you’re heading west on I-235 so it feels like you should be going the right direction. But when you merge onto I-235, there is this moment where, if you’ve just merged into the first lane but haven’t kept merging to the left, eventually you’re stuck. Sometimes you just have to keep going further and further to the left.

When you first merge onto I-235 from 42nd st, 235 feels spacious, it feels like you have so much room, that these civil engineers knew what they were doing. But then you start to get closer to the 86th st exit and if you are still in that first lane you realize that you don’t just have to merge once, you have to merge twice otherwise you are stick taking the 86th st exit with takes you to Windsor Heights. All of a sudden instead of to Barn Town for a burger, you’re in Windsor Heights getting a speeding ticket.

I know that was a lot of set up for a bad punch line about speeding tickets in Windsor Heights but it made me happy.

But you still get the point, right? When you are on I-235 it feels like you are headed the right direction, you’re going the way that you need to go, but all of a sudden you are trapped in an exit lane and you end up taking a detour that you never intended.

It seems normal, you’re just on the interstate and headed west, things are exactly as they need to be, until it isn’t.

I know that I have nothing to say about other people’s watching habits because I’m a pastor that watches professional wrestling and true crime documentaries. I really can’t judge what others watch to take a break from the world, but, I have to ask, does anyone really want to keep up with the Kardashians? I know it looks glamorous, and I know for a ‘reality’ TV show they have a team of writers in addition to their lighting and make-up crew, but with all that we can and should keep up with, is their scripted faux-reality life the goal?

Keeping up with Nate would be a really boring show, I get that, my life just doesn’t have the glam or the pizazz for the E! network.

Somehow, Keeping up with the Kardashians seems normal and natural because culturally we find ourselves in this moment of influencers that are famous because they are famous. In the United States, we are always caught up in this normal and natural thought that we have to have more, that our ethics and ideals must be shaped by productivity and net worth, and if we can’t have a net worth at least we can have debt so other people think we have more money than we do.

When something seems normal, it’s rare for us to ever ask about how destructive it actually is, because when it seems normal, it’s just the way things are, even when it shouldn’t be.

It has been said that while we’re all in the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat. This pandemic is effecting all of us, but in a myriad of ways. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the parents that are getting to know their children. There are parents that, if they are working and are working from home, they are now spending full days with kids that are finding new ways to be in school, but at home, without being taken away by sports and clubs and all the extracurricular activities, as great as they are, they fill our schedules and keep us apart.

On the other hand, I’ve been thinking of some of the families that I know in Waterloo. As some of you know, I lived in Waterloo for six years and while I was there, at least once a month, I was able to worship with a Burmese refugee congregation there. With the help of a translator I would worship with them and thanks to EMBARC and other groups that welcome migrants to this area we were able to help them start new lives in our state.

A lot of the Tyson employees in Waterloo are refugees and immigrants, many of them refugees from Burma. For weeks, these Burmese refugees, these United States citizens, went to work, raising concerns about working conditions and being told it would all be ok. That area of Iowa now has more cases of COVID-19 than any other. For a moment the plant was closed, but now it will be opening again and my Burmese friends will have to choose between keeping their families quarantined or quitting their jobs.

I should admit two things right now – I only took one business class. When your educational degrees are in ethics, religion, and philosophy, you don’t spend a lot of time in management classes. Second, while I have family on a farm, hi Anita and Randy, thanks for joining us again, I am not a farmer and I don’t know what it takes to feed the world.

But at the same time I know meat packing companies have come up with over 120 million dollar in incentives and raises to bring their workers back, which makes me wonder, if that profit margin existed before, why wasn’t is shared before. Even more than that, I keep hearing people talk about euthanizing pigs, but can’t we let the pigs live a little longer now and pay more for them later to offset the cost?

Just because things were normal before, that doesn’t mean they should be normal now.

So many things that seem natural and normal aren’t healthy or helpful but we put up with it because we think that’s just the way things are and what could we ever do to change it?

We’ve allowed our calendars to shape our priorities until this moment when all of a sudden the calendar is open and we have nowhere to be. How we define ourselves can’t be determined by the hours we work, the office we go to, or the number of school activities listed in the year book, or the volunteer shifts that we fill.

Can we let ourselves know, deep in our bones, that the productivity of last year can’t define this one.

Can we let ourselves know, at the core of who we are, that at this moment a home office has just as much prestige as a corner office.

Can we, in this moment, remember that all of this still isn’t normal to us, we’re not used to this yet even if it’s been a month and a half, that whatever you feel, it’s ok, because in this moment we are not alone but in this together, and if you fall apart we will find a way to pick up the pieces, and when I fall apart, we’ll find a way to pick up the pieces, because we’re a people that are following this teaching of Jesus that tells us, no matter what, we are blessed, empowered, and entrusted, to change the world with love, grace, justice and joy.

What Jesus tells us at the end of the Sermon on the Mount is that to say yes to this invitation, to this way of life and being in the world, is to say no to living every other way. Because we’re going to live this direction, we’ve got to choose again and again and again to live this way and not any other.

Jesus tells us to take the plank out of our own eyes before we worry about the splinter in anyone else’s eye, that we can’t judge one another at the core of their being, which means we can’t gossip or slander one another. Because we’re trying to be sheep, because we want to produce good fruit, because we want to be grounded and centered, when we hear that fresh gossip, instead of rushing online to share it we remember it’s not our to share.

Jesus tells us, over and over again, to seek justice and forgiveness, which means we can’t be punitive or vengeful.

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows us how to rise above our indifference because we are not only blessed, but we are entrusted and empowered to be a part of the kingdom of God, this movement of grace and hope and peace.

Jesus tells us to be a people of intention, of purpose. We don’t get swayed, we stay centered, grounded, in this grace that makes us whole.

I want to give you all a Netflix recommendation, because if you haven’t watched the Chef’s Table yet, you are missing out on a kind of intention that we often take for granted.

As you might guess, Chef’s Table is a series about chefs and the dedication, devotion, the intention that they give to their kitchens and the food that comes to our tables.

One of my favorite chefs that is featured in the series is Sean Brock. Sean is an iconic southern chef and what makes his food so good, like what makes the food of so many amazing chefs and cooks delicious, is that he elevates a cuisine that we don’t believe can be worth a white table cloth. It’s not that the meals that Sean Brock makes are exorbitantly expensive, it’s that they are made with great care and consideration, even down to the farmer that harvested the ingredients.

When Sean Brock went to culinary school, he was taught about French and Italian food, but his teachers and classmates didn’t seem to care about chicken and biscuits, let alone grits or cornbread. These staples of southern food were so taken for granted that when Brock started researching them, he found out about seed savers, about monocultures that we eliminating bio-diversity and eventually he found a corn, Jimmy Red Corn, that makes a better cornbread than anything you can find in a box. I hate to say, that as an Iowan, in the land of corn, I had never heard of Jimmy Red Corn before watching Cher’s Table.

When Brock started to work in restaurants in the south, he took the little extra income that he had and devoted it to gardening, to finding the rare and the delicious heirloom seeds that used to be part of our everyday life. He took the lessons that he learned in culinary school and combined them with everything he learned by canning with his grandmother.

His first review, as a chef, was terrible. The day the reviewer went to the restaurant, everything that could have went wrong did. And with that review Sean Brock told his boss that he wouldn’t take a day off until they got a glowing review. So he worked 18 hours a day for over year and a half. And since he was spending all his time at the restaurant, next to the bar, he started taking advantage shift drinks.

His hard work paid off and the positive reviews were pouring in. He said yes to being a southern chef, so he said no to a social life, he said no to holidays with family or friends. What started to seem more normal to him to was a drink or two or three mid-shift. That after the dinner rush he’d share a shot with his sous chef. Which turned into shots before the rush too.

A strange thing happened after he picked up his first good review. His eye sight was declining, things started to get blurry and no matter how much he tried to sleep he was struggling with fatigue. He kept going to the doctors, trying to figure out what was wrong, but no one knew what was going on until Sean Brock said that his eyes were especially blurry during busy shifts in the kitchen.

What the doctors discovered is that Sean Brock has a rare neuromuscular autoimmune disease called myasthenia gravis. It is a disease that could leave him blind, and the trickiest thing about this disease is that it is exasperated by stress.

Sometimes we forget that our stress isn’t just mental, it’s physical and it effects our whole being.

Sean Brock was told by his doctors, you have to find a way to live with less stress, or you will go blind.

I don’t know if you have ever worked in a kitchen, but it’s always stressful. Either you are so busy that you don’t know if you can get to all the orders or it’s so slow that you’re not sure you’ll stay open.

Sean Brock had to decide if he would be a chef, if he would loose his eyesight, or if he would find a new way to live.

In the end he decided that everything he knew to be normal in the kitchen of an elite chef would no longer be his life. He would find a new way to live and move in the world.

Not as many tables were turned in his kitchen, and he doesn’t share a shift drink with his sous chef anymore because he’s doesn’t drink anymore either. He’s no longer the first one in and the last one to leave.

What Brock realized is that what seemed normal and natural wasn’t, and he could decide to live another way. He made that decision, and he keeps making it every day of his life.

If you meet someone that lives with grace and peace and hope and love and forgiveness and mercy, when you meet someone that lives what we have been taught in the Sermon on the Mount, what you know is that they weren’t simply born this way. They made a choice, they decided to go this direction, they said yes to following Jesus and said no to countless other ways they could have lived.

Are you going a direction where life isn’t found?

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows us a grace that meets us where we are, no matter where we are, and this grace moves us too.

We are all invited to change, to be dedicated and devoted to this way of life that inspires the best of us and calls us to choose that hope and grace above everything else.

Love is a continuous choice, so what choice are you making today?

Jesus says, “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed”

We’ve felt the rain and the floods and the wind beat against us, and here we are. So may we continue to find our grounding, our hope, our peace, and commit ourselves to it daily.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Matthew 7:15-29 Support Grace online at www.gracedesmoines.org

Posted by GraceDesMoines on Sunday, May 3, 2020

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.