I Love You. You Are Mine.

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God’s word to the people of Judah who are facing the collapse of everything they hold dear and the chaos and suffering of life is: I love you, you are mine. (Isaiah 43)

This pronouncement is made over us as we are baptized, giving us an identity and purpose that transcends all the other attempts to make us fear and doubt ourselves in this world. When the government is shutdown, the economy uncertain and even the church seems to be fading, God still proclaims this essential truth.

Grace Has Appeared…

On this Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord, we remember that “grace has appeared bringing salvation to all.” (Titus 2:11). That “we are” instead of “are not” introduces the question of God as the ground of being for all things. Once we ask that question, the next is whether being is just one random thing after another or whether being is somehow benevolent. In Christ, “grace has appeared” to tell us that the ground of our being and existence is bent toward benevolence. love, and life. Blessed Incarnation to all.

Work in Progress

Advent calls us to prepare not just our homes for Christmas, but our lives for the fulfillment of the Reign of God when Christ comes in glory. Trouble is, we often feel rather helpless and passive in the face of that event. Is waiting just standing around until God makes all things new? For Paul, the Christian life is a work in progress: “the one who began a good work in you will not fail to see it through to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) We are already the beloved of God, and not yet the people God calls us to be. 

A sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent – Philippians 1:3-11

Jesus, Fig Trees, and the End of the World

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The season Advent, however, seems to throw a wet blanket on all the jingling bells and decked halls. Scripture readings (Luke 21) turn to images of the end of the world and collapse of heaven and earth. Not very festive, it seems. That makes the preacher a bit of a buzz kill until we see that Jesus proclaimed a word of great hope in the midst of the destruction and death of this world. The fig tree puts forth leaves declaring summer is at hand and a harvest is on the way. Jesus is that fig tree, and our salvation is at hand.

Advent 1 – Holy Trinity Lutheran Church – December 2, 2018

Don’t Worry. Be Grateful.

Jesus says, “Don’t worry.” That is harder than it sounds. We worry about food, clothing, housing and a host of other things that seem to matter more than anything else. Thanksgiving seems to provide a one-day break to give thanks for what has gone right in life and suspend worrying about what could happen for at least an afternoon. What if gratitude is more than that? What if gratitude is a means of worry-free living?  Listen to the sermon here!

Me? A Saint?

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons… (Philippians 1:1 NRSV)

Paul addresses his letter to the “all the saints” in Philippi. As the letter unfolds, it is clear that not everyone is well-behaved or “saintly” in this congregation. In fact, he seems to suggest some people should know their place and be humble when he mentions the “bishops and deacons” after everyone else. It also becomes clear that he is not speaking just to some of the “good folks” at Philippi and ignoring the bad ones. Paul’s address is for everyone, equally.

So, what have they done to deserve such an accolade? After all, “saint” is reserved for special people, right? “Saint” must refer to those who exhibit godliness and righteousness in a special was and give the rest of us an example.  According to my Greek lexicon, the word Paul uses, which is regularly translated as “saint,” means, on the one hand  “to be holy, morally upright, pure.” That’s a high bar I’m not sure I ever clear. But the word also means, “to be set apart to or by God, consecrated.”  It is the word used to identify the covenant people of Israel – all of them.

Paul was talking to all of the Philippians. Paul is talking to you. Martin Luther taught that we humans are, in Latin, “simul justus et peccator.” That means we are saint and sinner, simultaneously, often not knowing which. We have been set apart for God, consecrated to be a holy presence in the world. And we screw up just as much as anyone else. Through God’s mercy and grace, we always get invited to get up, turn back to the way of Christ, and be saints.

Servants Wanted

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons… (Philippians 1:1 NRSV)

The apostle, Paul, writes to the congregation at Philippi from prison. The place of his imprisonment is debated. I agree with those who say he is in Rome awaiting trial before the Emperor – likely, Nero. As we know, Nero was, well, nuts. A pathological narcissist who sought only to aggrandize himself. Paul is in real trouble here. Instead of writing a “woe is me” tale from his cell, Paul is filled with joy and concerned about everyone but himself. What is up with that? Seems his serving has landed him in jail.

In many of his letters, he began by reminding the people of his calling — an apostle, one called by God. There is a certain authority that goes with that claim. With the Philippians, however, he says his title, his calling, is simply “servant.” The Greek word is doulous. It is usually translated “servant” or “slave.”  In either case, the word implies ownership, being subject to a master, working at another’s direction.

I don’t know about you, but when I was trying to decide on a career, a path in life, being a servant or slave was not what I had in mind. I wanted to be in charge. I wanted to be served. That is one reason I hate buffets – I like the food brought to me. The real world however, taught me that I was always going to be serving somebody. Bob Dylan even wrote a song about it” You Gotta Serve Somebody, in which he sings “it may be the Devil, it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.” We do get a choice in whom we will serve.

That’s what Paul knows. As a servant of Christ, and in turn, a servant of the Philippians, he is serves in complete freedom. It is as Luther taught in The Freedom of a Christian:

“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.”

See, Christ has set Paul free. As Christ’s servant, Nero had no hold over him; death would have no hold over him. In fact, later he will say that he prefers death – except that he is better off serving the Philippians because they need him. (Philippians 1:21 ff) Christ’s mercy and grace allow Paul to seemingly risk everything to serve Christ, serve the Philippians, serve the world. Yet, it is no risk to him at all, for Christ is a gracious master.

If you could be free of worrying about what others think; what passes for conventional wisdom; what you might lose – because you have gained everything with Lord Jesus, would it make a difference? Would it bring joy like Paul has as he sits in prison?

 

copyright © Timothy V Olson, 2018