September 2, 2017

Haven’t shared my sermon notes in a while but today I thought I would….
Matthew 16:13-20
We are using the bulletins and therefore the readings from last Sunday because they were not used as we were busy getting people out of the water and into a place here they could get warm and dry. Putting together a new bulletin when there was work that was so much more important did not seem right. So you hear the scripture from last week and the Gospel message for every week. NOW….
This has been a week that none of us will ever forget. Even for someone like my husband and I, whose home sustained virtually no damage, even we are rattled by the devastation that is all around us. For those of you who had water in your homes, be it 2” or 6’; there is a type of grief that you are experiencing that I imagine you have a tough time explaining. So let me begin by talking to those who have sustained damage.
WOW. There are other things I can say, that I probably said more than once over the last few days, but they contain expletives that I probably should refrain from at this moment. Walking the streets lined with mountains of debris has been unbelievable, and that debris is your home; your memories; your treasured possessions. You have lost so much and you have every right to be sad, and angry, and frustrated, and all the emotions that you can’t even name. You are invited to tell it like it is. God is listening. You don’t have to have fancy words and you don’t have to censor your feelings. Let God know what you are feeling. And, don’t be afraid to let others know what you are feeling. And if you cannot find the strength to lift up a prayer, I promise, we will be lifting up prayers for you. Feel it all boldly; but know, God’s grace will find you in this insanity. Through the people who stop to help, or that one small memento that made it through the storm, or the chance to make your home new; in big and small ways, God’s grace will find you. Our doors are open and you can plop down in the comfy chair in my office any time. You are not alone in this journey of rebuilding. We, the people of God are with you. Come as you are and find rest.
For those whose homes have made it through this storm and we are overwhelmed wondering how we can help, the answer is to show up. Just show up and bring cold water, or pick up a shovel and start shoveling. Make sandwiches or order pizza and just show up. There are so many in need that you will find someone who will take your gift of grace. I promise. Don’t wait to be asked to help and don’t ask what they need. Just show up. People are so overwhelmed that they may not even know what to ask for, so just show up. Wash clothes, shovel, bring cold water, sit and listen. You don’t have to have magic words. You cannot fix all of this for anyone. Platitudes are not helpful. Just show up and offer care and ears and hands and feet to walk this journey alongside those who are in need. There is nothing more significant than showing up. And remember, this isn’t going to be over in a week or two. Long after the debris is hauled away, there will be work to do and comfort to provide, so keep showing up and just be present with those you know who are hurting. Choose your words carefully, but be bold with your willingness to be with people and help along the way. The ELCA campaign for helping is “God’s work our hands”. Be those hands for the days and weeks and months ahead.
Now, on to our Gospel.
Good ol’ Peter gives me serious hope in my life as a pastor. Reading through the Gospels, Peter is often found messing something up in his efforts to be in the forefront of being a disciple. When Jesus first tells the disciples that he must suffer, good ol’ Peter has the nerve to rebuke Jesus, not wanting to hear what Jesus was telling him. Jesus response is “Get behind me Satan”. Not something one would put on a resume for a disciple. When the disciples are in a boat and a storm comes in and they are all terrified, Jesus comes to them walking on the water. Peter, big and bad as he is, says to Jesus “If that is you then let me come and walk on the water”. Jesus tells him to come on out. Peter does what Jesus says but cannot trust it is real and looks to his own ability and begins to sink and has to be rescued by Jesus. Again, not a great example for a disciples. Peter lives life to the fullest and does such a great job of screwing things up AND YET…….
Today we hear Jesus asking the $64,000 question; “Who do people say that I am”. The disciples run through the list of things being said about Jesus; John the Baptist (which really makes no sense since they were less than 6 months apart in age and lived on earth for nearly 30 years at the same time); other say Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But then Jesus gets serious….. “Who do YOU say that I am”; and for once, Peter gets it right. You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. Setting all of Peter’s failures aside, including the big denial at the end of Jesus’ life, and he makes Peter the corner stone of the Church. That is the strong examples of who we are to be as disciples. We are to be wonderfully flawed human beings who live our lives of faith boldly, screwing things up along the way, yet God uses who we are and where we are to shine God’s amazing grace on the world. If God can use Peter, God can certainly use me, and he can and will most certainly use you. Be an agent of God’s grace and do it boldly knowing the God will work with you, sinner that you are.
Oldlutheran.com has become one of my favorite sites for buying Lutheran stuff. I have a Luther Bobble head that didn’t weather the storm quite so well, I dropped him. I have shirts and other things. But my favorite is my License to Sin Boldly! Get out into the world and live boldly in faith knowing you will mess it up but God will us anyway.

It is the heart of Peter as a disciples. Get out there. Don’t be so worried about getting everything just right and just be the hands and feet of Jesus in a world of insanity. Make mistakes along the way and know that God’s grace can be found even in our mistakes. BUT……. THE IDEA OF SINNING BOLDLY IS NOT THE SAME AS SINNING CARELESSLY!
This week I have experienced many things. I have learned the roads of this neighborhood like never before. I have been here 10 years and I had never driven down many of the streets in this little neighborhood. Now I have. That is a good thing. I have had the opportunity to talk to so many people in this neighborhood that I would never had been able to do before. If I ran around knocking on their doors, I would have likely be told, maybe politely, to leave, they didn’t want any of that. But because I could just sit and listen to them talk about what was going on in their homes and what they were feeling, I got to meet some of the most amazing people. I have been truly blessed by their strength and their faith. And…. I have had some pretty great and some not so great, conversations about who God is. As I explain that I do not have a house in this neighborhood, but that I am the pastor of the church that is in the front of the neighborhood, the door is opened to ask what do we as Lutherans believereally believe. How are we different from one church or another. Each time I get the chance to affirm the faith they have while sharing that living as a Lutheran is knowing that we are saved by God’s grace alone and we are called to share God’s love and grace with all people. No we don’t always get it right, but that is at the core of our belief.
But I have had one or two not so wonderful conversations around faith. As I spoke to a man who is a pastor in some small church in the area, he began to say that this flood is God’s vengeance for people being gay. I took a really deep breath so I didn’t go crazy and said that I thought that we should end that chat standing there in the produce section. He went on to share he was amazed I didn’t agree and began quoting Leviticus. I then said, Well I hope you are not here to buy shrimp or pork or that he didn’t wear clothing of mixed fabric because Leviticus speaks against all of those as well. He said it doesn’t say that, to which I said it really does. He asked for chapter and verse which those of you who are a part of this congregation know I am not the chapter and verse sort of person. He said he would go research that.
I have had more than one conversation with people who want to speak for God and claim why “God did this to us”, and my skin begins to crawl and I work hard not to scream. Going to people are hurting who you may not even know, and telling them that this is God’s doing because God doesn’t like one group of people or another is CARELESS NOT BOLD. Words of judgement and condemnation are not words of Grace.
When we claim to be followers of Christ, it means we should live in the manner that we were taught by Jesus. Vengeance is not a part of that. The people that Jesus points his finger at to reprimand are not “sinners of the world”. Jesus’ finger pointing is done at those who are called to lead God’s people. Those who have made law more important than love. Those who choose to point out the sins of others while ignoring their own sin. Those are the people Jesus confronts. Tax Collectors and prostitutes, he ate with those folks.
AND, God does not indiscriminately wipe out a community, or parts of a community because he doesn’t like someone or a group of people. If that were the case, couldn’t this have easily been because God is tired of the damage we do by gossiping about one another? People are ruined by gossip. I don’t think there is anyone who can honestly say that they have never gossiped about someone. You may call it Christian concern, but it is gossip. So doesn’t it make more sense that God would wipe us out for that? But the God we know in Jesus Christ doesn’t operate that way. Jesus shares love and grace and compassion to all who come to him without worrying about them being good enough or right. Lives were not changed before they were touched by Christ, but because they were touched by Christ and that is the example we are to live up to.
As we hear Jesus ask Peter “Who do you say that I am” your answer makes a difference. If you can honestly say that you believe that Jesus is the judge of the world above all else, then I understand, though I disagree with your need to tell people all they are doing wrong. I understand, though don’t agree that need to put some sort of WRATH OF GOD REASON on this horrible event. For that, I am deeply saddened.
But, if you are like Peter, the flawed man that he was, and you say, “You are the savior, the son of the living God”, then you know your only response to people, no matter who they are, is to share love and grace. Our God is a God of love. So much so that God chose to come to earth as one of us to save us. God chose to be present with us, and continues to be present with us. That is love and grace.
I don’t understand the idea that God is wiping out places to get some sort of message across. Life happens to all of us. Every one of us has our own stories of tragedies and loss and failure. Harvey is one more to add to our list. Life stinks for all of us at times. This is not the kingdom of God, and it is hard and unfair. BUT…. God’s promise is not that we will be shielded from all this, but rather that we will not be alone in all of this. God walks with us. God weeps with us. God is angry with us. And above all, God will take this tragedy and bring something, probably a lot of somethings, good out of it. Through God’s people, God’s love and grace will be present and this storm will not defeat this community.
God calls us to love one another. We are to GO TO PEOPLE WHO ARE HURTING not WAIT FOR THEM TO COME TO US. We go, not to get them to be members of this church, but because we are the hands and feet of Jesus for the world. Move forward and be bold in your faith and see the grace of God found in the tragedy. Help others experience the love of God in this tragedy. Live out our proclamation of faith the Jesus is “the savior, the son of the living God”.
AMEN