Monday, October 29, 2012

Confirmation Sermon from 10-28-2012: "Let Your Light So Shine!"

Let Your Light So Shine!

October 28, 2012: Confirmation Sunday

 It was about 9:30 on Saturday night at the Sounds Like Love music festival in the Twin Cities back in 2008. About 400 high school youth had been rehearsing for over 6 ½ hours, singing songs, learning choreography, turning notes on a page into music for people’s hearts, and everyone was tired. Voices were straining, the movements weren’t as crisp as they had been hours earlier, and it was getting hard to stay in focus and on task. There was a section of a Christmas song they were rehearsing where different groups of youth were supposed to shine their mini-flashlights at different times, and it just wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. Finally, in a fit of directorial frustration, conductor John Jacobson cried out, “Twinkle, you little Lutherans, twinkle!!!”

In Jesus’ sermon on the mount from the gospel according to Matthew, he said: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
At some point in your lives, you were brought to church. You were brought to a baptismal font, and you were baptized with water and with words of promise. Promises were made…God’s promise that you are a loved, forgiven and cherished child of God. Promises made by your parents and your sponsors to raise you in the faith, to teach you the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, to place in your hands the Holy Scriptures, and to walk alongside you as you learn and grow in your faith. The fact that you are here today means that along the line, someone took those promises seriously. And then, chances are, near the end of the baptismal service, a candle was lit and someone said those words we heard from the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see you good works and glorify your father in heaven.”

Or, in the John Jacobson translation, “Twinkle, you little Lutherans, twinkle!”

Those words are a reminder that a life in Christ is not merely an adoption, but also a calling. Can’t you just imagine Jesus standing in front of us? Sometimes in encouragement, sometimes in frustration, but always in love, crying out “Let your light shine! Twinkle, you little Lutherans, twinkle!”
You were created to twinkle. You were created to do good works. You were created as that city on a hill, you were created to be that lamp that doesn’t belong under a bushel, but that gives out light so that others may see. That’s not what gets you right with God, it doesn’t score you God points or get you any closer to heaven, because that part’s not up to you. That part’s already been done for you. Paul writes in the letter to the Ephesians that you were saved by grace through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God, so that no one might boast. Jesus died on the cross and rose for you. You have been forgiven, you have been made new through your baptism, and there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate you from God’s love in Christ. Good works aren’t what you’re saved BY…good works are what you’re saved FOR.  In verse 10 of Ephesians 2, Paul writes, “for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” You were created to shine, you were created to twinkle.

The thing about light is that when you shine it on something, it allows you to see things as they really are. We use shadows to hide. We use darkness to conceal things. You all know as well as I do that the best games of hide and seek are played in the dark, because you can hide yourself so well. But when Jesus calls us to let our light so shine before others, we are being called to help the world see things as they really are. We are being called to help the world see the things that we try to hide in the dark, to see the people who are so often buried in the dark. We are even called to see the truth of our own situation, that there are things about ourselves that we’d rather leave in the dark, that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
It’s only when we let that light shine in the dark places that the dark places can begin to be transformed. Over the past three years you’ve done quite a bit of light shining. In your small groups you’ve gotten to know each other better, but you’ve found ways to serve your neighbors and serve the world. You’ve helped raise money for our brothers and sisters in Tanzania. You’ve collected food and diapers for those in need. You’ve helped serve meals, you’ve assisted people who haven’t been able to take care of themselves. You have been active participants in God’s mission in the world, a mission of making all things new, a mission of bringing healing and hope to a world that is broken and so often in despair. At the time, you may have thought that these were small things, or that they were hoops you needed to jump through as a requirement for Confirmation, but in reality, these good works that you have done were big, very big…and they weren’t just hoops for you to jump through, they weren’t just something to do to get a service and fellowship requirement out of the way for the month. They were a way that you were living out not just your baptismal promises, but even more basic than that, who you were created by God to be and what you were created by God to do.

Where else can you shine this light that you have been given? Where else can you shine the light of love, the light of hope, the light of truth, the light of service, the light of peace? These aren’t just big flowery words, they are opportunities you’re given every day to continue to be who you were created to be. How is God calling you to shine your light at home? What about at school? What about in the community? What about with your friends? What about at church? Because even though we’re not taking attendance anymore, even though you don’t have to worry about signing in for Sunday School or how many sermon notes you need or any of that stuff, I pray that this is only the beginning of your light shining days. You have so much inside of you to share, so much light that the world desperately needs. You have talents, and time, and joy, and intelligence, and each of you has those in very unique ways. You each have a light, but each light has a unique glow. Someone once said that your calling is where your great joy meets the world’s great need. Today as you are confirmed, it is not the end, but it’s a step on the journey, a time for you to take these promises that were made on your behalf at your baptism and to say yes, these are now mine. This is my faith, this is my calling, this is my light to shine.

Your parents, your baptismal sponsors, your Confirmation guides, your Confirmation mentors, your family, your friends, your church…we are all a part of this incredible journey of faith with you. We’re here to walk alongside you, to encourage you, to be encouraged by you, to lead you, and to be led by you as together we look to the cross. Some days, the journey is hard, other days it is easy. Some days we walk with uncertain steps, other days we stride ahead confidently. But being a part of the body of Christ means that we journey together, not always knowing where we are going, but assured that God’s hand is leading and guiding us. This journey of faith that we are on—you are a part of it, an important part of it.

 I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it until I’m blue in the face that you are not the future of the church—you ARE the church RIGHT NOW. You are valuable, you have a voice, you make a difference. You are a part of Christ’s body on earth, you are the light that is shining for the world. So twinkle. Twinkle, you little Lutherans, twinkle!

Matt Schur
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 20-21 2012 sermon--"Power from God, Power for Others"

Power from God—Power for Others

I’m an older brother. I have one sister who’s three years younger than me. When we were young and my parents went out in the evenings, we’d have a babysitter—but there came a point in time when we were old enough to be left on our own for a few hours. My parents left us with rules, of course, but in a very real sense we were in charge of ourselves. Which meant, as far as I was concerned, that I, the big brother, was in charge of my little sister. And so we’d get out the big, tall Tupperware cups and mix up huge servings of chocolate milk, which we hardly ever were allowed to drink, and when we did it certainly wasn’t as chocolatey as we wanted. We’d put in so much chocolate sauce that there’d be a thick layer of chocolate on the bottom of the cup when we were finished drinking. And we’d get out our favorite records—that’s right, actual vinyl on a record player—that our parents owned. Sometimes it was the soundtrack from American Graffiti, but more often it was Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits. And we’d turn up the stereo higher than we knew mom and dad would let us had they been there, singing and dancing to Copacabana and I Write the Songs and Mandy.
We were such rebels, my sister and I.
While mom and dad were gone, we had power. We were in charge. And it was all about us. It was all about what we wanted.
And as the older brother, really, it was all about me.
If my sister did something I didn’t want her to, I was bigger. I had ways of making her stop. I had ways of convincing her that what I wanted to do, what I wanted to eat, the way I wanted things to go, was also what she wanted. I was usually nice about it, but also sneaky, persuasive, and selfish.
Jesus said in our Gospel reading, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
Power from God is power for others.
Lord Acton is often quoted as saying that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s also been said that those who have power seek to find any way to keep the power they have, and those without seek to find any way to obtain it. When Jesus was speaking, the example he was using of what not to do, how not to live, was the Roman Empire. They had power, and they made sure they kept their power through means of persuasion much more violent than I used with my sister. They had chariots, and weapons, and for those who dared to challenge their authority, they had crosses. Theyre was peace in the Roman Empire, the Pax Romana, but it wasn’t the peace which passes all understanding, it wasn’t the wholeness of the Hebrew word shalom, it was merely the lack of violence kept by the fear of violence. And for those who would have been listening to Jesus, the many crosses which often lined the roads filled with those who had dared to challenge the power of Rome and disturb that peace were symbols and stark reminders of that power.
Yes, there was power in the cross. The power of death. The power to get people to do what Rome wanted.
But what Jesus told the disciples, and what Jesus tells us today, is that power from God is power for others.
As Christians, we too know that there is power in the cross. But it’s a different kind of power that what Rome understood. Not the power of death, but the promise of life. Not the power to get people to do our bidding, but the promise of freedom. Not power to be grasped and held on to at any cost, but power to be given away. Not power to serve our own interests, but power to serve our neighbor.
Jesus tells us today that we, all of us, are called to be servant leaders.
We who follow Jesus are called to see power in a different way than the world does. We are called to use power in a different way than the world does. It’s not about us. It’s not getting what we want and holding on to what we deserve. It’s about helping our neighbor get what they need and showing others the same sort of love and grace that we ourselves have been shown, love and grace that we never could have earned. These gifts that we have been given, whether they’re authority or power or possessions or money or love or forgiveness or anything else, aren’t intended to stop with us. They are absolutely for us—the kids who did First Communion instruction with me this past spring will remember how important those two words are—“for you.” The bread and wine, the body and blood, the water and word of baptism, the cross and the empty tomb—these are all absolutely and without a doubt for you. But you’re not where they stop. God’s gifts for you don’t end with you. You are blessed to be a blessing.
Power from God is power for others.
When we follow in the way of the cross, it may not mean our physical death, but it does mean we die to ourselves. We die to our need to be the center of it all, our curved-in nature that is the very definition of sin. We die to our bondage to ourselves. We are saved from our slavery to self, and saved for service to our neighbor. And when that’s how we live, when that’s how we’re oriented, when our view of our neighbor and of power and of all we’ve been given has been shaped by the cross, then we’re already living in the kingdom. We’re already experiencing a foretaste of the feast to come. We’ve already taken that place of honor at Christ’s table—the honor that comes not from grasping, but from giving. The power and the peace that brings wholeness and life. Abundant life now, and eternal life always.
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Which is infinitely better than Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits.