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Holy Perfection

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 19 February 2017 13:10.

Epiphany 7A     Matthew 5:38-48

It’s taken us most of the last two months, and I know that you haven’t all been here for every week of it, but our Epiphany march through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount ends today, and it ends with nothing less than a call to holy perfection.  In our preaching these past several weeks, Pastor Aaron and I have led you through a series of texts: from commandments of Moses and words of prophets that told us plainly what God wants from people who bear his name, to Paul’s words to the Corinthians comparing the world’s best wisdom to God’s foolish and costly ways and priorities; to Jesus taking the commandments of Moses one by one and challenging us to not only outwardly behave according to them, but to be inwardly transformed in the deepest desires and attitudes of our hearts.

And then today, we hear that it’s not enough to simply resist evil, but we need to overcome it with good, even  by doing twice what it demands of us. Like when a Roman soldier tries to prove his power over you by making you carry his bag one mile, Jesus suggests that you grab the power right back by saying, “NO. I’m going to carry it two miles!” And Jesus insists that it’s not enough to love your well-intended neighbor, but that God expects you to love your enemies and pray for the very people who mean you harm.

And then comes the kicker, the bottom line, the last word on all of this talk about what God wants, and what God expects from us. And it’s not what our religion and most cherished doctrines have taught us to expect. It’s not a holy scolding about how far short we fall of these demands of God; not a divine acknowledgement that God understands our human sin and shortcomings and has dealt with them fully for us on Jesus’ cross; not the assurance that because Jesus was perfect in his obedience that we don’t need to be anymore. Instead, by the time Jesus comes to the end of his litany of toughened commandments and heightened expectations, we hear Jesus say  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

And there it is. Jesus expects us to be as perfect as God. Or as the book of Leviticus said it centuries before: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  Both before and after the atoning sacrifice of the cross and the defeat of death on Easter, God wants holy perfection from God’s people and nothing less. The hope and promise of forgiveness of sin does not render any of the commandments invalid or unimportant. Not one letter of the law will be relaxed, Jesus said in last Sunday’s gospel, until the entire thing is fulfilled.  Even our wonderful Lutheran insight that we are simultaneously and always a fully forgiven saint and a bound and hopeless sinner does not negate God’s intention that we be holy and perfect. God wants us to be every bit as holy as God. Jesus expects us to be every bit as perfect as our heavenly Father.

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Reconciling at the Altar

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker on Sunday, 12 February 2017 10:11.

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (A) - Matthew 5:21-37

I can remember hearing today’s Gospel passage when I was a child, and feeling very worried.  See, my brother and I had a very challenging relationship when we were little.  Which I suppose is probably pretty typical, but that didn’t stop me from feeling the acuteness of Jesus’ words for us.  Adam and I loved each other, of course, and we had our good moments.  But we were also two very different people.  I was the kind of child who couldn’t really spend more than thirty minutes doing one thing.  I know it’s hard to believe, but I was easily distracted, and my ability to really focus was minimal.  I would be done with whatever game we were playing long before he was.

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Foolish

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker on Sunday, 29 January 2017 09:52.

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (A) - 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

In what the world calls foolishness, there is godly power and wisdom.

I remember a certain homebound member visit I made back when I was on internship in Omaha.  Her name was Betty, an older woman who had just moved into one of those institutional settings for people who don’t have a lot of resources, the kind that looks shabby and is staffed with too few nurses and aides who are too busy to really provide the care their patients need.  I walked down the hall to the wing of the building in which she lived, and found I had to pass through locked doors.  This was the memory loss unit, something my internship supervisor hadn’t told me when she asked me to go.  I’d expected to sit down with a beloved member of the congregation and her all her stories about growing up in Omaha.  And now, I had no idea what to expect.

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A New Song

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Saturday, 28 January 2017 15:28.

Funeral – Wesley White   
Matthew 7:7-12

“Sing to the Lord a new song;” Psalm 96 begins. “Sing to the Lord, all the earth.”

Wesley White loved music, and he especially loved Jazz. He loved listening to it. He loved playing it on his harmonica. John Leslie and Pastor Aaron sought to honor that love for jazz in their pre-service music today. I didn’t really know about that love Wes had for jazz until just these past few days. For some reason, the subject just hadn’t come up in my many visits and conversations with him and with Karen.

Probably knowing about my interest in boat building and gardening, Wes liked to show me things he’d built or fashioned or fixed. He once took me down to his basement to show me the heating and cooling system he’d installed himself. He liked to talk about tomatoes and cucumbers and how in a yard that got too much hot sun in the summer, he’d figured out that the best place to grow his vegetables was in the partial shade under his picnic table.

But knowing what I did about Wes, it doesn’t surprise me that his music tastes tended toward jazz. I knew that Wes was a man who could make or fix just about anything. And if he didn’t know how when he started, he found out or figured out how before he was done.

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Time to Get Serious

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 22 January 2017 08:32.

Epiphany 3A      Matthew 4:12-23

Just ten verses into his letter to the Christian community in Corinth, Paul is telling them that it’s time for them to gets serious about being followers of Jesus, time to be united in mind and purpose. He had heard that they were spending their time and energy dividing themselves into sub-groups, each with their rival loyalties to one leader or another. Each was saying “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Peter,” and even “I belong to Christ,” as if the others didn’t.

“Enough!” Paul says. “The church faces enough challenges from outside for you to waste time and energy creating your own within. The world has problems numerous enough and big enough that it doesn’t need a divided church to be just one more. You have a message for the world, dear Corinthians: a message about the cross that must not be emptied of its power, a message about a love for others that cannot stop when loving gets risky, and cannot let itself be deterred when compassion gets costly; a love from God and for God so broad and deep and high that it is willing to lay down its life for others - a message about a cross that not only saves us but also shapes us for a godly, Christ-like, light-in-the-darkness witness to the world. This is not a time to sort yourselves out by who performed your baptism. This is a time to live in the light of your common baptism. This is a time to get serious about being followers of Jesus, time to be united in mind and purpose.”