Radical Abundance

leadership gaffd73eeb 1920Message for Epiphany 2 & Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on John 2:1-11 given on January 16, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

The steward at the Wedding at Cana has come to expect “business as usual.” This wedding party will be like every other wedding reception he has managed in Cana. He was not expecting anything spectacular to happen because “business as usual” is code for mutually agreed for low expectations. In the case of first century weddings, the agreed upon low expectation was that there would not be good tasting wine for the whole party—only at the beginning when people can still taste the difference. Then after everyone’s had a few, you switched to the stuff out of the box, because no one was paying attention, and because, everyone needed save a buck. And that’s business as usual.

Lousy wine at parties, traffic jams, rude people, slow service, missed deliveries, people not doing what they said, emails going unanswered—you know, business as usual. When we expect things to go according to” business as usual,” we hedge against disappointment. We do not want to get our expectations up and have them come crashing down, so we go out—whether to a wedding reception, to work or school, or whatever life has in store—expecting business as usual.

If you are a person of color in this country, business as usual can still mean being followed through the store on suspicion that you will steal something; being trained by your elders on how to interact with the police in order to stay safe, putting up with any number of micro-aggressions or racist acts during the day—from not being able to jog safely in your own neighborhood, from feeling absolutely invisible, to being the victim of an outright violent hate crime.

Business as usual for our Jewish friends means having an armed guard when they worship and locking the door when service begins, however, this did not prevent the hostage situation in Colleyville yesterday. I am friends with Rabbi Elana Zeloney of Congregation Beth Torah here in Richardson and we talked about how we worshiped during the initial lockdown of the pandemic. Here at St. Luke’s, we worshiped outside without giving a second thought to our safety; Rabbi Zeloney said it was not possible to do that at her synagogue. They would be sitting ducks for an anti-Semite with a gun. Business as usual for them is always to be planning for safety and security against anti-Semitic violence. 

Back at the wedding at Cana, “business as usual” was worse than expected, because even the bad wine ran out. Although Jesus and his disciples were at a wedding party—not a political event, not a religious service, not a civic gathering—Jesus made clear with this first miracle that his life and ministry would not be “business as usual” for anyone—no matter who you were, or where you came from, or how awful your “business as usual” might have been.

Jesus turned the 6 stone jars—each holding 20-30 gallons of water—into the best wine the steward had ever tasted. “Everyone serves the good wine first…But you have kept the good wine until now.” It was not only delicious wine—there was rivers of it—6 stone jars full—if they had 25 gallons each, that’s about 3800 glasses or 760 bottles of wine! All of Cana was going to be flowing with the abundance and goodness of Jesus’ generosity for weeks and maybe even months to come!

The disciples would quickly learn that life with Jesus was anything but “business as usual.”

• Walking from town to town would become a parade of healing miracles
• A kid’s sack lunch would become a picnic for 5,000 people
• A widow’s son is brought back from the dead, and Lazarus is raised from the tomb
• Followers and exemplars of the faith included tax collectors, widows, enemies, the poor, children, and mixed race Samaritans!

At the beginning it was, “Everyone serves the good wine first…But you have kept the good wine until now.” And then it became:

• Everyone suffers in misery, but you, Jesus, touch even the outcast with God’s healing love!
• Everyone fends for themselves, but you, Jesus, feed all of us!
• Everyone accepts death as inevitable, but you, Jesus, treat it as a doorway to more life!
• Everyone reviles and casts out these rejects of society, but with you, Jesus, everyone is beloved and given a place to belong!

Everyone expected “business as usual,” but with Jesus, there is no such thing—there is no such thing as “business as usual” in the kingdom of God. There is only radical abundance, lavish surprise, overflowing generosity. Every person fed, healed, embraced, forgiven is treated with the equivalent generosity and love of 3800 glasses of wine.
So, “business as usual” is never what it's about for us as followers of Jesus. Faith and life together as the body of Christ, is about offering people goodness and abundance overflowing—760 bottles worth of love and forgiveness and new life! If people want business as usual—they can find it someplace else—my vision for this congregation is that people come here experience grace overflowing…

• Everyone splits into partisan camps, but you St. Luke’s, center your unity in Jesus Christ so each person matters, and the focus is on faith
• Everyone asks for identification to get help, but you give away burritos and have a free food pantry with no hoops to jump, and only ask, “how much do you need?”
• Everyone judges and rejects LGBTQ people, but you St. Luke’s, welcome and celebrate the whole rainbow of people God made
• Everyone feels isolated when they try a new church, but you welcome and love people with gift bags as if they are already home.

Ultimately our calling as Christ-followers is to offer grace over-flowing—not just here on Sunday morning, but in our daily life. Jesus offers the image of the kingdom at the wedding at Cana as one of overflowing abundance, lavish love—a life where we live together sharing the equivalent of 3800 glasses of abundant love, especially with those who are trudging about in business as usual, or worse, being harmed by society’s ills.

This is ultimately the dream of Dr. King—to win the overflowing abundant love of the kingdom for all. In his Christmas Sermon for Peace in 1967, Dr. King said,

I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow, we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say…We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we will still love you… We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.

Dr. King wanted to win every soul—even those who wished him harm—that’s 3800 glasses worth of love, and 760 bottles worth of grace. In this sermon, King held out an image of the wedding at Cana for all—a table of abundance, goodness, lavish love, that was flowing grace where everyone enjoys the fruits of creation, as we celebrate our unity in the God who made us all.

How will you share the radical grace, the unexpected joy of Jesus, who loves you 3800 glasses worth of forgiveness? How will you change the day, the narrative, the experience of someone who thinks that life is business as usual, and instead give them a taste of the resplendent, overflowing, lavish goodness of a God who loves you 760 bottles worth?

Everyone walks around like "business as usual," but you, follower of Jesus, overflow with the radical love and grace of our abundant, lavish God.

Image: Free image from pixabay.com.

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Beloved Child

shore 23666cI had last Sunday off as I helped my daughter move into her apt for student teaching outside of St. Louis, Missouri! It was fun and exciting! Below is a brief reflection for our weekly newsletter which I record on video, and is emailed on Thursdays. If you would like to join St. Luke's email list to see these weekly videos and other news, please send a request to cThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Here is a link to our YouTube page. Our Sunday Service is livestreamed on our our Facebook page Sundays at 10 am, CST and the video of the service is posted there. Contact me on this site with questions, thank you so much! Linda

Maybe you've heard the story of children wrapping their cat in blanket and putting it in a box like baby Jesus. The cat tires of playing dress-up, leaps out of the box, and runs away. The children run after the cat yelling, "baby Jesus get back in your manger!"

We would all like Jesus to remain a baby in the manger at times. If he does not grow up, then maybe we do not have to either. But, already this week, Jesus is baptized to begin his adult ministry.

The manger becomes the Jordan River, the star is replaced by the dove of the Holy Spirit, and instead of wise travelers from the east, God's voice booms from the heavens, "You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased." God loves Jesus-- God is for him, with him, and in him, in everything he does! Jesus is never alone--he is and always will be completely loved.

This is true for all of us-- you are a beloved child of God whose Holy Spirit dwells in you, with you, and is for you as we move into 2022 with all its challenges and hopes. You are never alone, and are completely washed and covered in God's love and grace. That is why God sent Jesus-- so we would have no doubt about this truth!

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Hidden in Plain Sight

magi 20027cMessage for Epiphany Sunday on Jan. 2, 2022 on Matthew 2:1-12 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Sometimes we cannot see the God who is right in front of us, hidden in plain sight.

• The religious leaders did not see it.
• The people did not know it.
• The tax collectors and the census takers, the family members, and the travelers, burdened by daily life and decrees, could not see beyond the crushing demands of the day.

But God was there—in love, in angels, in stars, and in baby smiles. God was present in loyal love that stood strong beyond scandals, in life that pushed through regardless of grime, and in joy that was felt, in spite of a jerry-rigged cradle.

God was making an entrance in plain sight fulfilling a promise: a Messiah is born, God in flesh and bone—in the very place the Scripture foretold—Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Yet, God is hidden in plain sight. No one noticed except a few shepherds who had to return to their sheep—and no one listened to shepherds anyway.

Who does God use to bring the revelation of a Savior—the recognition that the long-awaited Messiah has arrived?

• Does it come from the wealthy and powerful?
• From kings and leaders?
• From the religious and devout?
• From the prophets and sages of their own faith?

No. None of them can see the God who is born among them, hidden in plain sight.

The revelation of the Messiah comes from foreigners. From Persians, Iranians, and Saudi Arabians. The epiphany of who this baby truly is comes from priests and practitioners of Zoroastrianism, an ancient, pagan and foreign religion. From scientists who study the stars. They see clearly what God is doing—where and how —and they go on journey to be part of it.

Have you ever wondered why scientific foreigners of another religion know what God is doing when the people who serve and follow this God do not?

God seems willing to go pretty far to get the message across to the people that their Savior is born--that God loves them so much, God chose to become like them.

It is radical news. In our Ephesian passage, Paul talks about bringing the good news of Christ out into all the world, a light to the Gentiles.

But Matthew reverses this direction with Magi: the world is bringing the message of God to Israel. God will go to any length, use anyone in the world, to share God’s yearning to communicate—to love us and to save us – even other religions, scientists, foreigners, travelers, star-gazers, dreamers.

Would you believe foreigners, star-gazers, dreamers, Zoroastrians, scientists, travelers, or for that matter, shepherds, angels, unwed mothers, foolish loyal husbands-to-be? Will you believe them when God uses them to point out God’s presence and love and grace for you this year?

The magi invite us to be mindful of the things we are tempted to write off—be they foreigners or immigrants, recent science, a dream, neighbors of a different faith, the words of a child, the movement of nature, the timing of a song, the kindness of a stranger.

The Magi want us to be open to every way that God might show up—and God shows up in so many different ways in the Bible!

wrestling, hardship, healing, resurrection, hospitality, fire, storms, voices, clouds, mountains, foreign powers, metaphors, prophets, teachers, light, the poor, parables, songs, poetry, inner wisdom, bread, water, pregnancy, children, visions, rocks, silence, fish, and more! (I could go on, but we have burritos after church!)

When we open our minds, tune our thoughts and refresh our eyes for “God-sightings” or God-winks” we begin to notice them everywhere—Here’s a few I have noticed lately---

• The shape of the back of a tow-truck is a cross,
• An unexpected call from an old friend yesterday
• A church member who helped another member while I was on vacation last week
• The young man at the Target checkout right before Christmas, who was ready to go home, and his light was off and I was too tired to notice, and checked me out anyway.
• the bird singing in the tree near my parking space at Kroger
• A homeless person with a sign on the street corner asking God to bless me.
• My sister asked for guidance on a big decision and heard the words of a song at just the right moment that confirmed a future direction
• And these don’t even count the family time over the holiday.

Being open to new God-sightings is to trust the God that cannot be controlled, predicted, packaged, boxed into familiar categories.

God’s love and presence incarnate in Jesus Christ, exists in every person, and all of creation all around us, hidden in plain sight. God uses unlikely and unexpected ways to show Godself to us, shaking the blinders from our eyes so we can see God clearly—as easily as we can see negativity.

Yes, we are all weary of the pandemic. But remember that God’s love never wears out, never runs out, and never wearies of us. God’s love is never weary—there’s always more than enough for us.

Whatever chaos is happening around us, whatever difficulty is unfolding, whatever the pandemic is doing, whatever policy or judgement the current administration or supreme court is or is not enacting—here is what informs our daily life:

• love is always flowing from the manger;
• grace is always pouring from the cross;
• life is always bursting from the tomb—
• Spirit’s power is always available here and now

Look! See! Come! Join the magi on the journey to be a part of God’s life showing up, hidden in plain sight. Receive God’s love, always present with you in Jesus Christ, follow his light and share his love.

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Two Decrees

shepherds 13074cMessage for Christmas Eve on Luke 2:1-15 for December 24, 2021 given at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

“A decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered….”

I have read and heard this story hundreds of times, yet I have never thought about what it was like for Mary and Joseph to give birth under Emperor Augustus’s decree until recently—living in a pandemic. Now we know what it is like to live under decrees—about masks, vaccines, whether to work or go to school at home or on zoom, and when to test, and quarantine. Whether or not we like or agree with them, these decrees are intended to keep us and others healthy, but this was not true of the emperor’s decrees at the time that Jesus’ was born.

Emperor Augustus agreed with Benjamin Franklin’s assessment that the “only certain things in life are death and taxes” and he wielded both with a fearsome might. The registration Augustus decreed ensured that everyone was being properly taxed for the Roman empire—an oppressive burden on already poor people, many of whom already had their land taken away. They could pay the money or pay with their life, bringing fear and hardship. But decrees by emperors demanded a response; so, regardless of being nine months pregnant, Mary got on a donkey and with Joseph’s assistance, they made their way to Bethlehem to have what livelihood they did earn, taxed for Rome.

But this was not the only decree happening at the time. There was a parallel and much more powerful decree being declared by God in a field outside of Bethlehem. The angels appeared to the shepherds with a message of joy for the whole world that comes for all people everywhere. The angels told them NOT to be afraid, for their decree was one of life and love and salvation. Your God is coming as new life—as a baby in a manger, who will be like you and show you the way, and lead you forward, and walk with you through the valley of the shadows, and bring you through to the other side.

God has come to be with you, and your Messiah and Savior reverses the power of “death and taxes” with the certain gift of eternal life and a promissory note that says, “your debt is paid and your sins are forgiven.”

• This decree of hope and new life has the power to go back into your past and erase everything you have done you wish you didn’t, all you did not do and you wish you did—and bring you peace.
• This decree of hope and new life has the power to fill your present with the presence of the Christ-child, born anew in your hearts with the love and strength to live with the challenges of today knowing that Jesus is always with you.
• This decree of hope and new life has the power to reach into your future beyond the grave and give you a heavenly home with the angels you see around now.

The shepherds were so overjoyed to hear God’s decree of life and salvation from the angels, they, like Mary and Joseph, also went to Bethlehem. But they did not make their way under the heavy weight of obligation. They ran to Bethlehem. They rushed there out of sheer elation that they could live under the decree of God’s all-encompassing love here and now. The shepherds brought their joy and wonder to Mary and Joseph, releasing them and all of us, to live under a liberating decree of joy and glory.

The birth of God’s immense love into our lives in Jesus gives us all the strength and wisdom, power and love we need to live with the rules that order our earthly life, while we give our hearts and minds, our strength and souls—truly and completely—to the decree of Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.