A child will lead them…a Maundy Thursday Sermon by Mia on Matt 26:26-32

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A child will lead them

4/17/2014 Maundy Thursday
A sermon on Matt 26:26-32
by 8 year old, Mia Sinibaldo

St. Michael’s Lutheran Church
New Canaan, CT

Maundy Thursday, “In Memory of Me” by Mia Sinibaldo

God gave his only son, his only child, to save us from sin. God loves us that much.                 Did he have to do it? Did Jesus have to die? My answer is “yes.”

Why did he make communion? So we remember. Why are we here tonight? So we remember. Why do have church every week? Because we forget. Remember tonight that Jesus gave his flesh and blood for us. For everyone!

My favorite Bible verse is, “For God so loved the world he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16) I memorized it so I can remember. You should too.

So then there is the Mount of Olives. Olives? We think of them as small round things. Personally, I don’t even like olives.(yuck!)  But the disciples went to the Mount of Olives after their meal with Jesus anyway. Jesus asked his friends to pray with him. They fell asleep because they forgot.

Little did they know that their supper has been the Last Supper. They didn’t even remember to stay awake with him. Little did they know that Jesus was going to die. The cross is a symbol: a symbol of Jesus. It is hard knowing Jesus will die. Tonight we remember that Jesus died for us. It is hard to remember that.

It is a good night to be here, because there are many reminders that Jesus loves you:

Reminder Number 1.

He forgives your sins.  Do you think Jesus forgives you? In a few minutes we will all say we are sorry to Jesus and hear the words, “you are forgiven.” You can even come up and hear it again with a special blessing. My Papa will mark a cross on your head and tell you Jesus forgives you. Believe it.

Reminder Number 2:

Come on up and take communion. But not yet though! When it is time to come up for communion, remember that Jesus died for you. Even after all these years that Jesus died – we remember Jesus is with us every time we eat the bread and drink the wine. I always think of the cross when I come up for communion. I Remember Jesus loves me.  I remember that I love Jesus. I also like to give that guy a hug — because I love him too.

Reminder Number 3:

When we strip the altar we remember how lonely Jesus was. He must have been scared.      I’m even scared thinking about it. His friends even left him alone. We do too. But tonight we know we are never alone. Jesus brings us together. That’s why we are a church – to know that no matter how alone or scared we are Jesus is with us. Remember that!

Reminder Number 4.

Tomorrow is Good Friday. The really sad day Jesus died. It should be called Sad Friday not Good Friday.Whoever came up with the name “Good Friday” anyways?

And one last reminder – the 5th and final one.

Even though we leave sad tonight and that we know Jesus will die tomorrow, we also know what is coming Sunday…Easter bunnies! Just kidding – Easter is about Jesus being alive. Jesus rose on Easter morn! …Remember?

These are your reminders for tonight:

Jesus forgives you. He gives us a meal to remember. Jesus was lonely. Tomorrow is Good Friday. Sunday is Easter.  Jesus rose on Easter morn!

So come on up and be part of the story. Then we should all go to bed…                                             It is already past my bedtime.

Jesus loves you. Thanks be to God!

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Why anti-Semitism is never appropriate during Holy Week (or ever).

easter.st.michaelsHoly Week centers Christians on the most important stories of our faith – the entrance, betrayal, denial, rejection, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth in first century Jerusalem.  It becomes a time to find oneself in the cheering crowd on Palm Sunday, as betrayers like Judas and deniers like Peter on Maundy Thursday. In Holy Week we discover that it is we who abandon him, mock him, and cry beneath his feet on Good Friday.

The coming joy of Easter is not a happy ending to a bedtime tale, but is God’s shocking surprise of new life and forgiveness that meets us in the participation of the death of Jesus.

Unfortunately, this perspective is not the only takeaway from this powerful story. A shameful memory of anti-Semitism and blaming our Jewish neighbors for the death of Jesus across the centuries has had a long and tragic history. Blame is not a Christian virtue. Repentance is. As we read and reread the passion narratives we should remember that it is we who killed Jesus, while pointing the finger of judgment on countless of innocent people on his behalf. May God have mercy on us all.

One of the ways Christians have justified this mistreatment of our Jewish neighbors comes from the Gospels themselves. John’s Gospel in particular is troubling because of the idiom he frequently used to describe Jesus’ opponents as “the Jews.” I have struggled a long time with John’s use of this phrase.  I wish he never used those words. We tend to hear them differently after the horrors of the Holocaust that took place during World War II. A shooting rampage at a Jewish Center in Kansas City this week makes reading John’s Passion difficult. We hear his words “the Jews” not as shorthand for the religious leaders that found the ministry and teaching of Jesus challenging to their understanding and authority, but rather as an anti-Semitic slur we continue to perpetuate. To read John’s use of the phrase “the Jews” as representative of all Jewish people of all time including your neighbor down the street leads to dangerous places, and abhorrent actions which stand against everything Jesus said and taught. Remember the point in telling this story year after year is not to assign blame by answering “Who killed the Messiah?” as we point away from ourselves. The point is “so that you may believe” (John 20:31), from Good Friday to Easter Sunday and beyond.

The message of Jesus is powerful. One of the most important lessons is that whatever ethnicity, gender, background, status or other dividing line we see – all people are precious in God’s sight.  Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17).  As people called to a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) and tearing down dividing walls between us (Ephesians 2:13-14) our mission is to bring people together, not drive them apart, threaten or blame.   As people who are reminded to first see the sinfulness and brokenness in ourselves, we turn to the mercy of God we revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus. By faith we hope that our lives reflect the one whom we follow. We turn to God’s judgment and mercy because we so often do not.

In his later life, Martin Luther wrote one of the most unfortunate tracks of his career,         “On the Jews and Their Lies.” (Here is a link to what I wrote about it: http://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/against-luthers-on-the-jews-and-their-lies/.) In that tract, Luther advocates horrible things, such as burning property, banishing people from communities and other acts of violence. All Christians should repudiate these words and the trajectory of hate crimes they have caused. I am happy to report that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America did that in 1994 (http://www.elca.org/Faith/Ecumenical-and-Inter-Religious-Relations/Inter-Religious-Relations/Jewish-Relations). We must all be on guard to the ease in which others are persecuted in the name of faith. We must not excuse Luther. He was wrong to say what he did.  He should have remembered his own teaching about the Ten Commandments:

“First, we are forbidden to do our neighbors any injury or wrong in any way imaginable, whether by damaging, withholding, or interfering with their possessions and property. We are not even to consent or permit such a thing but are rather to avert and prevent it. In addition, we are commanded to promote and further our neighbor’s interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friend and foes.”  (Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism,” The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000], pp. 419-420.)

How are we to treat our Jewish neighbors? In short: Like neighbors who take care of their neighbors.

This is what Jesus teaches:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

I wish you a blessed, rich and fulfilling rest of Holy Week. As you listen and witness others asking “Who killed Jesus?” or assigning blame for our violent world, remind them what the story of Jesus is really about: God’s love for us all.

PGS

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Palm Sunday, 2014 “from cheers to boos” Matt 21:6-11

palm (2)4/13/2014
Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday
Matt 21:6-11
“from cheers to boos”

St. Michael’s Lutheran Church
New Canaan, CT

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Palm Sunday on Monday

Sometimes our religious traditions seem far removed from the world we actually live in.        A question lingers: How does the message on Sunday matter on Monday?

Or to put it another way – Where does our faith intersect with the real world?

Do you think about these questions? I do.

Church has always been part of my experience, so it is hard to remove it from the way I perceive the world.  Yet sometimes it seems that religious people live in two separate atmospheres – one that remembers ancient stories and practices, preserved and handed down from generation to generation; and a second where the blurred lines of our specific histories meet a technologically driven secular world where the only way forward is to lose the old ways in favor of the “new and improved.” Can they fit together? How?

Holy Week starts on Sunday. Many people across the Christian church in all its forms will receive palm branches and will wave them along with shouts of “Hosanna.” In doing so we commemorate Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, the visual reminder of our ongoing song,  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” In Holy Week we announce that our savior is not just a child in a manger, but the promised Messiah; the Christ! Yet just like the world around us we reject him.

donkey.wilhelm.morgner.

Wilhelm Morgner, “Entry of Christ into Jerusalem”

Remember: the primary Christian symbol is not a palm branch, but a cross.

When Monday comes it is difficult to ignore that wars still rage on across the world. Corruption and greed dig deeper and deeper among the seats of power. The vulnerable are easy prey. Children and women are exploited.  People die of diseases we can easily cure or prevent if we only had the will to do so. Justice and human dignity are ignored. The challenges of hunger and food distribution are forgotten. Homelessness, unemployment and underemployment persist.  The numbers of refugees continue to increase. What appears to be senseless suffering – is all around us. We reluctantly accept our inability to change anything. We look the other way. We pretend these and other challenges don’t exist, but this is the real world. Yet Jesus still rides on his donkey toward a cross. Are we willing to take notice?

If we are honest, we know deep down that it is a fair assessment by those who have left the church (or who were never interested) who say “you Christians claim one thing and do another.”  When people say that they, “like Jesus but not the church” it is easy to see why.  We are a mess. If Holy Week does anything for us, it should cause us to open our eyes.

Open your eyes.

Sometimes I think our greatest fear is that our faith will “lose” to the surrounding culture. We are afraid no one will want to hang on to our traditions. We judge them for not “getting it” like we do, and we judge ourselves even worse for not passing the faith on effectively. So we bunker down – uncertain of what we should do, if anything at all. Good traditions don’t insulate us from the world, they help us engage and make sense of it. Sunday and Monday go together, even though they sometimes feel further and further apart.

Lucas Cranach, "Altar Piece in Wittenberg"

Lucas Cranach, “Altar Piece in Wittenberg”

Christ on the cross is as relevant as ever. All of the challenges before mentioned are exactly the place where Jesus meets us in pain death and suffering. Can we articulate it? Jesus comes in on a donkey to go to the cross; meeting injustice and cruelty with mercy and compassion.  His grace is overwhelmingly one sided. In a winner-take-all world that leaves us feeling inept, he becomes the loser for you and me. What makes grace costly to us is that Jesus asks us to lose everything for others.

There are many connections to make between Sunday and Monday. Our life in the Spirit calls to make those connections. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  Can we name the power of God in our own lives? Does what we do together on Sundays impact how we live on Mondays? If not, why not? If not, why are we doing them?

It may be true that the church is increasingly irrelevant. But Jesus doesn’t call us to preserve the church – he calls us to make disciples. If all we do is look inward we have missed the point. Then we will be left behind. Then Sunday and Monday have nothing to do with one another. Then our call to the nations (starting in our own neighborhood) remains unfulfilled. Will we always get it right? Of course not, but connecting Sunday with Monday gives us a way of seeing, talking ad acting that lives boldly into God’s grace as we step one foot at a time into a hurting world.  Remember where we stand and shout “Hosanna” is never a stationary spot.

Jesus is riding towards us on a donkey. Will you follow where he leads?

Grab your Palm branch.

Shout “Hosanna!”

Open your eyes to the cross and see a whole new world.

Let’s go.

GTS

___

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.               (Hebrews 12:1-3)

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“Why Lazarus should terrify you” sermon on John 11:1-46

Lazarus4/06/2014
Lent 5
Sermon on John 11:1-46
“Why Lazarus should terrify you”

St. Michael’s Lutheran Church
New Canaan, CT

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“Bearing fruit” sermon on Matt 7:15-20, and Luther’s “A Treatise on Good Works” (1520)

fruit_basket-113914/02/2014
Lent Midweek

“Bearing Fruit”
A sermon on Matt 7:15-20
and Luther’s “A Treatise on Good Works” (1520)

St. Michael’s Lutheran Church
New Canaan, CT

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Opening Day!

baseball.opening.day.2014It is once again the start of the major league baseball season and I could not be more excited for it. It is not that I follow it closely – I don’t. I watch occasional highlights, check the standings, and hope my team stays in the hunt, but not much else. When I was younger I knew all the White Sox players, the holes in the lineup, and the strengths and shortcomings of the pitching staff. Now I hardly know any of the players. When I look at the lineup at the start of the season I am reminded of that scene in the movie classic “Major League” when Cleveland fans on opening day ask, “Who are these guys?”

I have lived more years away from Chicago than I ever lived there. The last game I went to with my uncle was in the summer of 2000. Wearing my White Sox cap helps me remember who I am, where I come from, and the relationships with family members who shaped me. I grew up a White Sox fan in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago which was deemed Cubs territory and I wouldn’t trade what it meant to stay true to my team in those formative years. baseball.2014.My uncle and I used to go to Cubs games and root for the other team! One year our White Sox had a commercial one year with a catchy jingle that went, “Let’s hear it for the White Sox! Look out, here they come!” We went to a Cubs game against the San Diego Padres and sang, “Let’s hear it for the Padres…” We still laugh about that particular game. I had a girlfriend in High School who was a huge Cubs fan and was infatuated by Mark Grace who played first base for them at the time. I should have known then we had no future together.  Sometimes an old baseball cap can remind us not only of who we are, but also who we never want to be.

I think people sometimes see the church like their favorite team. They might not have season tickets; they might not have been to a game for years; they might have long forgotten who any of the players are. But your team is your team is your team. You can be Lutheran or Catholic or Methodist and wear the spiritual equivalent of a baseball cap to remind you of who you are supposed to be, but it is a relationship of nostalgia. It reminds people of family, or of growing up, of a feeling like going to the ballpark that is long gone.  It is a faith of memory rather than one that breathes. It is one that sees their faith (or its remnant) as something holding them back, and if they can only shed it, maybe they can do something new. It’s hard to root for a new team in a new place if you never think you have

The church needs to be more open than that.  Maybe we communicate the wrong things by our Lutheran“ness” or our Catholic“ness” or Methodist“ness” and we often cheer as if our team is the best.  It is not a bad thing to cheer for our favorite team but often it comes at the expense of forgetting about our love for the game. When it comes to faith; that passion is our love for God and other people.  Maybe we need to appreciate each other more and celebrate ourselves less. Living elsewhere I’ve come to appreciate Wisconsin fans, Minnesota fans, New England fans, New York fans and all the teams they represent. I even married a Packer/Brewer fan and all indicators suggest I am better for it.  Baseball season is not just White Sox season (any sport is about more than your favorite team) and the church could learn that lesson too. My love for the games I like to watch and participate in has grown by the perspectives and passions of others who don’t share my viewpoint, and I wear my White Sox cap with greater confidence because of it.  As the church we can wear our love of God and others among other Christians, other faiths, people who left the game long ago and those who don’t seem interested with a wider view than “our team is best – so get out of my way.” On the contrary, we can come to others willing to listen, learn and appreciate where they are coming from, but always starting from the cross and looking outward.

baseball.umpire.There are those who justifiably don’t like the church. All they have to do observe current scandals and past mistreatment of others as the reasons to stay away from organized religion. It is important to know our history. When it comes to the White Sox I know the Black Sox scandal from 1918 and the stain it left on the game, but it doesn’t change the beauty of the field, the warmth of the sun on your face, the smell of the grass, the sounds of the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd, the taste of that hot dog, and the feel of putting your glove on your hand and working it again as if for the first time. This is what makes baseball great. We know the greed and corruption of many players and owners, the doping scandals of last couple decades and some of the mistrust it has created with the public. Yet it’s the many more honest players, the hardworking ones, the pure talent and seasoned skill that keeps us yearning for more. The church has been through a lot over the last coupe decades too when it comes to scandal and disappointment, but it’s the faith of the everyday players like you that carries it through.  Church and baseball can be a lot alike.

As your favorite team starts playing this season, think also of your church team as you watch. Consider the lineup of the players on your squad. Remember the opportunities we may have missed in prior seasons and how we might better capitalize on them with the gift of this new season ahead of us. (Easter is coming!) Let yourself experience your faith with all five senses and share it with others. Slide that glove back on your hand, and work it in.  Wear your cap. It may have snowed again this week but the sun is coming, and you’ll want to keep it out of your eyes. It’s a long season, and your team is rooting for you.

jesus.baseball.“There’s always next year,” we say at the end of a baseball season when we fail to realize our aspirations. In our church life it is always next year, through a life lived by the grace of God in Christ. From the cross to the tomb and outside again, we step up to the plate knowing that the Spirit (God’s mighty wind) is blowing at our backs to carry that ball right out of the ballpark.  Open your eyes and swing with everything you’ve got.

PGS

__

I send this letter to you in God’s church at Corinth, Christians cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God-filled life. I include in my greeting all who call out to Jesus, wherever they live. He’s their Master as well as ours! May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father, and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours.  Every time I think of you – and I think of you often! – I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God, given by Jesus. There’s no end to what has happened in you – it’s beyond speech, beyond knowledge.  The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives. Just think – you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale.  And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus.  God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that. The Cross: The Irony of God’s Wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:2-9)

P.S. On 3/31/2014 The White Sox won their home opener 3-5, hosting the Minnesota Twins. Go Go Sox!

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