St. Paul’s is a welcoming and inclusive community of about 280 members who come from all over the greater Milwaukee area.
We treasure the richness and diversity God has given our community, as it enhances our understanding of God.
If you believe in a divine being surely you’d want to know: “what is that being like? How do I relate to this being?” Warning: scripture won’t give you clear, direct answers. Trying to figure you’ll get a clear bead on the divine plan will be tough. Things start okay in Genesis, when God creates – earth, sky, seas, animals, and finally people who, unlike the rest of creation come with free wills, which they immediately test – you remember, that tree thing. For trying it out, the first couple gets evicted. Things quickly deteriorate. Heard of the big flood? God sends it to wipe out and restart creation. Does God really kill Egyptian boys – drowns the army, to help out His chosen, and then commands them destroy a people and take their country? God sounds more like tribal warrior gods who lead Israel’s neighbors. Israel’s God tries to keep the Chosen, chosen. To straighten folks out God sends prophets, who get few positive results. Isaiah cries out for God to rip open the heavens and get down here and fix this mess. Finally God does, once and for all – Jesus – Incarnation, which says this all powerful Almighty Creator stoops to become like us, to relate to us – and clear up some bad rumors about him.
I suspect everyone here today is familiar with John 3:16: “God so loved the world, he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” You may have learned the verse in Children’s Sunday School, at Vacation Bible School, or memorized it from NFL end zones when some religiously inclined fans held up the citation. You get it.
In spite of strong attendance and robust revenues something is seriously wrong at the Temple. It’s Pentecost – family reunion feast, when Jews from all over pour in – sort of like Christmas or Easter for us. Hotel rooms get booked a year ahead. Now no rooms – no dinner reservations. Commerce even booms in the Temple narthex: buying sacrificial animals; exchanging local coins for Temple-approved ones to pay off pledges. That’s the system. Jesus bursts in – bypassing priests, vestry wardens, and Temple treasurer. He immediately overturns tables, frees animals, tips over the ATMs – nothing meek and mild here. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Something is terribly wrong with the Temple and Jesus aims to change that.
In view of the travel difficulties the recent weather has created today, the Lenten program at St Paul’s tonight is canceled. We’ll resume next week as regularly scheduled.
Ever had an “Ah ha!” moment. You think, “Okay, I’m getting it.” Then you get whacked by a two-by-four you never saw coming. Now it’s an “Oh No” moment. That would be Peter. He thinks he knows Jesus. Peter is about to learn that knowing a title and name won’t be enough. He’s not the only one about to learn.
A millennial theologian, Erin Lane, has a written a book: Lessons in Belonging: From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe. For her and others that means she belongs to God, but hesitates – no, fears joining a church. Her group is disillusioned by the church. We don’t live up to our hype. Lower church attendance these days indicates something is not working so well for us. Maybe we need to pay attention. So this Ash Wednesday we’ll take a page from Joel’s book. “Sound the trumpet. Gather the assembly, invite your neighbors.” Not just individuals, but us as the church – Repent! Admit it, we tolerate sloppy clergy, apathetic members, half-hearted governance and lose sight of what matters to God. To recall initials from the past: WWJD. What would Joel do?
As a pastor in Roanoke, Virginia I would take our staff for a day retreat each year. At Peaks of Otter we’d walk the trail up Sharp Top Mountain, absorb the glory of God’s magnificent creation, then descend to the lodge for lunch and conversations. When I hired new clergy, I took them on a “get-acquainted” retreat to the same place. Once a new associate tells me afterwards, he believed he came real close to God on our trek. Unsure what he meant, yet pleased, I said, “Tell me more.” He says, “I will never again go with you on what you call a walk. I got so scared I needed to feel close to God. You dang near killed me walking that up mountain.”
Jesus’ first day of public ministry starts with a bang. He bags an unclean spirit; heals a woman, all before dinner. The opening of ministry for me started out strong, too. I brought my first sermon, to a close, “Now in conclusion,” and a miracle happened. I raised the dead. Well they looked dead to me. My words brought them back to life, smiles, high-fiving. Hadn’t happened since, though.