Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sunday of Palms and Passion: Not What We Expected

Readings for today:  Mark 11:1-10 (Palm);  Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11 and Mark chapters 14 & 15 (Passion) 
One of the recurring Palm Sunday sermon themes is how the same crowd that cries “Hosanna” on Sunday, cries “Crucify Him” a mere four later.  It’s offered up as a reminder of how fickle public opinion can be and as a warning to us to remain faithful to the end.

This theme doesn’t work as well for Mark’s telling of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem.  In Mark’s gospel, there is no crowd.  There are “many people who spread their cloaks on the road” and “others who spread leafy branches” and “those who went ahead and those who went behind, shouting Hosanna.” 

There’s no crowd.  Just the people around Jesus that morning, his usual entourage – disciples, followers, supporters, seekers, hanger-ons.  All hailed the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  A Jesus who they saw as a miracle worker – he healed them, fed them, calmed the storm.  A Jesus who proclaimed the Kingdom of God was here now, that God’s reign of peace and justice would prevail.   On the back of that donkey, they saw a superstar king - someone who would free them from pain and hunger and Roman oppression and bring back the glory days of Israel.  This entry to Jerusalem surely was the start of that new kingdom!

Even the disciples weren’t any clearer about who Jesus was and the significance of this entry to Jerusalem.  They had been with him, sat at his feet, received private instruction from him, were sent out to teach and heal in his name.  After three years they still didn’t really understand who Jesus was.  They hailed Jesus as messiah as he enters Jerusalem, but they have a complete lack of understanding about who Jesus really is and what the Messiah is sent to do. 

The picture Mark paints of that first Palm Sunday so long ago looks remarkably like our gathering today.

Like Jesus’ followers on that day long ago, we wave greenery – in our case palms.  We sing praises – “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”  In this crowd, and in crowds all over the world this morning, there are those who are disciples of Jesus, those who follow, those who seek, the curious, and the hanger-on's.

And just like those shouting “Hosanna” that morning, we like this superstar Jesus entering Jerusalem, this one who comes in the name of the Lord to save us – which we often interpret to mean to help us avoid pain, to provide for our every want, to make sure nothing bad happens to us.  Like the Judeans awaiting a return of David’s kingdom, we anxiously await for Jesus to usher in a perfect world, or at least a return to the good old days.  Yes, we like this Jesus. 

But, the Jesus who rides in silently, who just as silently faces his accusers, and who cleanses the temple frightens and confuses us.  We are not so comfortable with the Jesus of five days from now, the Jesus who, suffering and dying, promises new life on the other side of pain, who promises not to end our pain, but to carry us through it, to make something beautiful out of the ugliness of suffering and death.

Like the disciples, we see in Jesus who we want to see.  We see the kind, gentle Jesus holding a child, or gently carrying a lost lamb.  We look questioningly at the Jesus who tells us to take up our cross and follow him and wonder what that could possibly mean.  We marvel at the King riding triumphant on Palm Sunday and miss the real, divine power revealed on the cross. 

We like to contain God, to put Jesus in a neatly defined box.  We pick and choose and create an image of Jesus who is like us.  We forget that we are created in God’s image and not the other way around.  We forget that we are called to imitate Jesus, to follow the example of our brother and master, who stoops to wash our feet and lays down his life for us, his friends.

But that’s exactly what Mark challenges us to do.  He asks, “Who is Jesus?  What does following him really mean?”

So who do you see this morning riding on a donkey? 

Who is this Jesus you see coming in the name of the Lord? 

What kind of kingdom do you think he is bringing with him? 

These are important questions.  These are questions to ponder this holy week as we progress from palms to crowns of thorns, from hosanna to crucify, from triumphant king to condemned criminal, from cross to empty tomb. 

Who is your Jesus?  

What false kingly images do you hold in place of the real Messiah? 

How will God be revealed to you as you kneel at the foot of the cross?  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jesus, withdraw into me and pray.

I am reading Lauren Winner's "Still: notes on a mid-faith crisis" as part of my Lenten devotions.  It seems fitting to read the reflections of someone clearly journeying in the wilderness as a reflection for Lent.  My own call process plunged me into the wilderness for over a year so, although Lauren's originating crisis is much different than my most recent wilderness wandering, she speaks from a place I understand, a place I've been.

Today's reading is about the practice of dislocated exegesis - reading the Bible in places other than one's normal reading location.  Such as reading in a bank, or a business, or an art museum.  The familiar stories and verses sound different when read outside the safe walls of home or church.

Her last example of this practice speaks to my soul.  I have to write today to think about it.

Lauren is reading one of Jesus' healing stories in an art museum (page 141).  She goes there often mid-day for a few minutes of silence.  She reads that Jesus withdrew to a lonely place to pray - which sounds a lot to her like retreating into an art museum for some silence. 

And then she begins to wonder- what makes a place lonely.  "A place lonely like Jesus?"   Something in those words tear at my soul.  Jesus as a lonely figure, surrounded by crowds, constantly accompanied by his closest followers and friends.  Lonely in a crowd and needing to escape to a place that is empty, still, quiet, in order to let his loneliness room to roam. 

I understand how that feels.

It's tiring work, being lonely in a crowd and the lonely ones need space and alone-ness to rest.  Of course, I am speaking from my own introverted self.  I know how tiring a day of worship services and a potluck can be.  How exhausting a full day of pastoral calls is.  How draining it is to smile and engage with people, and chat and be social.  I can take a little at a time, but I need to go to the quiet place to recharge and rest.  I've learned - mostly - to manage this trait, not making all my shut-in visits on the same day, allowing nap time on Sunday, pacing meetings and Bible studies. 

"Lonely like Jesus?"  I suddenly see those references to Jesus going to a lonely place to pray in a new light.  Perhaps Jesus understands my own need to be away from the crowd much better than I ever imagined.  And this insight makes me feel somehow closer to my Lord.

But Lauren's last sentence is what fires my imagination.  Because she, too, is lonely like Jesus.  She ponders: "Maybe I can make my loneliness into an invitation - to Jesus - that he might withdraw into me and pray."

Yes!  That's what I need right now.  Jesus come into me and pray!

Another gift of this Lent is my re-discovery that Jesus prays for us.  In our Lenten round-robin services, I have been the voice of Peter.  Peter reflects on Jesus prediction of his denial and offers up surprising words of hope.  Surprising, because although I know those word, I've read those words, I've never really comprehended what they mean.  Jesus tells Peter that Jesus himself will pray for him (Luke 22:31) in his moment of trial.  Wait - Jesus prays for us?!  God prays for us!

God prays for me.  There's a sudden communion in that moment.  I think of Paul telling us that the Holy Spirit at times prays for us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

Even in those times I cannot or do not pray, God prays for me, through my sighs and my silence.

Even in those times when I am lonely, when God feels distant and I am a desert, Jesus withdraws to the lonely place of my soul and prays.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Lent: Death, Where Is Thy Victory?

This sermon is the fourth in a series of sermons based on Max Lucado's book, Fearless.  This week's topic is "Fear of Life's Final Moments, chapter 13 in the boook.

Scripture readings selected to go along with the topic:  1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 53-57 (the whole chapter is an excellent teaching on resurrection - both Jesus' and ours); John 11:17-26

When I was doing my clinical pastoral rotation, I was called to the ICU for a man who was being extubated.  This procedure is always a fear-filled time for the family, especially if the patient is unconscious or otherwise uncommunicative. 

Especially if the doctors have said there’s no hope and it’s only a matter of time until their loved one dies.

In this case, the patient was an older man, who was non-responsive.  The doctors had given the “it’s just a matter of time” prognosis.  The family was extremely fearful.  He could die as soon as the breathing tube was removed, or it could take hours.  The doctors didn’t know.  The family didn’t know.

I entered the room.  His wife was next to him holding his hand.  His children and their spouses and various-aged grandchildren were grouped around the bed.  I introduced myself and asked how things were going.

The nurse filled me in on the current medical situation as the family nodded. They’d heard it before and this re-telling served make it a bit more real.  I asked if they would like prayer and we prayed for God’s comfort, for ease of death, for God’s presence with the family and the patient. 

Then his wife said, “I’m really worried that I won’t see Joe[i] in heaven.  He’s been really angry with God and hasn’t been to church in ten years.  I don’t want him to go to hell.  Is there anything you can do to make sure he’s repented?”

It’s a common fear - that our loved ones will die without knowing Jesus.  Most of us fear that more than our own deaths.  We know our own hearts and trust that God has forgiven us through Jesus.  But we can’t really know what’s in the heart of someone else.  So we worry.  And we are afraid.

Or maybe we are afraid of death for ourselves, because we worry that we may end up in hell after all.  Maybe we fear because we just don’t know what will happen to us or happen to our loved ones after we are gone. 

Death is such a big fear, that we don’t even like talking about it.  We don’t even like to say the word.  A quick Google search yielded around 200 euphemisms for death.  It’s almost like we’re afraid if we say the word ‘death,’ we’re inviting death to come and hang around.

In fact, that’s exactly why we have so many euphemisms for death – people thought to say it was to invite it.  To tempt fate, so to speak.
To say there’s anxiety around death is an understatement.

We fear the unknown and death is the big unknown.

So let’s take a look at what we do know.

We know that God loves us.  That in our baptism, we are called child of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ.  This is something that God does, not something that we do.  We talked last week about the fear of disappointing God and how God’s forgiveness is not based on your ability to live a perfect life, or confess every little sin.  It’s not about what you have done, it’s about what God does for you.  Jesus went ahead and prepared a place for us – and when we die, Jesus will be waiting for us with open arms.

1.   We can be confident that as baptized believers, Jesus will welcome us into heaven.

We know that Jesus came to earth, was born, lived with us, and died for us.  We know that because Jesus became one of us, he is able to save us through his death and resurrection.  The One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” could not be contained by death.  Jesus defeated death once and for all when he rose from the dead. 

2.   We can be confident that because Jesus rose again, we too will one day rise again.

We know that after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his followers.  Most of what we know about what happens after death comes from those 40 days Jesus walked the earth after his resurrection.  He appeared to Mary in the garden, and he looked so much like a normal human being, she mistook him for the gardener.  He walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  He took their bread and blessed it and broke it and in that moment, disappeared.  True, Mary and the two from Emmaus didn’t recognize him right away – but when he was ready for them to know who he was, they did. He appeared to his disciples, and ate with them and invited them to touch him.  We can be confident that our resurrected bodies will be like Jesus,’ that we will recognize each other in heaven, even recognize people we have never met.

3.   The example of the resurrected Jesus allows us to confidently proclaim in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “We believe in the resurrection of the body, and life in the world to come.” 

We may not know all the particulars, but we do know the One who died and rose again, and who has prepared a place for us and who will come again so that we may live with him.

This is what it’s all about.  This is the crux of the matter.  It’s Lent and we’re talking about Jesus’ road to Jerusalem and the cross and the grave.  For 40 days we focus on Jesus’ steady progress to the cross and the grave.   Why?
Because the cross isn’t the end. 

And the grave doesn’t win.

It’s what happens after these 40 days that gives us hope.  Easter morning shines a light into an empty tomb.  Death doesn’t have the last word, God does and that last word is a resounding “YES!” to life.

As far as those loved ones we worry about, who maybe have walked completely away from faith, or at the very least seem to ignore faith, we can remember God has them in the palm of his hand.  We pray for them, trusting God, who knows their hearts, and who loves them and sent his Son to die for them, while they were still sinners, to bring these lost sheep safely into the fold.

You may still be wondering what I told Joe’s wife.  She was worried because even though Joe was a baptized believer and had been active in his congregation.  Then his brother died suddenly and he became so angry with God he wouldn’t have anything to do with faith.  He quit going to church, not even attending his grandchildren’s Christmas programs or baptisms.  She couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing him in heaven.

I reminded her that as a baptized child of God, Joe had been named and claimed by God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  Yes, Joe was angry with God, and had turned away for a time from God, but God had never turned away from Joe.  Baptism is forever. 

Joe’s wife was still worried.  “But he hasn’t confessed his sins or asked for forgiveness once during the last ten years.”

I said, “I know.  But you have been praying for him all this time, haven’t you?”

She nodded.

“And we know that God desires that no one should perish, so your prayers for Joe were in keeping with God’s will.  Right?”

More nods.

“We know that Jesus died for all our sins and restored us to God.  And we know that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Right?

Well, then, we know that God loves Joe very much and the Holy Spirit is with Joe right now.  Just because we can’t talk to Joe, doesn’t mean God can’t.  And we simply don’t know what happens in the moments just before death.  All we can do right now is to give Joe to God, trusting that God will take care of him.”

It’s not a perfect answer, but then it’s not a perfect world.  We’re not in control of our own deaths and we certainly can’t control the lives or deaths of someone else.  But we do know the One who is in control, who had definitively defeated the power of death, and who desires that all may experience life abundantly in this world and in the next.

I want to end with a prayer that really is as much a confession of what we know to be true about God’s victory over sin and death as it is prayer.  It’s one of the prayers from the funeral liturgy.

God of all grace, we give you thanks because by his death our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed the power of death and by his resurrection he opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.  Make us certain that because he lives we shall live also, and that neither death, not life, nor things present, nor things to come, will be able to separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen. [ii]

[i] Not his real name.
[ii] From Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Occasional Services Book

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Treats for Hard-working Sermonators! Sugar Cream Cake and Pie

(If you're looking for my sermon for Mach 11, go back one post.)

I frequent a on-line preaching party at RevGalsBlogPals.  During tonight's conversation, I mentioned we were making bars for tomorrow's youth spaghetti supper.  So, since you asked, here is the recipie for the oh-so-yummy sugar cream bars.

Sugar Cream Cake (we call them 'bars' here in South Dakota) are based on Sugar Cream Pie. If you've never heard of it, that's because as far as I can tell, it's a Hoosier treat.  Outside of Indiana, I understand there is something similar in the South, but I'm not sure it's exactly the same.  So as a bonus, I've included the sugar cream cake recipie from the Dutch Mill - a restaurant in my home town of Bluffton, Indiana that made the very best sugar cream cake (Wick's Frozen - eat your heart out!).

Sugar Cream Cake

18 oz yellow cake mix
½ c melted butter
4 eggs
8 oz softened cream cheese
16 oz powered sugar        
1 tsp allspice

Heat oven to 350 degrees. 
Beat together cake mix, butter, and 2 eggs.  Pat into greased 9x13 cake pan. 
Combine cream cheese, 2 eggs and allspice, add powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  Spread over cake mixture.
 Bake 35-45 minutes. Center of cake will be moist when tested. 
Cool and top with powdered sugar.


Dutch Mill Sugar Cream Pie

About This Recipe "The Dutch Mill was a restaurant in Bluffton Indiana that was famous for it's pies. It burned down about 10 years ago, but we've still got the Sugar Cream Pie recipe to recreate at home! Sugar Cream Pie is unique, sweet, dense, and creamy ...additively yummy! The recipe is easy but there can be a "little" bit of trial and error since ovens vary. Stick with it though, because the reward is well worth it!"  (I found this recipe at Jill4man on November 20, 2005.  Thanks Jill!)

1/2 cup brown sugar **
1/2 cup white sugar **
1/2 cup flour ( a good 1/2 cup, not level)
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 
**(I’ thought the pie wasn't sweet enough, so next time I make it I'll put in a total of 1 1/3 to 1 ½ cup sugar instead of the 1 cup total the recipie calls for.)

Beat or whisk the sugars, flour, salt and milk together until foamy.
Then fold in heavy whipping cream and vanilla.
Pour into pie shells.
Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Bake at 400°F for 10-15 minutes.
Turn back oven to 350°F and continue baking 20-25 minutes or until just firm.


Third Sunday in Lent: Strays, Sinners and Grace

Our sermon series on Max Lucado's Fearless continues with chapter 3: Fear of Disappointing God.
Scripture readings for the week:  Genesis 3:1-10; Psalm 103:8-18; Colossians 1: 13-23a; Luke 22:54-62

James is an escape artist.

There has not been a harness made that James cannot escape.

James is my brother’s Jack Russell Terrier.  I always feel sorry for James, because out of all the dogs my brother owns, James alone is locked up.  He is constantly in doggie jail – his kennel – because if let out, James runs. 

James slips his collar and runs.

If tied out in the yard with a secure harness, James slips the harness and runs.

I’ve seen him wriggle out of a harness.  He works at it bit by bit, leg by leg, until he’s free.  And then he’s off.

Sooner or later, someone calls, “We found your dog.”

And my brother or my sister-in-law always – ALWAYS – go and pick him up, and bring him back home.

They are frustrated with James.  They complain about what a bad dog he is.  But James remains secure as a member of the family. 

No matter how many times James runs away, my brother and sister-in-law always bring him home.

It reminds me of a story Jesus told.

There was this shepherd with 100 sheep.  And one of them ran away.  So the shepherd left the 99 and went out and searched for the one lost sheep.  The shepherd didn’t stop until he found that missing sheep and brought it safely home.[i]

The thing is, we are like James, slipping through the boundaries designed to keep us safe at home.  We are like the lost sheep, which slipped out of the safety of the pasture to explore the dangers of the world around us.

We stray. 

We sin.

We come here each Sunday and confess our sins together before God and we hear the words of forgiveness.  And there are times when we confess our sins privately to God and take comfort in knowing that we are forgiven.

Sometimes, though, we don’t feel forgiven.  Sometimes we think that God must really be angry with us, or at least disappointed with us.  We feel like we let everyone down, including God.
Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever worry that God is disappointed in you?  Maybe you secretly think that you have this one thing, this one sin that God could never forgive.  Or maybe you feel that God has forgiven you, but is keeping score and will someday throw some of those past sins up in your face – like a married couple whose arguments devolve into a litany of all the past wrongs, or a parent who says, “I knew you would fail, remember the time when (insert embarrassing episode of failure here)….you’ll never be better than that!”

Maybe deep, deep inside, you worry that the thing you struggle with most – that one thing that you keep doing despite your best resolve not to , that one thing that you have to confess again and again – that there will be a time when you’ll go to God and ask forgiveness and God will say, “Too bad.  You’ve used up all your chances.  I simply can’t forgive you again.”

Peter felt like that.  He was one of Jesus’ most loyal followers, not just a disciple, but part of Jesus’ inner circle.  He thought he was completely committed to Jesus.  And yet when push came to shove, and he stood in the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus on trial inside, Peter denied even knowing Jesus, not once but three times.  He never thought he would do such a thing, let down his Lord in this way, even though Jesus told him he would.  And at that moment, when the rooster crowed, and Jesus looked right at Peter, he knew that he had disappointed God.  How could he ever be forgiven?  Weeping bitterly, he ran away, from the courtyard, from Jesus, from God. 

Martin felt like that.  He was sure he just did not measure up.  He wanted to be a good Christian, to please God, to go to heaven, but he wasn’t sure he was trying hard enough.
So Martin joined a monastery.  And he worked very hard at becoming a good monk.  Actually he was a bit of an over-achiever, trying to keep every rule of the abbey perfectly, spending hours and hours in confession.  He drove the priest who heard his confessions crazy, “Martin, just how much sin could you possibly have committed in the few hours since you last confessed!”

You see, Martin was never really sure he was doing all that he could to please God.  He was never really sure he had confessed each and every one of his sins, and confessed them right.  How could he be forgiven, if he didn’t confess everything perfectly? 

We all have those moments – those “I know God is disappointed with me, I’m a total failure at faith” moments.  And whatever that moment is for you, you need to know that God always comes down to meet you right where you are, no matter what Jesus always searches for you when you feel lost.

There was a dog that constantly ran away, but his owners faithfully came and claimed him every time he was found.

There was a lost sheep, but the shepherd left the other sheep in the fold and searched tirelessly for him until he was found.

Jesus is the owner who comes and claims us not matter how often we stray away.

Jesus is the shepherd who comes and looks for us when we are lost.

Martin eventually discovered that forgiveness wasn’t about him and his ability to please God, or make a perfect confession.  Martin discovered that it’s about God, and how God loved us even when we were still sinners with no thought of pleasing God - loved us enough to become one of us, and to die for us.[ii]

After Martin Luther learned the freeing truth that ‘for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”[iii] he was released from the fear of disappointing God.  Of course, he still struggled once in a while with doubts that he was forgiven.  But when those fears and doubts raised their ugly head, he would literally shout at Satan[iv], “Get out of here, Satan.  You have no power here.”  Or he would shout, “I am baptized!” - defeating his fear with the remembrance of God’s forgiving waters that washed his sins away forever. 

Peter too learned the truth about God’s grace and forgiveness.  Peter’s story didn’t end when he ran weeping from the high priest’s courtyard.  After Jesus’ resurrection and just before he ascended back to heaven, Jesus met with the disciples one more time at the Sea of Galilee[v].  Jesus took Peter aside and asked him, “Peter, do you love me.”  And Peter answered, “Yes Lord, I love you.”  Then Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep.”  Jesus did this not once, but three times – once for each denial Peter made. 

Through grace Peter was forgiven, freed from his fears and regrets of disappointing God.  He found courage in Jesus’ grace and love and forgiveness – enough courage to stand in the crowd just a few days later[vi] and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, enough courage to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, enough courage to go to his own death on a Roman cross steadfastly proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

 Like Peter we can live boldly, with courage, confident in God’s grace and forgiveness.  In those moments when we feel that we have let God down, that our sin has gotten in the way of our relationship with God, we can confess, knowing that God who faithful and just with forgive us.[vii]   We can rely on those scripture texts – like this morning’s Psalm – which remind us that God takes our sin as far away from us as the east is from the west. We can share our fears with the community of believers and remind each other of God’s love. We can remember our baptism, when we were washed clean, and claimed as God’s child, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  We can come to the table and eat the bread and drink the wine, knowing that Jesus’ body was given and his blood was shed for you and for me and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. 

God, who is rich in mercy, loved us even when we were dead in sin, and made us alive together with Christ.  By grace you have been saved – in the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.  Almighty God strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.  Amen.[viii]

[i] Luke 15:4-7
[ii] Romans 5:8
[iii] Ephesians 2:8  
[iv] He once through an inkwell at the devil – the mark is still on the wall of the Wartburg Castle in the room where he translated the Bible into German
[v] John, chapter 21.
[vi] At Pentecost, Acts 2
[vii] I John 1:9
[viii] From the Confession and Forgiveness, Holy Communion, setting one, Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent: Do I Matter?

Our sermon series on Max Lucado's Fearless continues with chapter 2: Fear of Not Mattering.
Scripture readings for the week:  Genesis 1:26-31, Psalm 139:1-18, Ephesians 2:1-10, Luke 12:4-7

I remember reading about a study in my psychology class.  Researchers studied infants from about twelve to eighteen months old to compare how attached they were to their mothers with how comfortable they were in exploring the world around them.

They found that those infants who were strongly attached to their mothers were more confident in exploring new situations.  Infants who were not strongly attached were much more fearful in new situations.

Of course there is a lot more to the study than my brief explanation, and I’m sure that in the (many) years since I got my undergraduate degree in psychology, there’s been a ton of discoveries in the field of attachment theory.

The main point is I want to make here is that our sense of security and self-worth depends on knowing that there is someone who deeply loves and cares for us.

And when we don’t feel we have that love, when we feel we don’t matter, we develop all sorts of ways to get the attention and love we crave.

We need to be loved and we need to give love – that’s just the way we are wired.  It’s one of those ‘made in the image of God’ characteristics.  We were created to be loved and to love.

We want to know that we matter to someone.

Of course the truth is that we all matter to God.  God deeply cares for us.  We are after all God’s good creation, made in God’s image. 

Psalm 139 talks about this deep love God has for us.  God knows each of us – where we go, what we do, what we feel, what we think.  God knows our hope and dreams, our thoughts and fears. 

In fact, God knows us better than we know ourselves.  God created each one of us - ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ – created us body, and mind, and spirit, with all our talents and abilities and interest.  God carefully made you, and planned for you to fill a unique place in the world. 

God knows the ‘you’ that you could be, that you were intended to be, if you weren’t living in a world broken by sin and death.

But we do live in a broken world. 

We don’t know who we were created to be.  We don’t know the plans God has for us. 

And we wonder if we really matter.

We do all sorts of things to prove that we do matter.

Surely we matter if we belong, if we fit in:
-We follow fashion trends and buy the latest styles;
-We buy the coolest and newest gadgets;
-We fiercely defend our loyalty to our favorite sports team, our school, our brand; 
-We collect autographs and souvenirs, and follow the lives of our favorite celebrity stars;

Surely we matter if we work hard enough:
-We throw ourselves into our jobs;
-We study hard to get ahead;
-We volunteer tirelessly;
-We give a dollar to get our name on a shamrock at the Wal-Mart, sometimes more to get our name in the paper, or on a brass plaque.

Surely we matter if we have people near us:
-We dedicate ourselves to our families,
-We gather friends around us;
-We join social networks;
-We search for that special person who will love us forever.

And underneath it all,
-We wonder if the people around us really do love us;
-We worry we will be picked last;
-We wait for rejection;
-We wait for someone to point out our secret fear – that we just don’t measure up.

Some of us are crippled by this fear.  Some of us really don’t think we matter at all.  Some of us don’t think that anyone loves us, or that we are even loveable.

And just like the infants in the study, if we don’t feel loved, we can’t explore our world.  We can’t live up to our potential.  Our fear keeps us trapped.

But God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim1:7)

We worry that we don’t matter…


We matter to God.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.   And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows..” (Matthew 10:29–31)

I remember the first time I learned these verses in Sunday school.  We had lots of sparrows around our house.  I thought they were such a dull bird, small and brown and I wished that the sparrows would go away so we could have prettier birds, like blue jays and cardinals, and robins, and finches and maybe and hummingbird or two.  But God kept track of all those sparrows and knew when one of the fell to the ground – or got snared by one of our farm cats!  

If God keeps such good track of the sparrows, I thought, God must really watch over me! 

We matter to God.

We read this morning that God created us, male and female, in God’s image and looked us over and called us very good (Genesis 1:26-31).

We read this morning that God knows us completely; no matter where we go God leads us and holds us fast; God carefully and loving crafted each one of us (Psalm 139:1-17).

We read this morning that God tenderly cares for even sparrows, which had such little value that they could be bought 2 for a penny or 5 for 2 pennies. 

We read this morning in Ephesians:  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.” (Ephesians 2:10 )

We are what God has made us
– fearfully and wonderfully made, God’s masterpiece

Created in Christ Jesus
– claimed in the water of baptism, part of this family of God, fed on the Word and the bread and wine of Christ , made a new creation, re-made into the person we were created to be from the beginning.

For good works which God prepare beforehand to be our way of life
– freed to live as God intended us to live, free to take our unique place in the world and in the kingdom of God.

Do you matter?  Does God care about you?

More than you could ever know.