Category: sermons

What A Beautiful World This Will Be

What A Beautiful World This Will Be

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Genesis 9:8-17 | First Sunday in Lent | UnAfraid Worship Series | February 21, 2021 | Dennis Sanders, preaching

A few years ago when Daniel and I were back in my home state of Michigan, we went to the Grand Rapids Public Museum which is in downtown Grand Rapids.  They had this interesting exhibits about midcentury design in Michigan.  We are both suckers for midcentury modern anything so we were in our element.  I can remember seeing some examples of furniture designed by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller, pictures of the General Motors Design Center in Warren, Michigan which was built in 1958 and had this futuristic architecture that showed that the biggest manufacturer in the state was looking forward.  In fact, that exhibit screamed optimism.  There is this sense that the future is truly bright.  In fact this was the time of what was called the International Geophysical Year.  The IGY was a year-long event in 1957-58 and it was a time where the Communist East and the Democratic West participated in an international scientific exchange. That event launched many innovations that are still around today.  Both the US and the USSR used the year to launch their first satellites into space. Plate tectonics was also discovered during this time.  The musician Donald Fagen’s 1982 hit IGY is about the International Geophysical Year and he paints a future that is bright. It’s a future with high speed rail, spandex jackets, solar power and so on.  He says over and over in the song:

What a beautiful world this will be

What a glorious time to be free

What a beautiful world this will be

What a glorious time to be free

It’s a wonderful future, right?  Except, Fagen wrote this song as a critique of the future, not in praise of it.  Everyone was optimistic in the 1950s, and Fagen looking back from 1982 didn’t see a future that was so great.  In fact some of the inventions, like microfibers turned out to be detrimental to the environment.

But that’s optimism for you.  Optimism looks at the future with a sense of what it will look like.  You can look at the present and make an extrapolation about the future.  The scientists of 1958 saw the future in light of 1958. 

Hope is something different. The theologian Miroslav Volf says that instead of extrapolating the present, hope is about a future that has nothing to do with the present.  He quotes Emily Dickenson in saying that Hope is the thing with feathers, it is something that comes from the outside, not from what we think the future will be, but a dream of what could be.

The way that our culture looks at today’s text is very optimistic. There is what I like to call a “Sunday School” image of Noah and the ark, where we see the boat filled with happy animals and a happy Noah.  It’s a bucolic scene.

But is that a real picture?  When the waters recede from a flood, things tend to be in disarray. In this passage, the waters have just receded.  The arc has settled on newly dried land and the survivors leave the boat looking dishevled.  They also probably don’t smell so great with all those animals.  All around them is death.  Dead humans and dead animals are rotting all over the place it.

It is in this midst that God tells Noah and his family that God will never ever destroy the earth with floodwaters.  He creates and rainbow as a reminder of God’s promises.  God flooded the earth because of the sin of the people.  The thing is, sinning would still continue.  But God wouldn’t try to destroy the world.  The rainbow was a symbol of hope.  The world would not get better, the future was uncertain if not very bleak.  But Noah and his family knew that if they look at the bow in the clouds, they knew that God had not given up on creation.  And God didn’t give up; in fact the rainbow was a sign that God was working on a way to repair the relationship between creation and God.  

We live in a time when death is all around.  We are close to nearly half a million dead from COVID.  Millions more have become sick with the virus and many will deal with its effects for years.  We all saw the horrible image of police officer Derek Chauvin, as he placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck squeezing the life out of him. We saw the crowd that infiltrated the Capitol taking the life of one policeman and one insurrectionist.  There is death and decay all around.  But we follow a God of hope.  God hasn’t given up on us. The sign of hope for us is just as odd as seeing a rainbow in the midst of death and destruction: a cross.  It is on this instrument of death that we have our hope.  Salvation comes from Christ crucified. 

Hope is very different from optimism.  The Sunday School version of Noah and the Ark is an optimistic picture.  It is looking at some perfect present into a perfect future.  But the real version is one of hope because for one to believe things will be better you have to believe that it is going to come from the outside. Hope is about being patient and enduring knowing that change can come like a bird sitting in the window chirping a song and lighting the mood of everyone inside.

Miroslav Volf closes an essay on the hope he wrote for the Yale Seminary magazine by saying this about hope:

Our salvation lies in hope, but not in hope that insists on the future good it has imagined, but in hope ready to rejoice in the kind of good that actually comes our way. The God who creates out of nothing, the God who makes dead alive – the God of the original beginning of all things and the God of new beginnings – justifies hope that is otherwise unjustifiable. When that God makes a promise, we can hope.

In these uncertain times, we can hope.  We don’t have an optimism in the spandex world Donald Fagen lampooned.  We have a hope in a rainbow and ultimately in a cross.  Emily Dickenson is right, “

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

That’s something to look forward to. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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This Is Who We Are

This Is Who We Are

“This Is Who We Are” Mark 1:4-13 Baptism of Our Lord January 10, 2021 First Christian Church Mahtomedi, MN Preached at First Christian Church on January 10, 2021. “This isn’t who we are.” President-elect Joe Biden said these words in the aftermath of Wednesday’s assault on the US Capitol. Politicians like to say this during events like this.  I know more often than not the people who say this mean well.  They want to say that as Americans we aspire to higher goals and that what happened is something that is uncharacteristic of who we are as Americans. This phrase comes from a good place. It’s also incredibly wrong.  This is who we are.  This is who we are as a nation. Because if you are African American like I am or Native American or Japanese American, you know that our nation has a dark side and far too many times that dark side has shown up to harm persons of color, LGBTQ Americans, and others.  For some of these people seeing the images of a mostly white crowd running amok within the walls of the US Capitol, a place where I once worked, nod their heads and say “This IS Who we are.” This is not all of what the United States is all about.  If it was, then we as a nation are without hope.  The words found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution matter to us as Americans. As a nation, we strive to live up to better ideas and many times we do. But let’s not kid ourselves.  A century ago, three African American men were lynched in Duluth under trumped-up charges of rape.  Later this year, we will commemorate a century since the Tulsa Massacre which killed an untold number of African Americans in what was called Black Wall Street. This is who we are. We are sinners.  We fall short. We commit evil. We are not okay. In Mark, John the Baptist comes around preaching a baptism that led to repentance, to change their lives. One day, Jesus comes.  That had to come as a shock to John because Jesus had nothing to repent of.  But he baptizes his cousin anyway.  When he comes up from the water, the sky splits and the Holy Spirit comes into him.  It is then a voice that claims Jesus as the Son of God.  It is there that he is given an identity as our savior. This is who Jesus is. When we are baptized, we are claimed by God. This is who we are.  You and I are Daughters and sons of God. But we still sin.  We fall short.  We are claimed by God, but let’s not forget that we are sinners saved by the grace of God. Because we are claimed by God in spite of our sin, we are called to act. After Jesus was baptized, he went into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil and then went into his ministry, because he knew who he was. Our theme for Epiphany is “For the Sake of the World.” It’s a phrase that comes from our Lutheran sisters and brothers and it says the church exists for the sake of the world.  Churches exist as people who are baptized and claimed by God to go out to proclaim justice and preach reconciliation.  This is who we are. In light of the storming of the capital our baptism matters. We are called into a ministry of reconciliation and Lord knows we need it.  As a congregation, we need to find ways to give space to where people can listen to one another. Our baptism compels us to move from the sidelines and join in God’s work of justice and reconciliation. What happened this week is a wake-up call for the nation and the church. What we saw is a reminder that this is part of who we are as a nation.  We saw rioters, bullies and a President out that want to spread fear, to use the words of God, but worship an idol. That is who they are. But we at First Christian have another identity. Claimed by God, we have a role in preaching God’s love and justice to our nation and our world. We will be talking about this more because we must.  It is time for us to live out our baptisms. It doesn’t matter how small we are in number or how much money we have in the bank. It is time for you and I to live up to who we are in the eyes of God. We are the children of God. This is who we are.  Let’s start acting like it. Thanks be to God. Amen. Listen to the sermon podcast.

Sermon Podcast: Just Dance.

2 Samuel 5:1-5 and 6:1-23 | Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost | Ubuntu Worship Series | October 20, 2019 | Dennis Sanders, preaching

Just as King David danced before God, the church should be about dancing in our lives. We need to be able to express the joy of our faith in a public way in all that we do.

Sermon Podcast: Be Kind

Ruth 1:1-17 | Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost | Ubuntu Worship Series | October 13, 2019 | Dennis Sanders, preaching

A comedian befriends an ex-president and hilarity ensues, which means there was no hilarity.  A widow is shown kindness by a woman named…kindness.

Sermon Podcast: The Fear Factor

Exodus 1: 8-20, 2:1-10 and 3:1-15  | Ubuntu Sermon Series | Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost | September 29, 2019 | Dennis Sanders, preaching

Two women are able to thwart the evil plans of a king.  A princess decides to care for a child that will one day lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land. God hears the cries of the oppressed and decides to act.