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04:19:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1588 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2013


You shall have no other gods.  —Exodus 20:3

Greed, for lack of a better word, is bad. Greed wants. It wants and wants and wants. Wants money. Wants comfort. Wants power. Greed is a deadly sin. Greed kills to get what it wants. It kills us. And it kills our neighbors. Greed poisons the ground we all stand on and the air we all breathe. Greed is never satisfied. It keeps wanting. Greed goes to war, always after more.

Greed is a hell of a sin. Greed separates us from God. It turns us away from God. Greed distorts our perspective. It warps our desires. Greed blinds us to the true light. It promises everything, but doesn’t deliver. Because Greed never has enough. And so Greed, for lack of a better word, is bad.

Greed takes many forms. Familiar forms. There’s six-year-old Calvin, the comic page character. He finds a quarter on the ground and is transformed. “Wow!” he says. “I’m rich beyond my dreams! I can have anything I want! All my prayers have been answered!” But after a moment’s reflection, he starts scouring the ground. “Maybe there’s more,” he says. Six-year-old Calvin is all of us. We always want more.

Greed takes many forms. There’s Fabrice Tourre, from Goldman Sachs. Last week he was found guilty of fraud. He deceived investors, depriving them of their money while the firm made its money on a collapsing housing bubble. Greed makes liars and thieves out of us. And we let it. Because Greed is a familiar companion. Because Greed is who we are.

And that’s no accident. By the middle of the 1950s at the latest, retailers launched a concerted effort to make consumption the American way of life. Government and industry worked together to transform our identity. We became “consumers” more than “citizens.” And we went along with it. Because of Greed. Life for us became more and more about buying things. Which is Greed at work. And Greed is never satisfied. Because we always want something. Something else. Something more. Another quarter from the ground, or another fifty million from blind-sided investors. A new car, or another pair of shoes, or a bigger house. We want and we want. Which is good for the economy.

We have become consumers. It’s who we are. So we buy and we buy. But there’s more to it than that. There is also a religious dimension to our buying-frenzy. And that’s not accidental. Again, by the middle of the 1950s, the retail industry began making a deliberate effort to turn consumerism into a means of spiritual satisfaction. That effort worked. They were so successful that, for many of us, a trip to the mall became a form of worship. Which reveals the true nature of the Greed behind consumerism.

Greed is idolatry. Idolatry? Yes. Idolatry. Why? Because Greed wants what is not God more than it wants God. I should say that again. Greed wants what is not God more than it wants God. Greed sets its hope on more. Greed takes comfort in more. Greed trusts in more. But trusting in something besides God, hoping in something besides God, taking comfort in something besides God, and desiring something more than God is idolatry. Greed is desire. Desire aimed in the wrong direction.

So what do we do about Greed, consumers that we are? What do we do about Greed? I’m tempted to say, “Forget about Greed. Don’t try to take care of Greed. Let Greed take care of itself.” I’m tempted to say that, because I don’t think Greed itself deserves too much attention from us. I think we should focus our attention in a different direction. In the best direction. Toward God. Because desire aimed in the right direction will unravel desire aimed in the wrong direction.

We do have a problem with Greed. Our minds and our hearts are set too much on earthly things. What we eat and drink and wear. Where we live. What we drive. That is a problem for us. But there’s a deeper problem. It’s not just that we desire the things of this world too much. It’s that we desire the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God—we desire the things above too little. We desire God too little.

But can we do anything about that? You either desire something or you don’t, right? You can’t make something desirable, can you? I think the retail industry would beg to differ.

Here’s my story. Fifteen years ago, I had no desire to have a cell phone. I didn’t want one. I didn’t need one. Then I got a cell phone. But just for emergencies. Then I started to use it every week. Then every day. That’s when I found out I had to have a cell phone. That I couldn’t manage without one.

But I didn’t need a smart phone. There was no reason in the world for me to have a smart phone. I’m not that important that I need to stay “connected.” That’s what I told myself and anyone who would listen. Then I got myself a smart phone. And I started using it. Using it for more and more things. Now I have to have a smart phone. I wouldn’t want to be without one.

In fifteen years, I went from having no desire to having a desire so intense that I call it a necessity, a need. And it happened as I acquainted myself with cell phones, as I discovered what my life could be like first with a basic flip-phone, then with a smart phone.

What does this have to do with our desire for God? Let me tell you what I think. I think it’s not so different than with a cell phone. We discover that we want a cell phone, that we need a cell phone—even a smart phone—by spending time with one. That’s how we find out what a difference a cell phone makes and how our life isn’t the same without one. Now, of course, God is not a cell phone. And at best what I’m saying here is a homely analogy. Even so, it seems to me that our desire for God grows when we spend time with God. 

If I’m right about that, then one way to increase our desire for God is to welcome God into our lives more fully and more regularly. Perhaps by clawing out a few minutes to sit with God in the morning. Praying. Not saying a word maybe. Just turning your thoughts toward God. Turning them to God over and over again as your mind drifts—and it will drift.

This is where the Psalms are so helpful. Because what so many of the psalms do is they keep turning our attention toward God. They keep us addressing God. And they keep us hearing the voice of God addressing us. To take only one example, say Psalm 62 every month, and it begins to change you. It reshapes your desires.

My soul finds rest in God alone.
My salvation comes from God.
My hope comes from God.
God is my rock, my fortress.

Saying those words out loud, praying them again and again, trains a healthy focus for our desires. And there’s more. There’s also a weaning off of badly aimed desires:

Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods;
though your riches increase—

[Did you ever notice the Bible’s uncomfortable tendency to equate wealth with dishonesty?]

though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

I don’t want to generalize from my own experience. But for a while now I’ve been making it a habit to turn my attention to God at least in the morning and in the evening. To read psalms out loud. To pray them. To say them to God. And to quiet myself before God. And this is what I’ve found: The more I do it, the more I want to do it. A hunger has been growing in me, a hunger for God. It’s not constant. It waxes and wanes. Some days I can hardly keep my mind and my heart focused. But sometimes it’s just right. Sometimes I know the presence of God’s Spirit. Sometimes I’m talking straight to my Father. Sometimes Jesus is right next to me.

Of course, I can’t make that happen. But I want it to happen. And every bit of me that wants God is a bit of me that doesn’t want another gadget for my guitar. Is a bit of me that doesn’t want more money, more power, more comfort. Every bit of me that wants God is a bit of me that’s satisfied, deeply satisfied, that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1). And every bit of me that wants God is a bit of me that starts to believe Psalm 73, when I say it out loud, when I pray it to God. That I have nothing in heaven but God, and having God there is nothing on earth I desire (cf. Psalm 73:25).

So come near to God, and God will come near to you (cf. James 4:8). And God will give you the desires of your heart. And when you pray to God, when you pray for God—because God is what you desire— when you pray for God, God will answer that prayer.

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture Readings
Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 62
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21


06:43:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1270 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2013

Another Sermon on Prayer

This is another sermon on prayer. A sermon. But there’s really only one thing I want to say. One thing. When we pray, we pray to our heavenly Father, who loves us. That’s all. We pray to our heavenly Father, who loves us.

That sounds simple enough. I wish it were. But it’s not. Not for me anyway. Because of something that happened years ago, when I was first a Christian. Such a little thing. It was a Saturday morning. A men’s breakfast. But an older man there said something I’ve never been able to forget. He was a staunch and stubborn, old-school Calvinist. A hard man. With a hard faith. A man who had no patience for ministers who preached about God’s love. “All this love, love! LOVE!” he complained. I can still hear it.

It was just a few words. But it poisoned my young Christian mind. And that poison lingers. As a result, whenever I hear someone talking about God’s love and whenever I start thinking about God’s love, I still hear that voice. I still hear those words. And I wonder if “all this love, love! LOVE!” is betraying the Gospel.

I know it’s not. Not betraying the Gospel. I’m sure of that. Because God’s love is the heart of the Gospel. But it seems like I have to convince myself about that over and over again. Because those words echo in my mind. So it’s hard for me to settle down permanently and to rest comfortably in the arms of God’s love. I bet I’m not the only one who has that problem.

I know how unworthy I am, unworthy of God’s love. You know it, too. We all know what the issues are. We face them every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. Let me make the list. First, we’re weak and dependent. So we pray, Give us. Second, we’re guilty. So we pray, Forgive us. Third, we’re lost. So we pray, Lead us. And last, we’re vulnerable. So we pray, Deliver us.

But why should God give us anything? Why should God forgive us anything? Why should God lead us anywhere? Or deliver us from anyone? Why?

The answer? The answer to my unworthiness? To your unworthiness? It’s there. The answer. There at the beginning of the prayer. “Here’s how to pray,” Jesus says. “Start your prayers this way: Father.” Father. God is our Father, our heavenly Father.

That takes us back to Hosea. Hosea and his wife—his wife who liked to sleep around. Together Hosea and his wife Gomer were acting out the story of God and Israel. And the kids? Nobody, especially Hosea—nobody was sure who their father was.

It was no different with God and Israel. Israel had been sleeping around. And God had been putting up with it. For so long. Always forgiving. Always embracing Israel’s children as his own.

But even God’s patience has its limits. “Enough!” God said. “I’m not going to have pity on you any more. I’m not going to love you any more. You used to be my people, my children. But not any more. And I am not your God!”

Why did it take so long for God’s patience to run out? Why didn’t God throw in the towel ages earlier? Here’s how God explains it, in Hosea 11. And this takes us right back to the beginning. When Israel was a child, God says—When Israel was a child, I loved him (v. 1). I loved him. That’s the beginning. That’s the foundation.

Except now, in Hosea’s time, there’s nothing left on that foundation. God is done with Israel. “I’m not your God any more. And you’re not my people any more. We’re through!” It’s over. It’s beyond hope. Or is it?

Listen to what God says next:

Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore,
which cannot be measured or counted.
In the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,”
they will be called “children of the living God.”

God is not through with Israel. Not now. Not ever.

Why? Again, God explains it best, again in Hosea 11. After denouncing Israel, Israel who deserves every bit of what they have coming—after denouncing Israel, God says,

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused (v. 8).

Never mind what Israel had coming. That fate was overruled. Overruled by God’s heart. By God’s love.

The story of God and Israel is a love story. There’s love at the beginning. There’s love in the middle. There’s love at the end. Because that is who God is. The God of Israel. Our heavenly Father. God is love (1 John 4:8). 

Okay, once again here’s that one thing I want to say. When we pray, we pray to our Father, who loves us. That’s all. We pray to our Father, who loves us. Here’s what that means. God loves you. Always God loves you.

  • God loves you when you pray.
  • God loves you when you don’t pray.
  • God loves you when you worship.
  • God loves you when you don’t worship.
  • God loves you when you tell the truth.
  • God loves you when you lie.
  • God loves you when you’re faithful.
  • God loves you when you’re faithless.
  • God loves you when you’re sober.
  • God loves you when you’re drunk.

You see where I’m going with this.

  • God loves you when you’re married.
  • God loves you when you’re divorced.
  • God loves you when your straight.
  • God loves you when you’re gay.
  • God loves you when you can’t figure out who you are.
  • God loves you when you vote for Sherrod Brown.
  • God loves you when you vote for Rob Portman.
  • God loves you when you’re a little kid.
  • God loves you when you’re an old woman.
  • God loves you when you’re in your crib.
  • God loves you when you’re on your deathbed.
  • God loves you when you’re on your way to work.
  • God loves you after a long, hard day.

God is our Father, our heavenly Father. If that means nothing else, it means God loves us. Because that’s what fathers do. Good fathers. They love their kids. Love them no matter what. That means we can settle down permanently and rest comfortably in the arms of God’s love.

All this love, love! LOVE? It’s the Gospel. It’s where the Gospel begins. When God calls Abraham in love. And it’s where the Gospel winds up. When God sends his only Son to the world in love. And it’s the Gospel we live in the middle of. God is our Father, our heavenly Father. God loves us. Nothing is going to change that.

God may not like what we’ve been doing lately. God may have some tough lessons for us to learn. We might be right in the middle of a hard stretch, the hardest we’ve ever known. Regardless, God loves us. Because that is who God is. God is love. And God always loves. God loves all the way to the cross. That crusty old man whose words have been haunting me all these years? He had it wrong. He had it so wrong! 

So whenever you pray—and maybe you pray every day, or maybe you haven’t prayed for six months or even six years—but whenever you pray, you’re praying to your heavenly Father. And your heavenly Father loves you. Always.

And that’s all I want to say on prayer today.

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture Readings
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13 



03:05:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1522 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2013

The Word of the Lord

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
July 21, 2013

O Word of God, O Jesus, our Lord: We fumbled our way through another week, and we’re ready to try again. Because of you. We keep falling down, and you keep picking us up. We keep getting lost, and you keep showing us the way. We keep getting hungry, too. And then we binge. On money and power. On comfort and sex. On drugs and drinks and TV shows. We binge, but we’re still hungry. Jesus, fill us up today. Fill us with your Word. Fill us at your Table. Fill us with yourself. Satisfy our hunger. Then keep us hungering for more of you. Amen.

Scripture Readings
Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42


Lord, you have formed us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.
      —St. Augustine, Confessions

I like a house with an open floor plan. At my brother’s house, the space from the kitchen to the eating area to the living room is wide open. So a few weeks ago, when my brother and I were rolling up grape leaves, we weren’t cut off from the other people in the house. We were busy, but we were still part of the conversation. I think that’s a good way to set up a house. 

I don’t know how Martha’s house in Bethany was laid out. And maybe it had nothing to do with how the house was designed. But for whatever reason, while Martha was busy with all the duties of hospitality—

And you know how that is. Before company comes, the house has to be picked up and cleaned. Because what we live in is not good enough for company to visit in! And after they arrive, the work isn’t over. We have to get the good dishes down. That’s when we find out they need to be washed. Because they haven’t been used in a while.

And, of course, since we have company, we want to serve the tastiest food. And that requires constant attention. Because you don’t want the stew at the bottom of the pot to get burned. And because you want the bread to come out of the oven at just the right moment.

So Martha was busy. First, she had to get the house ready for Jesus. Now she was getting dinner ready. And she was missing out on the conversation. She couldn’t hear a thing Jesus was saying. Mary, meanwhile, was sitting on the floor in front of Jesus. Right there with the men. Listening to the rabbi. She left the women’s work to her sister. That was too much for Martha.

Martha was raised right. She knew how a house worked. And she knew about hospitality. So she knew what her obligations were. And she didn’t object. What she did object to was her sister. Because Mary was completely disregarding her duties. She was disregarding the way things are done.

Maybe not for the first time. And maybe Martha never had much success in getting Mary focused and on-task. So this time, she asks Jesus for a little help. Lord, tell her to get up, to get in the kitchen, and to help me! But he was with Mary on this one.

Jesus didn’t require much. He didn’t expect fancy food. He didn’t demand the good dishes. The only thing he had come for was to spend time with his friends.

Of course, there was more to it than that. Jesus wasn’t just a friend. He was a teacher, too. But he wasn’t just any teacher. He didn’t teach in the usual way. He taught with authority. There was power in his words.

The way Martha was busy in the kitchen, busy with all the preparations, you might have thought people were starving. But no one was starving. Not for lamb stew and warm bread. No, the real hunger in that house, the real hunger in that village, the real hunger in that corner of the world, was a hunger for the Word of the Lord.

Amos had warned them. Warned them eight hundred years earlier. Told them judgment day was coming. Told them they would go hungry. But it wouldn’t be lamb stew and warm bread that was be lacking.

No. They would be hungering for, they would be starving for, the Word of the Lord. With none to be found. Not a syllable to be heard. Not even the faint echo of a fading voice. There would be silence. Silence from God. And they would become desperate. They would search everywhere. But the silence would overwhelm them.

Mary, kneeling on the floor in front of Jesus—Mary knew the silence. They all knew the silence. That’s why so many people had gone out to the Jordan wilderness. Gone out to John the Baptist. Because John was a prophet. Because John was speaking the Word of the Lord. And they hadn’t heard the Word of the Lord for a long time.

John had told them someone greater was coming. And now that greater One was here. And he had come to their house for dinner. And Mary was not about to get so wrapped up in the dinner preparations that she couldn’t listen to Jesus. So she left Martha to herself, left Martha in the kitchen. Because lamb stew and warm bread weren’t the only things being served that day. Mary knew where the real feast was. And she didn’t want to miss a word.

Isn’t that why we’re here today? Isn’t that why we come here every Sunday? Because we’re hungry? Hungry for Jesus?

In point of fact, we are more hungry for Jesus than we are for anything else. As the ancients said, Our hearts are restless until they find rest in the Lord. But I don’t think we realize it. I know I don’t. That’s why we try to fill up on all kinds of other things. Web pages and work. Hot coffee and the morning news. Shopping trips and extreme adventures. Which means that, like Martha, we’re busy with a lot of things. But we’re missing out on the one thing we really need. Because our deepest hunger is for the Word of the Lord. And the Word of the Lord is Jesus.

The Word of the Lord is Jesus. Which means that what we need more than ever is to draw near to Jesus. And to be still before him. And to receive from him all he has to give.

And here’s a bit of good news. The timing and the setting for meeting with Jesus do not have to be “just right.” We can meet up with Jesus anytime, anywhere. In the morning or in the evening. On our knees or behind the wheel. Reading the Bible or reading a murder mystery.

Which doesn’t mean that all times and all settings are created equal. For some of you, the best time and place could be a half hour in the morning at the kitchen table, before anyone else is up. Or it could be just before bed, in a quiet room, in a comfortable chair, with a light shining onto your lap, where a psalm is open before you and a pad of paper with a few questions you want to ask and a couple of things you want to thank Jesus for. Those are special times, special settings. Not so different from Sunday mornings.

Sunday mornings. Sunday mornings are specially designed for meeting with Jesus. We come here, for example, not because we can’t meet Jesus somewhere else. No. We come here because it’s a place set apart from all the demands and the busyness of everyday life. (As long as we remember to turn off our phones!)

And once we get started on Sunday mornings, we are surrounded by, saturated by, the words and the themes of Scripture. In the Bible readings, of course. But throughout the liturgy. In the words we speak, the words we sing, the words we pray, the words we say to each other. And all these words bring us close to Jesus. Because they tell his story. And because the Holy Spirit uses these words to whisper “Jesus” in our ears.

And then there’s the Sunday morning Table. Not a fancy meal served on elegant dishes. Just ordinary stuff. Some bread. Some juice. Because we aren’t hungry for food. We’re hungry for Jesus. And this is how he feeds himself to us in a holy mystery.

Jesus is our life. That’s why our deepest hunger is for him. That’s why we look for him everywhere. That’s why we set aside special times and places to meet with him. And that’s why we keep coming here Sunday after Sunday. Whatever else keeps pushing us and pulling us, we keep coming here. We come out of need. We come out of custom. We come knowing that Jesus will be here in our midst. Jesus the Word of the Lord. The Word who is our life.

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.





02:07:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1791 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2013


Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
July 14, 2013

Jesus, this is the best place in the world for us to be. Because we’re with you, with you together. By the Holy Spirit, you fill this place and touch our spirits. By the Word, you speak in this place, speak to our minds and hearts. And by the Table, by your Body and Blood, you welcome us in this place, and you commune with us body and soul. Convince us of your presence, Lord Jesus. Assure us of your love. Focus our attention on your Kingdom. We have faith in you. Help us with our doubt. Amen.

Scripture Readings
Deuteronomy 30:2-4, 9-14
Psalm 25:1-10
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Those who believe in me will do what I do.  —John 14:12

Calvin and Hobbes fans know about calvinball. Calvinball is a game. A game that only six-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes know how to play. An unusual game, calvinball. Unusual because it’s different every time they play. Because the rules are always changing. Even in the middle of a game.

You and I would have a hard time playing calvinball. We wouldn’t know how to start. And if we figured out how to start, we wouldn’t know how to end. Because the rules would keep changing. Which is like having no rules at all.

But games have rules. They have to have rules. Without rules, you get chaos. Without rules, you get calvinball!

Life has rules, too. Some of those rules are written down. We call them laws. If they get really detailed, we call them regulations. Some rules are unwritten. We call them traditions or community standards. We know all about rules. There are rules for driving and rules for paying income taxes. Rules for going to school and rules for putting up a fence. Rules for getting married and rules for getting divorced. Even rules for cutting your grass.

After I had been at Comstock Church in Kalamazoo for a while, I decided that the massive pulpit—like that one, only much bigger—I decided that the massive pulpit didn’t suit my way of preaching. So I dragged it out and replaced it with a lectern—like this one, but fancier. The lectern suited me much better. But when I returned from a couple weeks of vacation, the massive pulpit was back! Apparently I had broken an unwritten rule.

An expert in the Law of Moses had a question for Jesus. What do I need to do so I can live in the Kingdom of God? That was his question. It was a test. He wanted to see if Jesus respected the rules. He wanted to see if Jesus respected the written laws and the unwritten traditions that had come from Moses. Those were the laws and traditions that defined Israel, the laws and traditions that identified a Jew as a Jew.

Jesus knew what was behind the man’s question. So he turned it back on him. You know the Law of Moses. What does it say? The expert could have quoted 10 commandments. He could have cited 613 regulations. Instead he expressed the “vibe” of the entire Law of Moses. He summed it all up the same way his teachers had done. He summed it all up the same way Jesus did. Love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor the way you love yourself. That was his answer.

Jesus nodded his approval. He told the man, Do this, and the Kingdom will be yours. It was all straight out of Deuteronomy. There Moses told Israel that two possible futures awaited them. Future A would be blessed. Future B would be cursed. And it all came down to the rules. Obey the commands and decrees of the Lord, Moses told them, and blessings will overflow. 

It was that simple, according to Moses. It’s not too hard for you, he said. It’s not out of reach. But the expert . . . being an expert, he wanted precision. Love God, and love your neighbor. That was a good summary. But it was too general.

Not the God part. The expert knew which god he was supposed to love. The Lord. The God of Israel. The God who had brought his people out of Egypt. That part was clear. The God part.

But what about the neighbor? Which neighbor, which neighbors, does the commandment have in mind? That part was not clear. So the expert asked Jesus, Who is my neighbor? He wasn’t trying to weasel out of anything. He just wanted to make sure he had things right. He didn’t want to go around loving the wrong people by mistake.

So Jesus told him a story. A simple story. A story about loving your neighbor the way you love yourself. Only in this story, it wasn’t the priest who loved his neighbor. Even though they were Jews, both of them, the priest and the wounded traveler. And it wasn’t the Levite who loved his neighbor, his fellow Jew. No. As the story goes, it’s the Samaritan who loves the wounded traveler.

A Samaritan helping a Jew! Unbelievable! Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with each other. They hated each other. Despised each other. But in the story, the Jew is desperately wounded. So he can’t refuse the Samaritan’s help. He can’t refuse the contamination that would go along with that help. So a Samaritan helps a Jew. Imagine that. And a Jew accepts help from a Samaritan. Imagine that.

And what Jesus invites the expert to seethe expert in the rules and regulations—what Jesus invites the expert to see is not the rules and regulations. Not the written down ones about bodies and blood. And not the unwritten ones about how despicable Samaritans are, despicable and beneath contempt. By his story, Jesus encourages the expert to see a Samaritan—a Samaritan of all people!—to see a Samaritan loving his neighbor, a Samaritan doing the very thing that the rules are all about.

The Christian Reformed synod met last month. The agenda included an overture asking for official guidance in connection with same-sex relationships. The overture wanted answers to questions like these:

  • If a same-sex couple wants to use our church building for their wedding, what should we do?
  • If my friend wants me to stand up for her when she marries another woman, what should I do?
  • If our son marries another man, can we be at the wedding?

In 1973 the Christian Reformed Church said officially that same-sex relationships are sinful. Since then we’ve been trying to figure out how to love certain people while we hate what they do (or what they want to do). Obviously we haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Maybe more official statements will help.

Let me tell you about two awful things I did years ago. The first was when Jan and I got married in 1981. Jan did most of the planning. The main thing I had to do was to decide who would stand up for me at the wedding.

I was a new Christian back then, and one thing was obvious to me. Everyone who was standing up in the wedding had better be a Christian, too. After all, we were getting married in the sight of God. That meant none of my old friends could be groomsmen. And it meant my brother Tom couldn’t be my best man.

I explained it to him. And he took it pretty well. But to this day, I regret that decision. I think it was misguided. I think it was cruel. I think it was a rejection of one of God’s first and best gifts to me, my brother. I have apologized to Tom. But 32 years later, I still feel bad about it.

The second awful thing also concerned my brother. Tom got married before I did. Then he got divorced and remarried. None of what he did fit within synodical guidelines for Christian marriage. So when he asked me to be his best man at his second wedding, I didn’t know what to do.

I knew what the rules were. The rules about divorce and remarriage. But I didn’t know what to do with those rules. Especially if I wanted to love my brother and my family. There were no official guidelines to tell me what to do. And Jesus wasn’t standing in front of me so I could ask him, Who is my brother?

So I had a talk with Ted Minnema, professor of moral theology at the seminary. He gave me an approach to take. He said, Sure, go ahead and be your brother’s best man. But first you need to tell him that you think what he’s doing is wrong. Which is exactly what I did. And I regret it. To this day, I regret it.

What happened in both cases is that I reduced my brother to a category. I looked at him and I saw a certain type of person. I looked at him and I saw a “person who didn’t believe in Jesus.” I looked at him and I saw a “person who broke God’s rules about marriage.” That’s what I saw. But do you know who he really was? He was my brother! Shame on me for not first and foremost seeing him that way! Shame on me for not first and foremost loving him! Whatever the rules say. Whatever the official statements require.

That expert in the Law—he  didn’t want to love the wrong people by mistake. He didn’t want to waste his limited supply of neighbor-love on the wrong people. But Jesus invited him to see people in a different way. Jesus invited him to see love where he wasn’t expecting to see it. And to show love where he wasn’t expecting to show it, because of what the rules required.

I’m not sure exactly how this all works out for us today. In connection with our brothers. In connection with our sisters. In connection with our children and with our friends. Or in connection with people across the sexuality spectrum. But somehow I can’t help but think that there’s more to it than rules, much more to it than rules.

Now, you may be thinking that messing with the rules is dangerous. That this amounts to changing the rules in the middle of the game. And that if we go this way, then life is going to turn into the chaos and anarchy of calvinball. Maybe. But maybe not.

I do know this. As crazy as calvinball gets, in the end Calvin and Hobbes always love each other. It’s like they’re neighbors. No. It’s like they’re brothers.

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.


01:45:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1821 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2013

God Speaks

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
June 23, 2013

Scripture Readings
1 Kings 19:1-15a
Psalm 43
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39


The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders. —Psalm 29:3

We’ve done it for several weeks now. We’re going to do it again today. And then again next Sunday. At least that much. It’s a really good thing that we’re doing. We’re talking to each other. We’re listening to each other. We’re wondering together. Wondering out loud. Wondering whether God is leading us to take a great leap into a campus ministry partnership.

A few weeks ago, Mike Mattes presented an outline of what that ministry partnership might look like. Then he answered our questions. After that, for two more Sundays, we had our own conversations. There were questions and answers. Probably more questions than answers. Today Mike is with us again. He’ll join us for another conversation after the service.

Mike will be with us next Sunday, too. He’ll be preaching. Then, after the service, he’ll introduce us to one or two current CCO staff people. They have been working on campuses and with congregations. Next Sunday, they will tell us about some of the nuts and bolts of their work. And they will answer our questions.

All together, it’s a lot of talking and a lot of listening. We’re listening to each other. And that’s a good thing. But what we’re really listening for in all of it, in all the descriptions, in all the questions and answers, in all the worries, in all the dreams—what we’re really listening for is the voice of God.

Trouble is, the voice of God is unpredictable. Elijah learned that on Mt. Horeb. Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai. Sinai, the place where God spoke in volcanic rumblings of fire and cloud, of thunder and lightning. Only this time, God wasn’t in the rumbling and the shaking. As Elijah learned, sometimes God shouts, but sometimes God whispers. And, of course, sometimes God doesn’t say anything at all.

We’ve been waiting for God to speak. Not just about campus ministry. We’ve been waiting for God to speak for years now. Waiting for God to speak. Not to teach us. That’s been happening right along. Not to comfort us. For the most part, we’ve had enough reassurance to get us through the dark valleys. We’ve been waiting for God to speak. Not to chastise us. We might need a little scolding. Or maybe even a lot. But nobody waits for that.

No. What we’ve been waiting for is for God to speak to us and to give us our orders. Waiting for God to speak and to tell us what he wants us to do. What’s our mission? What belongs at the center of our prayers? What’s all our money for? (And let’s admit it. We have a lot of money! Money we use for all kinds of things. Some to build the Kingdom of God, some to feather our own nests. And we know what the proportions are.) What’s all our money for? And what’s all our time for? We wouldn’t mind a clear signal from God that says, I don’t want you spending your time or your money on that; I want you to spend your time and your money on this!

Maybe God has been speaking to us already. But maybe we don’t hear so well. Maybe we don’t listen. Maybe there are too many other voices, all of them making their own demands. Maybe we don’t know what we’re listening for. Maybe we want something big and loud and obvious. Like an earthquake or a peal of thunder. Maybe that’s what we want. But maybe God has been whispering all along.

Maybe we’re expecting God’s voice to come packaged in a special brand of holiness. In something extraordinary. Something definitely not down-to-earth. Not something as mundane as a ministry organization from Pittsburgh that says, Have we got a deal for you!

I’ve heard the old story several times in the last few weeks. About the man who was trapped on the roof of his house by floodwaters. He prayed for God to rescue him. And he was sure that God was going to come through. So when a boat came by to help, he said, No thanks. God’s going to take care of me. And when a helicopter came to lift him off the roof, he said, No thanks. God’s going to take care of me. Well he died in the flood. And when he appeared before God, he said, I thought you were going to take care of me. And God replied, I sent a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?

So it seems to me that we’ve been asking God—I know I’ve been asking God—asking God to speak to us. Asking for years. Just tell us what to do, God, and we’ll do it. Just send us, and we’ll go. But I wonder if we’ve got that wrong. As well-intentioned as we may be. I wonder if we have it fundamentally wrong.

Today’s Gospel reading tells an important story. At the heart of that story, Jesus helps a man who has been ruined by demons. He’s a wreck. He has been for years. He hasn’t had a bit of hope. He has been terrified and terrifying. But Jesus comes along and helps him.

Not that the man asked for help. Not that he had been praying to the God of Israel for help. He was a Gentile after all. Living in a graveyard, near a pig farm. But Jesus came along, said a few words—not to the man, but to the demons—Jesus said a few words and everything changed.

The man changed. He was free. He was better. He put some clothes on and was ready to follow Jesus. Say the word, Jesus, and I’ll follow you. I’ll go with you all the way! But Jesus didn’t want the man following him. Jesus had other work for the man to do. Go home, he told him. Go home, and tell everyone what God has done for you. In other words, Go, and tell your own story, your own God story. Which is exactly what the man did. With clothes on and in his right mind.

All the local people were afraid of Jesus. Jesus had come, and scary things started happening. Sure, their neighbor was better. But the pigs. And the demons. And the drowning. Not just the pigs, but the demons, too. Because demons can’t swim. That’s why demons haunt dry, wilderness places. It was scary stuff. Jesus was not safe, not as far as they were concerned.

So Jesus wasn’t a prime candidate to head into the local villages and to announce the Kingdom of God. But the man, the man without any demons, he was available. And he had a story to tell, a Kingdom story to tell. Go and tell everyone what God has done for you. That’s what Jesus said. Only the man gave his story a twist. Because he went and told everyone what Jesus had done for him. Because his story was a Kingdom story. And the king is Jesus.

But here’s the thing that struck me. Jesus said a few words, and the demon-possessed man was saved. That’s what we want. That’s God speaking, God speaking through Jesus. But then . . . then God spoke through the man. The man who told his own people what Jesus had done for him.

When the man spoke, it wasn’t thunder and lightning. It wasn’t an earthquake. It wasn’t a huge, unmistakable, can’t-be-ignored, can’t-be-misunderstood voice. No, it was the ordinary voice of someone who had a story to tell, someone who had something to say about Jesus.

We are waiting for God. We are waiting for Jesus. Lord, speak to us. Tell us what to do. We’re ready to follow. But why does he have to say any more to us? Haven’t we heard enough? And don’t we have our own stories to tell? God stories? Jesus stories?

We’re waiting for God to speak. But maybe God is waiting for us to speak. Waiting for us to speak for God. Waiting for us to tell what God has done for us. Because we have seen God at work, too.

Some of us have our doubts about this campus ministry. We wonder, What do we have that could be interesting to college students? What do we have that could be a blessing to college students? I’ll tell you what. If nothing else, we have stories to tell. We have experience with God.

And that experience with God is all over the place. Because Jesus Christ is the Lord of every part of this world. And he is the Lord of every part of our lives!

Some of us have heartbreaking stories to tell. Sick when we were little. Time and time again in the hospital. But God came to visit and to stay at our side. Sometimes God looked just like mom. Sometimes God looked just like the minister from church.

Some of us have funny stories to tell. Funny now. Maybe not so funny when we were in the middle of them. About the crazy things we used to do when we were young and foolish or poor or in love. About how God saved us from our own carelessness. About how God kept putting food on our table, when we couldn’t afford it. But there was an envelope with a hundred dollars in it. We don’t know who from. But we know God was behind it.

Some of us have stories to tell about hard decisions we had to make. Maybe it was an ethical question. An unplanned pregnancy. Or a questionable business practice where we worked. And we struggled to know what to do. And we realized there would be a price to pay no matter what we decided. But echoing in our minds were words we grew up on. Maybe the Ten Commandments. Maybe the Heidelberg Catechism. Maybe the Golden Rule. And the voice we heard in all those words was the voice of God, guiding us on the right path.

Those are just hints of our stories. And we do have our stories. Because God has done so much for us. From before we were born right up to this moment. God has done so much for us as a church, too. And what we’re wondering about lately is what God is going to do for us next. What God is going to do with us next. What God is going to do through us next. That’s what we’re wondering about. And I can hardly wait to find out. Because when we do find out, are we ever going to have stories to tell!

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.

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