Sermon for 8/4/19 Luke 12:13-31

Look, I’m gonna be honest with you this morning. You’ve come to expect nothing less, right? I wasn’t initially real excited to preach on this text from Luke today. I looked at the other texts for inspiration. I thought about a nice, good old-fashioned hymn sing. But this darn text kept calling me back. But it didn’t excite me. The last thing I want to do is stand up here and talk about the rich farmer; especially with the year so many of you are having. I don’t know all the details. But, I’ve heard the whispers. I’ve seen the worry lines on your faces. I know it isn’t a great year. And then the farmer in the text has such a huge yield of crops that he has nowhere to put them. Oh darn (sarcasm). He has so much corn and beans or wheat or whatever else that he has no choice but to tear down his barns (barns plural) and build newer larger ones. Oh goodness. That poor poor farmer. What a burden a large harvest and yield must be. 

Now look, there is no sin in being rich and having wealth. I am not calling us all to take vows of poverty. There is no sin in being successful. And I am not going to be the one to define success for you nor will I tell you how to define rich. It looks different for everyone. But it is how we treat those riches and success that can create problems. Our riches and success can create idols and turn us in ourselves. Listen once again to what Jesus said in the parable. The rich man thought to himself “what should I do, for I have no pace to store my crops…I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” If you didn’t get the emphasis, the focus is on the rich land owner. “Those who have possessions in abundance risk the sin of greed: ‘enough’ is never enough, ‘more’ is only to be hoarded, and ‘I, me, and mine’ matter more than anybody else” (West, 310 Feasting on the Word). I, I, I, the man has done nothing but turned himself into an idol. That is sin. 

Is the rich man wise and responsible? Sure. He’s smart to store up what may be needed in a year of drought. He has a thriving farming business. I know enough farmers to know that farming isn’t a sport for idiots and dummies. He is trying to do what most of us do: set aside a little bit for the future. I am guessing most of us do this in one way or another. IRA’s, stocks, bonds, land, whatever; it’s smart and prudent to prepare for the future. It’s not what he is doing that is wrong. But he is only living for himself. He also seems to believe that he can secure his future with his barns full of abundance. But his life is now. We all know too well that tomorrow isn’t promised. There are very few guarantees in life. You have your body and you have time. Sadly, when one of those things runs out or runs down, your invitation to the kingdom is delivered. This is exactly verse 20 says “you fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 

Being rich isn’t a sin. Being smart with your investments isn’t a sin. Having an amazing year with a bumper crop isn’t a sin. But, oh my goodness, my beloved, none of this has anything to do with us. We are so quick to forget that. When things are going terribly, we love to blame God. Another diagnosis? What did I/we do to anger God? A new mother taken too soon?  Why does God seem to hate me/us? But when things are going well and we are successful. Well! Look at what I’ve done! I am amazing! I made the right decisions! I bought the right seed! I used the right version of roundup. I made the best investments. I am so smart and so amazing! I should be giving you advice. Um…who? We should not be so confident, so cocky, so sure of ourselves that we forget that what we have is not ours, including our lives. Our lives, our possessions, everything we have and everything we are is Gods. And this is troubling and yet, also a relief: God can demand any and all of it back at any time. Think about that for just a moment. Everything we have and everything we are is Gods and God can demand any and all of it back at any time. 

Being rich is not a sin. I want to repeat that several times so you hear me. Being successful is not a sin. However, it is when we think our successes and riches secure us a position with God or a place in God’s kingdom is when our thinking goes wrong. Again, it’s not that God doesn’t desire for us to do well. Yes, we should save for retirement. And yes, we need to plan for our future needs. But, it is about our priorities. Our priorities tell us very clearly if we worship god with a lowercase “g” or if we worship God with a capital “G.” Because if our priorities are only saving, hoarding even, and self then we worship god, lowercase g. But if our priorities are saving, future planning, and doing that with our neighbors and God’s mission in mind, then we worship God with a capital g. Our “capacity to trust in God can deepen only as other matters lessen their grip in our lives” (Lull, 312, Feasting on the Word). 

Our text today is challenging and we shouldn’t shy away from it. I can’t promise that I’ve made any sense of it or made you feel any better about it. But, if we lean in together and start to read this as the challenge it is, perhaps our lives may take a different shape. This parable “calls on all, rich and poor alike, to reflect carefully about what we want and why we want it” (West, 314, ibid). It is possible that if our hearts are hungering for what only God can give, and that is unconditional grace, mercy, and love, then there are no purchases, no amount of wealth, no amount of stuff that will ever fill that desire. The economy will fluctuate (I don’t have to tell you all that). The price of corn, beans, hogs, and cattle will be a roller coaster. Again, I don’t have to tell you that. But what never changes, what is constant and reliable is God. And as hard as all of this has been to hear and comprehend about riches and storehouses and self focused thinking, the constant and reliable love, grace, and mercy of God is the good news that we need to hear. When we can’t count on anything else, not even our own bodies or time, God’s love, grace, and mercy are reliable. Every. Single. Time. 

Soon, you will be invited to the table. You will receive the body of Christ given for you and you will receive the blood of Christ shed for you. You did nothing to earn it. You receive it if you have $2 or $2 million in your bank account. You are fed the same meal as dignitaries and outcasts. You are fed the same meal given to revolutionaries and the status quo. We dine on the same meal given to the disciples and to dictators. Now if that’s not enough for you to believe in God’s offensive and abundant love, I don’t know what is. What is ours is not ours alone. It has been given to us by God. God’s love, mercy, and grace are the only for sure thing in life that we can bank on. 


Sermon for 7/28/19 Luke 11:1-13

As most of you know, Chris and I recently took a vacation to Las Vegas. Some of you had a familiar question: did you gamble? And we did. And we didn’t win anything. I played a complicated slot machine that I can’t begin to describe how it works or how I won when I actually did win (a few cents here and there). Most of the slot machines that you may be familiar with are almost phased out. These would be the traditional 3 window slot machines with one “win” line in the middle. Usually it’s filled with symbols like cherries or seven’s or something similar. You put the coin in, you pull the arm, and you know immediately if you win. First of all, rarely do people put coins in anymore. And while the lever is still there, most people push a button that says “spin reels.” A more traditional slot machine is easy to understand. I wonder if we think about prayer the same way sometime. We say the right words, we make the right gestures, we put the right amount in the offering plate, and JACKPOT! God answers our prayers. It’s not that easy. Thankfully, it’s not that complicated either. 

Before you feel yourself tense up, I want you to know that this will not be a sermon about how you should be praying more and that praying is good for you. We all know this already. It isn’t my job to stand up here and guilt you into doing anything, especially something I know I need help with. I would love to understand prayer and how it works. But, the thing is, I don’t. I don’t know why God answers certain prayers and leaves others unanswered. I don’t know why God feels like answering prayers for someone else but not me. What I know for sure is that I am still learning about prayer. I also know that God wants us to pray. God desires for us to be bold and persistent in our prayer. In fact, in the text today we hear the story of the man waking his neighbor for bread and he is persistent. The translation would more accurately state that he is shameless. I’ve never thought about being shameless in prayer. And I believe that God listens to our prayers. Please understand though, my beloved, listening to our prayers and answering our prayers are two very different things. 

The words of today’s text are familiar because we pray them every Sunday. Maybe you pray them every day. In the Gospel of Luke, prayer is central to who Jesus is and what Jesus does. “According to Luke 11, through prayer believers participate in God’s commitment to bring forth God’s reign.” When the disciples come to Jesus and say “Lord, teach us to pray” they are asking the right person. Notice Jesus doesn’t tell them how to pray, as in, “close your eyes” or “bow your head.” Instead, he tells them what to say. And the entire prayer is built around a relationship with God. A loving and shameless relationship with God. 

The prayer does not assume that we need to be something that we are not. We are not expected to become greater than we are. We are not asked to transform ourselves into some kind of super human. It is a “deeply human kind of prayer. It is a prayer for … creatures in need.” What do we need? Well, the prayer breaks it down quite simply. We need relationship. When we address God as father, we speak to that relationship. And yes, it is okay to address God as mother. If you’ve had a difficult relationship with your father or father figure, thinking of God as a loving father may prove to be challenging. After that, it is simple human needs that we pray for: “give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.” We cannot do this on our own and as crazy as it may sound, we need God’s help. 

Prayer is a lifetime practice. I want to emphasize that word: practice. Prayer evolves as our life does. If you’ve ever listened to a child pray, they are some of the most thoughtful and thought provoking prayers. But they may also not reflect your life at this moment. But what remains constant in our prayers is our reliance on God. You hear me say this almost every Sunday and you hear the disciples speak it in the text “teach us to pray.” We will never advance to “Lord, remember us in your kingdom and you taught us to pray…” The idea is that it is ongoing. Again, I don’t know how prayer works. It’s not a Holy Spirit slot machine. But, I know that God desires a relationship with us and that is accomplished through prayer. 

What keeps you from praying? I can’t very well ask that question of you if I don’t ask it of myself first. What keeps me from praying? I thought about that for a while and every answer I came up with really boiled down to one main answer: fear. It’s easy for me to say I don’t pray because I just don’t have the time. But maybe it’s not that I don’t have the time but I don’t make the time. Because if I pray, God might actually respond. I don’t pray because I don’t have the right words (whatever those are). Well, Jesus gave me the words right here. My desire to be a perfectionist keep me from praying because I am afraid I will screw it up. So, every excuse I came up with really was just fear. And with a loving, grace-filled, mercy-filled God, why do I fear? God wants you and I to be shameless in our prayer. Shameless in how we pray, when we pray, what we pray and to whom we pray. 

God wants us to pray and God wants us to ask for anything. “Prayer is praise; prayer is thanksgiving; prayer is conversation; prayer is questioning; prayer is arguing; prayer is lamenting. Prayer is all these things and more. But prayer is also — and perhaps fundamentally — asking God for what we most need and desire…shamelessly” (Lose, Working Preacher). And I understand that we may have a deep desire to know how prayer works. Because then if we know how prayer works then we can pray just the *right* way and our prayers will be answered. And then cancer would be gone, and hungry people would be fed, and people wouldn’t die of curable disease, and on and on. But we don’t know how prayer works and I know how frustrating that is. While we don’t know the “how” of prayer, we do know the “who” and that is Jesus. 

We pray to the God that answers, no matter the time of day. We pray to the God that gives us more than we expect or needed and loves us like a parent, but even better and even stronger. We pray to the God that gives us, feeds, us, forgives us, and leads us. There is no such thing as a small prayer. There is no prayer to big for God. You can scream at God or sing to God, there is no wrong way to pray. There is no wrong way to pray. Because every time we pray, we once again admit to God, and maybe, more appropriately, to ourselves, that we can’t do this alone and that our lives are dependent on the one who generously gives us our daily bread. Our lives are dependent on the one who forgives our sins and encourages us to do likewise. Our lives are dependent on the one who will not allow us to be tried beyond our limits. Our lives are dependent on the one who loves us beyond our comprehension. Be shameless in your prayers. Be bold in your prayers. Be daring in your prayers. God is always listening. 

Sermon for 7/21/19 Luke 10:38-42

“But Martha was distracted by her many tasks…” How dare Jesus call me out like that. This text might as well say “but Jealaine was distracted by her many tasks.” I feel seen and offended all at the same time. I think there are better ways of getting my attention, Jesus. This Gospel text didn’t have to come up now, at this time, in this place, in order to get my attention. And I can almost hear Jesus saying “oh really? How else was I to get your attention?” I have no doubt that there has been a Sunday or two where you may have thought “I really feel like Pastor was talking directly to me. She’s got a lot of nerve.” Well, that’s me today except with Jesus. I have a small example of this. 

Last Sunday, Ellen was determined that she wanted to go swimming. On Sunday, after church one thing takes priority: my Sunday afternoon nap. I believe Jesus created naps for a reason. But, Chris wasn’t up for swimming and so I needed to be the best and coolest mom ever and go swimming. Task accepted. It was hot. I was a human jungle gym in the pool. There were like 3000 kids at the pool and Ellen had a great time so that’s all that matters. We made a brief stop at the grocery store before going home. By the time we got home, I was not the cheery ray of sunshine you see before you now. But, I kept moving as soon as we walked in the door. I started our dinner. I put the wet, chlorine filled towels in the washer, I changed my clothes, I filled one of the dog’s water bowls back up, and then I opened the dishwasher to empty that. By this time, Chris had come in the kitchen and said “what are you doing?” I said “emptying the dishwasher” (which, I thought was apparent by the fact that I was literally in the middle of emptying the dishwasher when he asked. It’s not like I was in the middle of brain surgery.) But I think what he really meant is “why are you moving? Why are you still working?” So, in his best and most gentle voice he said “go sit down.” He was inviting me to rest. I will tell you that the look I gave him was not real loving. 

How often does Jesus come among us, begging us to rest, to sit at his feet and learn, to soak in knowledge, to have a sabbath of sorts, and we either miss it or we’re just too busy? I find it interesting that when God created the world, everything was called “good” except for one thing, and that is sabbath. Sabbath is the only thing that, when created, was called “holy.” What a relief it must have been to Martha, perhaps, to take a rest from society’s expectations. And Jesus calls us to rest, calls us to recenter ourselves on that which is life-giving, calls us to just be, and we’re too damned busy to actually do it. 

Now, please understand that I am not telling you all to quit your jobs and go lay on the beach (although if you can afford to do that and want to do that then more power to you). But what do you do that is life giving? I’m not saying that being busy is a bad thing. But, we’ve made busy almost a status of statement in life. We often try and “out busy” one another. “You think you’re busy? Listen to this….” I know I’ve jokingly said that I often need vacations from my vacations. Yet US employees in general leave 170 million vacation days unused every year. Like Martha, our work is good work. It is work that may even leave us really satisfied. But, at the end of the day, we are called to rest. We are called to step away from society’s expectations, and sit with the one who loves us unconditionally. 

So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we take the time to rest? Why don’t we take the time for sabbath? Why don’t we stop for a while and rest at the feet of Jesus? Could it be that we’re missing Jesus? It’s possible. Jesus longs to be in relationship with us. And yet we treat him like anything else on our “to-do” list. As if Jesus is a light bulb we’ve been meaning to replace. We don’t take the time out for a few reasons (at least as I see it). One, we feel guilty when we do take time off to just rest and be. Two, we have a little bit of martyr in us. Perhaps people will feel sorry for us that we’ve been working 6 or 7 days a week straight for the last 18 years. And three, if we take the time to slow down, that means we just might have to listen for Christ and to Christ and do we really want to hear what he has to say to us?

Martha isn’t trying to avoid Christ. She’s not making herself a martyr. She might be dealing with guilt (especially again, because hospitality was expected). But it is as if Jesus is saying to her “Martha, I don’t care about any of that. Just put that stuff down and come and relax. Listen to me.” What keeps you from sitting at the feet of Jesus? Are you afraid of what Jesus might say to you? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a message of love that you’ve convinced yourself you don’t deserve? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a word of forgiveness that you’ve craved but keep denying? Are you afraid that instead of hearing judgement and condemnation, that you might hear mercy, peace, and the desire to love you? That is scary, my beloved. If we keep ourselves busy enough we don’t have to be vulnerable. 

It goes against everything this culture stands for to stop what you’re doing and sit at the feet of the one who gives life. It goes against everything that society says we should want to bask in the knowledge and love of the one who gives us love. And it is most certainly counter-cultural to not be busy. Perhaps it’s time that we start to “busy” ourselves with just being. Maybe we should busy ourselves being in the presence of the one who calls us to be. Nothing else in this life matters, my beloved, if we have nothing and no one to call on. Nothing else in this life matters if we are counting on ourselves or our own actions to ensure our salvation. Maybe if you won’t hear Jesus, you’ll hear me: I am giving you permission to rest. I am giving myself permission to rest. I am giving you permission to no longer cower and cave under what society expects of you. I am giving you permission to sit at the feet of the one who loves you and be reminded what it means to be loved, be washed, be fed, and be freed. I am giving you permission to be Mary and Martha in a world that expects you to be either one or the other.  


Sermon for 7/14/19 Luke 10:25-37

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.” That alone should tell us a lot about that road. The Jericho road doesn’t just exist in Jesus’ time. We have a lot of Jericho roads in this town, in this state, and in this country. It may not be called Jericho road, but it is. It is often the line between the have and the have-nots. It is the line between barely getting by and barely living. It is the line between a school with enough supplies for each child and a school filled with asbestos, mold, and the majority receiving free lunch. It is the road that no real estate agent wants to sell or buy on. It is the road that gets the most calls to 911. It is the road that comes with stigma. “Oh you live on the Jericho road?” and then people think they know your story. “In many cities, Jericho road is called ‘Martin Luther King Boulevard’” (Traci Blackmon). Here are some versions of our Jericho roads: International Boulevard, the crossing between McAllen, Texas and Mexico. El Paso Road, the crossing between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Virginia Avenue, the crossing between San Diego and Tijuana. So many places that we hear about on the news. The stories of cages, camps, crying babies, separated families, laws and regulations, imigration, and honestly, a lot of confusion. 

I’ve been overwhelmed by the situation at the border. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to believe. What I see on the news is disturbing. I might even go as far to say that what I’ve seen is inhumane. I know that the majority of the asylum seeking people that arrive at our borders do so in the hope of escaping trauma and violence in their home cities or countries. Some arrive at our borders, much like our ancestors did, hoping for a better life, better opportunities, better everything. The reality is that the stories of drug and human trafficking do happen, but so less often than you might think. The other reality is that no wall, no immigration policy, no law will ever stop drug and human trafficking. It’s a sad reality. 

I also believe that a path to citizenship should be easier than it is. We will always have a Jericho road. If it isn’t immigration, it will be something else. “Jericho road is a place that requires personal risk” (ibid). A priest and a Levite both passed by the man. They both saw him, it tells us that in the text. They purposefully chose to ignore a man who was laying on the side of the road, naked, beaten up, probably bruised and bleeding, maybe not even conscious. And along comes the Samaritan who himself knows what it is like to be ignored, forgotten, avoided, and shunned. He has nothing to lose. Jericho road is a place that requires personal risk and the Samaritan had nothing to lose. The priest and the Levite, they had plenty to risk and chose not to. I relate all too well to the priest and the Levite. I want to think I am the Samaritan. But, when it comes to putting myself on the line, I become selectively blind. 

As I said, I’ve become overwhelmed by the situation at the border. I don’t want to turn away, but the problem seems so large that I wonder what I, a single person, can do about it. The Samaritan could have ignored the situation on Jericho road and chose not to. I wonder what the Samaritan would do on International Boulevard, El Paso Road, or Virginia Avenue? Would the Samaritan be able to ignore the cries? The stench? The filth? The look of frustration, worry, and exhaustion on the faces of immigration enforcement officers? Might the Samaritan be arrested for civil disobedience for offering water at the border? What would happen to the Samaritan if he or she showed up to refugee camps with boxes of toothbrushes, socks, soap, or deodorant? Here’s the thing, my beloved: I am willing to put a lot on the line with what I am about to say. You can believe what you choose to believe about immigration. It’s not as cut and dry as we try to make it. But, I cannot claim to be a Christian, live into my baptismal promises, or live into my ordination vows and believe that what is happening at the border is remotely okay. Crossing a border should not alienate a person’s humanitarian rites. Crossing a border, any border, does not turn a human into an animal. The cost of keeping our country safe, which we have a right to do, should not come at the cost of treating other human beings like they are less than. It should not come at the cost of turning every single road on our borders into a Jericho Road. 

Who is our neighbor? The one who is suffering and at the same time, the one who is celebrating. Our neighbor is the friendly farmer down the road that rents land from us. Our neighbor is the kid who is the first in his family to go to college. Our neighbor is the cute kid next door trying to sell us more wrapping paper, again. Our neighbor is the addict who is clean, for now. Our neighbor is the prostitute desiring a better life if leaving didn’t mean being beaten by her pimp. Our neighbor is child sent from Guatemala to our borders hoping to escape gang violence. Our neighbor is all of these people and then some, the ones we choose not to see. Our neighbor is Jesus and he walks the Jericho Road, the same road we try to avoid at all cost. 

Christ calls us to show mercy. I don’t know what that looks like to you. All of us have our own definitions of mercy. For me, it’s becoming aware of my own biases and prejudices. For me, showing mercy is contacting my elected officials on a semi-regular basis. Showing mercy means seeking out the true stories and not just relying on one news source. Showing mercy means looking into the eyes of someone I do not agree with and seeing God. Showing mercy means daring to take the Jericho Road knowing that it is I that will be changed and not me changing the road. What Christ is calling us all to is a life that involves risk. Loving someone that others would rather leave for dead is a risk. Opening ourselves up to love is a risk. Following Christ is a risk. But from what I can tell, Christ also makes it abundantly clear what we are to be doing. When we dare ask questions like “what must I do to inherit eternal life” then we must be willing to accept the answers, even if we don’t like them and even if they make us uncomfortable. All of the other commandments kind of filter down into this one: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Love without action is wasted grace. 

The Jericho Road isn’t about our charitable intentions, it’s about real, life changing transformations. The question shouldn’t be “what will I gain if I act” but rather “what will others lose if I don’t?” Are you able to see the divine in the other and more importantly are others able to see the divine in you? Often our faith is about fork-in-the-road kind of moments. One way appears to be the easy way, the way filled with good intentions, thoughts, and prayers. The other way is the Jericho Road. It’s unknown, filled with unknown people, and a bit of a risk. But, guess which road Christ is pointing us to? Guess on which road Christ will meet us? In the cross, we weren’t promised a life of ease and comfort. We were promised a life of Immanuel, Christ with us.Christ with all of us

Sermon for 6/30/19 Luke 9:51-62

I really do tend to be an optimist. I do see the glass half full. But, I also once read that optimists tend to be late a lot. The theory is that this is because we always think there is more time to do more things before the actual appointed event. I know this all too well. In fact, we have a joke in our family that there is such a thing as “Vaccaro time.” Vaccaro is my maiden name. Vaccaro time is around 10-30 minutes behind. I ran on Vaccaro time a lot before I met Chris. But, he likes to be on time. I’ve gotten better. But, I am usually predictably early to one thing: worship. Anyway, I think all of this comes from something similar to what is going on in the Gospel today: the “but first” syndrome. 

We’re on our way out the door “but first.” But first, I want to change out the laundry, take the dogs out, put those breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, and yell out every mom’s favorite phrase “did you go potty?” But I also wonder how many times I’ve said “but first” and missed out on something better. But first, let me finish this sermon. But first, let me finish this email. But first, I need to make a phone call. But first, I need to put this laundry away. All of us can probably think of a dozen “but first” instances that might have caused us to miss out on life. Two unnamed men in the reading for today desire to follow Jesus. But first… The first man says that he will follow Jesus but “first, let me go and bury my father.” The second man also desires to follow Jesus “but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Both times Jesus reminds them of the kingdom work that they both have been called to. 

Being a follower of Christ isn’t the easiest thing in the world. I think we would like it to be. But, it’s not. It’s more than coming to church. Being a follower of Christ requires action, movement, and a commitment. And a lot of times, we have those “but first” moments that can interrupt our discipleship. Please hear me, my beloved, these but first moments aren’t bad things. I don’t want you to think that I am telling you to drop everything in your life and follow Christ. Because while that sounds nice in theory, and that is what Christ asks us to do, sometimes it’s the but first moments that often keep our lives moving. “But first, I need to add to my retirement fund a bit.” “But first, I need to get care of the cattle lined up.” Taking care of our future, our families, our livelihood, is important and good work. As nice as Shelly at Chase-MasterCard is, she will never waive a payment because you tell her you’re going to drop everything and follow Christ. 

But what about the things we do tend to put in front of Christ that really could be back-burner items? What but firsts do we put in our lives that are actually stumbling blocks? Because in our story today, we’ve reached a critical point. Jesus has turned his face to Jerusalem. This can only mean one thing: he is starting to prepare himself for his death. All along Jesus has been encouraging those around him to follow him. And it hasn’t been too bad so far. And then he turns his face to Jerusalem. This is a rubber meets the road kind of movement. It’s as if Jesus is saying “I’m all in. Are you all in?” And we suddenly might be looking for all kinds of “but first” moments to get us out of this one. Because Jerusalem means sacrifice. Jerusalem means judgement. Jerusalem means chastising. And ultimately, Jerusalem means death. It would be about this time that I would be looking for any and all ways out. 

That’s a hard reality to admit. Because my reaction to all of this is about me and has nothing to do with Jesus. What does it say about me that as soon as Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem, I want out? What does it say about me that when my idea of faith is challenged, I want to shut down? What does it say about me when someone challenges my ideas of social justice and I just want to use scripture as a weapon (something I know I’ve preached against). I don’t like it when my shortcomings are right in front of me, clear as day, begging to be examined and corrected and I just desire to make excuse after excuse. What wins out over Jesus time and time again is my desire to remain “safe.” I often forget that Jesus will keep me safe but my lack of trust keeps me in the shadows of uncertainty and but firsts. There are even topics I think about preaching, “but first…” And I rationalize it by thinking about it strategically, and thinking about what such sermons might mean in this context, and whether or not I want to keep this call. So, I try and stay fairly vanilla and not rock the boat too much. But that’s not what Jesus calls us to do. 

What might it look like if we did follow Jesus with reckless abandon? What might it look like if we stopped making excuses, stopped stalling, and started moving? What might it feel like if we actually trusted God as much as we say we do? This isn’t about proving anything to Christ or earning his love. This is more about proving something to ourselves. This is about reminding ourselves that we are called and claimed and what that looks like on a day to day basis. This is about “leaning on the everlasting arms” on a daily basis and knowing that God will never lead us anywhere that God has not been. Stetson doesn’t know a lot of “but firsts” quite yet. He has learned the most important thing a baby can learn: trust. He trusts that when he cries, he will be loved. He trusts that when he’s wet, somebody is going to do something about that. He trusts that when he is hungry, he will be fed. Today, he will learn that God loves him in a way that no one else can. Stetson has been called and will be claimed in the waters, just like we all have. What if we looked at Stetson as an example of discipleship? When it comes to our needs, trust that God has it covered. It’s tempting to fight back and say “but first…” I think when Jesus calls we must resist the temptation to “but first” because we may miss out on something even better. 

“Jesus does not choose to punish those who are reluctant to support him, even today. Instead, we are reminded again and again that ours is a Savior of love, who is not about punishing all who resist or compelling everyone to get in line or face the consequences, but one who invites those who believe to walk the journey with him” (Shaffer 192; Feasting on the Word). This baptism today is about love. It’s about the love God has for Stetson and for you and for me. And we need to be reminded of that love as much as we can. God does love you, my beloved. Even in those moments when Jesus is all in and you still want to think about it, God loves you. This is one of the reasons why it’s crucial that baptisms are done in the public square. This proclamation of love isn’t just for Stetson, it’s for all of us. We will soon see that promise in water in word. This is a reminder that we are called to be faithful, not successful. Our journey of discipleship will be filled with some failures. When it happens, Christ will be there, leading the way, encouraging us to keep going. No if, and’s, or but’s about it. 

Sermon for 6/23/19 Luke 8:26-39

In my experience, mental illness doesn’t come with casseroles. Usually when a loved one is diagnosed with something that affects his or her life, people stop by with casseroles and offers to help? A new cancer diagnosis? Here’s a casserole, an offer to drive you to chemo, and a future date to clean your house. A new MS diagnosis? Here’s a casserole, plans to modify your house so it’s easier to get around, and a team to walk in the next charity fundraiser. An autism diagnosis? Here’s a casserole, me learning more so I can be a better advocate, and keeping a lookout for tagless clothing (true story). Suicidal ideation with manic bi-polar swings? No casserole. No companions for the journey. No house cleaning. Mental illness is often kept in dark places, hidden from human and public consumption, and shrouded in secrecy and shame. As hard as I’ve tried, I can’t shake the idea that the man in today’s story, Legion, has been and is suffering from a mental illness. I would also love to say that things are better now for people with a mental illness. Pharmaceutically, they are. But, people like me with mental health issues are still often relegated to places of darkness, secrecy, and shame. I will continue to talk about mental health from the pulpit because it needs to be spoken of. People need to know they’re not alone and that the church takes seriously the issues of mental health.

Legion had been living in a tomb. Legion had been living in a place that was sequestered, dark, isolated, and a place meant for the dead. Legion was very much alive but I doubt he was living. We aren’t told whether Legion decided to segregate himself or the pressure, judgement, and shame put on him by the others in the town sent him to the tomb. Make no mistake, my beloveds, we all have tombs. Sometimes we are very familiar with the tombs in which we reside, other times our tombs are like a terrible vacation home that we only sometimes visit. So the question I asked myself (which I pose to you now) is how do we live in our tombs and/or what keeps us living in or visiting our tombs? I think some of the things that drive us to our personal tombs are: shame, secrets, fear, expectations, our own disbelief, isolation, misunderstandings, identity, and even our physical health. How might all of this actually look? Maybe you’re driven to the tomb by the secrets you keep: an affair, a situation at work, or an assault. Maybe you’re driven to the tomb by shame. The one or two drinks a week have turned into 5 or 6 a night. You still sneak that one cigarette after dinner even though you told your family you quit. Some of you may have thought you didn’t have a tomb but then this recent planting season happened, or didn’t. And doubts crept in. And you questioned your identity because if you’re not farming, then what in the world are you doing? Before you know it, you found your tomb. We all have tombs.

Legion is tormented by evil spirits. I don’t know that we talk enough about evil spirits or even know enough to talk about them. But evil spirits are very real. This is a common topic of spiritual conversations in churches in countries where witchcraft is practiced and very real. As someone with a brain health disease, I can attest that evil spirits are real. Legion is bound, literally, by his spirits. The spirits kept him under guard and bound with chains and shackles. Even if Legion did manage to break free, he was driven out into the wilderness which was another place of darkness, uncertainty, and lack of life. How might evil spirits move in our lives, then my beloved. Evil spirits tell us lies. Lies like “no one cares” or “you’re all alone.” Evil spirits whisper doubts in our ears. “You’ll never do this” or “this will never work.” Evil spirits also seem to control our internal dialogue. This is the way we speak to ourselves. When my evil spirits are working at full throttle, I say things to myself I would never in a million years dream of saying to any of you or my beloved Chris or Ellen. But, I believe my internal dialogue maybe a little too easy. Evil spirits move about in rumors, anxiety and anxiety like symptoms, and fear. Evil spirits, external and internal want to keep us bound and in tombs. Evil spirits obviously don’t know that Jesus will always meet us where we are even if it is a tomb being held captive by our own thoughts.

That’s exactly what Jesus does to Legion. Jesus removes the demons, casts the demons into a herd of swine, and the swine (as a result) ran into a lake and were drowned (sorry Mommsen’s). Jesus freed Legion. But, an interesting response from the townspeople was fear. They were afraid because of genuine fright. After all, who was this Jesus and how was he able to do this to so many demons? And maybe they were afraid because now they had hope. It’s the kind of hope that says “if it can happen to Legion…maybe it can happen for me.” Fear can look like a lot of things to a lot of people. Legion literally had his identity changed in this moment. I believe that his actual name wasn’t even Legion. He had just been called that for so long that it had become his identity. After the demons left him, Legion was clothed and “in his right mind” as we’re told. He will become part of the community again. Jesus has the power to claim us and the identity that comes with that is something no powers can overcome. This is the identity given to all of us in baptism.

When Jesus claims us, we learn that healing is possible. Restoration is possible. Relationships are possible. Inclusion is possible. Community is possible. Recognition is possible. Now, here’s the thing. Legion had a “place” in society. He was that society’s outcast. That was his place. Jesus removed him from that place and gave him a place in society once again. A place where he wouldn’t be feared and a place where he would be included. The town people were certain of Legion’s place before Jesus came along. Then Legion was healed and they got scared. I mean, if we can’t be certain of certain people’s places and situations in society, of what can we be certain? Jesus. Even if no one else sees us or recognizes us, Jesus always will.

Baptismal promises will be made to Basil Sue today and it’s a good time for all of us to be reminded. We have all been marked with the cross of Christ. No demon can erase that. We already belong. Even if it feels like you belong nowhere, you do belong to Christ and there is a home for you in God’s kingdom. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Sealed, protected, shielded. Even in your tomb dwelling moments, you are sealed, claimed, called, and protected by God the Father through Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. What sometimes frustrates me with stories like this is that it all seems to tie up in a neat little bow. Legion is healed and Jesus is on his way. We know all too well that healing seems to never come for those we love that struggle with mental health issues. I know this well. In those tomb moments, it’s good for us to remind each other of the promises made to us in baptism. In those tomb moments, it’s good for us to remind one another that Jesus continues to show up right where we are, without judgement, to be with us (even if the place we are is dark, dim, and full of death). It’s in those tomb moments, that we, the body of Christ need to show up and be with one another and believe enough for those struggling with disbelief. It’s to us,the body of Christ, to show up and share our light with those in the darkness. Well, we do all of that, and bring a casserole. Amen.

Sermon for 6/2/19 John 17:20-26; Easter 7

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) Alright, so I want to start today by asking you some questions. I will give you your choices first and then we’ll do a little informal polling. These questions aren’t meant to shame you or get you in trouble. It’s more for just my information. Here we go. The first question is this “when it comes to my prayer life, I (1) pray daily (or on a semi-regular basis) or (2) I only pray when things are overwhelmingly good or pretty darned bad. Next question. I prefer to pray (1) quietly. Almost a whisper. Or silently in my head. Or (2) out loud. Final question. If I had to pray out loud I would rather pray (1) for myself or (2) for someone else. So, just in case you wondered, we’re going to talk about praying today. And why? Because that is exactly what Jesus is doing in this text.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is probably one of the most confusing passages in scripture. It’s like reading the directions from an Ikea television cabinet in Swedish. What’s frustrating is that this passage is so beautiful and what is going on is amazing. And yet, the language makes it hard, if not impossible to understand what actually is going on. Jesus is praying. He is praying out loud. Unlike other places in the Bible, Jesus has not gone off by himself to pray. He is praying for the disciples. And the disciples can hear him. What is most amazing about this passage (and quite possibly my most favorite thing about this passage) is that Jesus is praying for you. Out loud. Let that sink in for just a moment. Jesus is praying for you. I know what you may be thinking “how is that even possible?”

For reference I am talking about the very first sentence of the reading for today. It says “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” The translation found in the Message says “I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me.” Remember, Jesus is praying and he is doing it out loud. Anyone and everyone present would be able to hear him. In this instance, it is the disciples. Jesus says that not only is he praying for the disciples but also anyone and everyone who will come to believe in Jesus through the works and words of the disciples. Jesus is praying for all the future Christians that are to come. This means that Jesus is praying for you. But it also means that Jesus prayed for your ancestors and Jesus is praying for your loved ones that are yet to come. Jesus is praying for your loved ones that may not even be a thought in your mind; or at least, not at this time. For example: with this prayer, Jesus is praying for my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, and my great great grandchildren. That thought alone has enough power to make my brain hurt.

We know that Christians didn’t just come to be magically. There were followers of Jesus, yes. But, we know so much of Jesus message and ministry was spread by the disciples. In fact, there’s an entire book of the Bible dedicated to this: Acts. You being a Christian didn’t happen by accident. And you aren’t here just because you are the third, fourth, or fifth generation to attend this church and be Lutheran. You are Christian, I am a Christian, we are all Christian because after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the disciples went from town to town, from village to village, and made more disciples. This is core to what it says in Matthew 28 “go and make disciples of all nations.” That is exactly what the disciples did: they made more disciples and more Christians just by telling the story of Jesus.

Then, year after year, generation after generation the stories got told and Christianity grew. All along, Jesus prayer covered all of those believers. If you read carefully, you’ll not hear an expiration date on Jesus’ prayer. Jesus said that he is praying for “those who will believe” in him through the words of the disciples. While we weren’t literally there, there is something really powerful and humbling in knowing that Jesus prayed for me. Jesus prayed for you. Jesus prayed for all of us. Jesus prayed for everyone who calls themselves a Christian. Jesus prayed for everyone who will call themselves a Christian.

Here’s the thing, my beloved. Yes, I am a Pastor. Some might think that I am like a professional pray-er or something. Some might think that I am spiritually healthy. Like some kind of spiritual marathoner. But, I am just like you. There are times when my faith struggles. There are times when my belief is more unbelief. There are times when I look at all the world has to offer and I have no words. And in case you’re new to getting to know you may not know this: I am horrible at asking for help and I’m horrible at asking for what I need. In those moments, I think about this scripture. In fact, verses 20-21 hang in my office. I need to know that Jesus is praying for me. I need the comfort that comes from prayer. When I can’t even pray for myself, for whatever reason, I know that Jesus has prayed for me.

This has been especially comforting to me these last few weeks as it seems like every time I look out the window it’s raining. And my heart breaks. My heart breaks because I love you all so deeply and I can’t even imagine what this rain is doing to you and to your planting. I have no words. And then I remember: Jesus prayed for you. I want that to be clear. But, especially for those of you, my beloved, that are farmers or a farming family, Jesus has prayed for you. For everyone who relies on farmers (and that is all of us, by the way) Jesus has prayed for you. In those moments where you were calculating acres and days left, Jesus prayed for you. In those moments where your bones ached from being in the cab for hours much longer than usual, Jesus prayed for you. In those evenings where your loved ones sat down to a dinner table with an empty chair and bedtime happened, again, without you. Jesus prayed for you. And when the weather report came on quickly followed by crop prices and all you could do was have a sigh that was too deep for words, Jesus prayed for you. I know it may feel like the world has no idea the impact of all of this rain has had on you, your family, and your business, but Jesus knows. And Jesus prays for you.

When we gather around water and splash one another with baptismal promises, we can feel Jesus’ love. When we gather around this table and we are fed with Jesus’ body and blood, we can taste Jesus’ love. But in this holiest of moments, when we are meant to overhear, Jesus prays for us, and we can hear Jesus’ love.