Sermon for 4/26/15 Psalm 23

Many of you know that I have been having an all out war with my stomach since before Easter. After the first appointment with my gastroenterologist, I was frustrated. I wanted to hear something I didn’t. I wanted to hear “your fears and frustrations are valid…here’s what I can do to fix you right now.” But instead, I got a prescription for very expensive medication. I walked out even more frustrated and I needed something to make me feel better. So, I headed to Dress Barn (which is a women’s clothing store, if you didn’t know) for what I call “retail therapy.” I needed a new dress. I deserved a new dress. And one benefit (or drawback) from my stomach giving me so much trouble is that I am no longer able to handle every emotion the way I normally do: with food. So, I bought a new dress. It made me feel better. It was cute. I wanted it, so I bought it.

I did a little research and found some pretty sobering statistics about how we spend our time and our money. Americans, on average, spend $117 billion dollars on fast food. We spend $18 billion on credit card late fees. We spend $11 billion dollars on coffee (and maybe I think it’s pretty worth it). And, what I found to be pretty shocking, we spend $11 billion dollars on bottled water. (all statistics found here:http://www.deseretnews.com/top/1289/1/Groceries-34-things-Americans-spend-billions-or-millions-of-dollars-on.html)

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” But then I wanted to see how we spent our time. But, this time I wanted to just look at Iowa. We Iowans, on average, get about 8.46 hours of sleep a night. This is obviously not the case in our house. We spend approximately 38 minutes on personal grooming and 33 minutes on housework. 7 and a half hours working, 30 minutes commuting, and an average of 6 minutes on “religious activities.” Yes. 6 minutes. (Those statistics found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/06/20/ten-maps-that-show-how-much-time-americans-spend-grooming-eating-thinking-and-praying/

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  I have been dwelling on that sentence all week long. What does it mean for us to proclaim that? I know for several of us that Psalm 23 is a psalm of comfort (as it should be). I find that this is probably one of the most memorized psalms. I want to share something with all of you that I trust will be kept in confidentiality. I have no problem with the idea of the Lord as my shepherd. I really really really struggle with “I shall not want.”

I even looked up different translations of this psalm hoping that it would give me an out. Some translations read “The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.” (CEB) Or “You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.” (CEV). That one really troubled me because I don’t like the word “never.” How about this translation “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.” According to Chris this isn’t true. He wants a boat. He doesn’t have a boat. (That’s mainly my fault and has nothing to do with God). “God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing!” (The Message) No matter how hard I looked, nothing would give me an out. Nothing would give me an out from trusting in God.

When I realized that is what I was looking for, I was a little shocked. I had been looking for a way out from trusting in God. When I say it out loud I realize how ridiculous it sounds. See this all is not a reflection on God or God’s faithfulness, God’s goodness, or God’s mercy. Rather, it is a very sobering reflection on my faith (or lack thereof). What does it say about  my faith if I was looking for a way out of trusting God? I don’t know how many times I need to think I can do it my own way, attempt that way, and then fail miserably. I know how things in my life turn out when I fail to rely on God. I am sure you’ve heard that saying “when you fail to plan you plan to fail.” I think I am going to rewrite this saying to “when you fail to faith, your faith fails.” Now I want to make this abundantly clear: God’s faithfulness to us never, ever waivers. But I think that sometimes we rely too much on ourselves and then when things go wrong, we blame God and we feel like God has failed us. When really, we have failed ourselves.

I said a few weeks back that we should be cautious not to equate faith with stupidity. And when we declare that “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” we are not declaring stupidity. What we are declaring, proclaiming, and even evangelizing is that God provides for us everything we could ever possibly need even when we have screwed up time after time. Remembering though that there is a difference between wants and needs, God provides for everything we may need. What this means is that while it may not look like the vision I have in my head, God will always take care of me. It does not mean that God is going to drop a boat down from the sky for Chris. When I declare that “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” I’m not declaring that I will no longer go to the grocery store because I think the Lord is going to magically put groceries in my fridge.

However, the money used to buy those groceries is a gift. The hands that grew and prepared my groceries is a gift. And the fact that I don’t have to worry about the safety of the food I eat is most certainly a gift from God. The more I spend the money that God has given me and the more I spend the time God has given to me, the more I realize that the Lord really does provide all that I may need. The fact that I don’t always know what that may look like is nerve wracking. I don’t always know how the Lord will provide for my needs; but I do know that he will. And I can tell you from experience, friends, that when you finally stop being stubborn and learn to trust in God, you will find that God’s plans for you are much much better than anything you could have ever planned.

As we bless our seeds and soil today, we do so trusting that God will provide all that we need. God will shepherd the seeds up from the soil producing food and fuel for the things around us. God will provide the rain when we need it (sorry, farmers). And if, for some reason, harvest is not plentiful this year, God will provide. How? I don’t know. But I have learned that when I try and control my own life I screw it up. So, I continue to trust in God. In a society that constantly tempts us to “spend spend spend” and to get more toys than the next guy, it’s a radical thought to rely on God for all of our needs. Then again, our God is pretty radical. God the shepherd, who hung out with prostitutes, lepers, convicts, the outcast, and even us asks us to do one simple thing for abundant life: trust.

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In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week

“You may have difficulty in the future conceiving a child.” I was told this around 16 or so, not too long after I was diagnosed with poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). I had trouble comprehending that at 16. I still have trouble comprehending it at 36.

I’m going to ruin the end of this blog post for you right now: we have a beautiful daughter, Ellen Jean Christine, whom I/we love with every fiber of our being…even when she is being the toddler she is so good at being.

But, I didn’t know if that would ever happen. For a very long time, I thought my arms and womb would remain empty. For a very long time I was sure I was broken.

What made things worse is that at the time we were in seminary. We were surrounded by people who got pregnant by drinking the water (or at least it felt that way). With every pregnancy announcement, I died a little inside. I smiled and celebrated on the outside, but on the inside I was crying and screaming, and at times, just plain pissed.

See, in several cases of infertility, the cause is unknown. But even after having my husband tested, we knew what the problem was.

The problem was me.

I felt like I was Hester Prynne wearing her big fat “A”. Except I wore a big, fat “I”. I was tested to make sure my hormone levels were what they needed to be. I had to have a procedure to make sure my Fallopian tubes were “open and ready for business” (as my doctor said). And then I got the medication we would need to (hopefully) create a baby.

Clomid was our drug of choice. I didn’t have too many side effects, which was nice. But, it was also weird. I remember drinking a beer on a Saturday night and thinking “this is the last time I will drink for a while” because as soon as I started the Clomid, there would be no drinking.

Now, here’s where things get a little personal. If you’re in any kind of loving relationship, I hope that there is a physical aspect of that relationship. When you’re trying to create a baby (versus have a relationship for pleasure) it pretty much sucks. We were encouraged by our doctor to be physical “every other day…if not every day.” What!? Think about the chore you loathe the most. Yep…it started to feel like that.

And then there was the waiting. I was used to waiting, really. I waited every 28 days to see if a pregnancy test would finally read “+” instead of “-“. And every 28 days I would get my hope up to see that “+” sign finally only to be crumpled to a ball of me on the bathroom floor once again clutching this stupid stick covered in pee just mocking me.

2 weeks. 14 days. 336 hours. 20,160 seconds. And every second, every inhale and exhale was filled with wishes, hopes, dreams, and yes, at times, begging. What kind of woman would I be if I couldn’t bear a child? And so, after 2 weeks, we started giving it the “old college try.” It was about the least romantic thing we could have done.

Then I waited some more. I even bought one of those “first response” type of pregnancy tests (a 3 pack). I took the first test as soon as it said I could. It was negative. I didn’t give up hope because I knew it was early yet. I took another one on the day my cycle was to start. It was early in the morning. I was to leave for North Dakota on a business trip that morning. My husband laid in bed as I waited for that stupid stick to tell our future. And it did. I showed it to my husband and we rejoiced.

My pregnancy was easy up until the very end when I developed preeclampsia (high blood pressure) and then developed debilitating migraines after birth. My birth didn’t go as planned; we had to have a c-section. But, Ellen was healthy and happy and that’s all that mattered.

In my time since struggling with infertility, I try and share our story so that others won’t feel so alone. But, here’s what I learned during our struggle.

1) God was always with us….even when I was pissed off at God and felt like we had been forgotten.

2) True friends become very evident during a struggle like infertility.

3) Sex, as it is shown in the movies, is very overrated and most likely never happens to any couple.

4)  Infertility is an all too silent battle that more people struggle with than I ever realized.

5) There is nothing wrong with me. There was something not so right with my reproductive organs. But, infertility was not and is not a character flaw.

6) Being able to bear a child does not define me. I am blessed to be a mother. But, I would feel the same way with a child that grew in my heart instead of my womb.

7) People say stupid crap when they know you’re not having luck conceiving. (Examples are: “Just relax more!” or “But you’re at least having fun trying!” or “Just take a vacation!” or “My sister/mom/friend tried this and she got pregnant right away.”) STOP. Just stop with all of this hot air you are blowing up my ass. Here is the right thing to say when you find out someone you know/love is having trouble conceiving. “I’m sorry. I will pray for you.” End of story.

8) Everyone you know will become pregnant. Okay…not really. But it may seem like it. It’s like when you buy (what you think) is a really unique shirt at a store and then you start to see that shirt on EVERYONE around town. It’s kind of the same way when you can’t get pregnant. Everyone you see will be pregnant. And don’t even get me started on those stupid “16 and Pregnant” shows on MTV.

9) Marriage can be hard work. Marriage when you’re infertile adds another layer to that. Be prepared for this. Some couples I know have had to use marriage counseling or therapy or whatever.

10) It is worth it. Whatever it is you decide to do, it’s worth it. The drugs, or IVF, or adoption, or whatever…it’s worth it. If you feel like God has created you to be a parent, that will happen in one way or another.

If you stumbled on this and you’re struggling, just know you’re not alone. I have walked this path and I will pray for you.

Sermon for 4/19/15 Luke 24:36b-48

I’ve recently been doing some cleaning out of my closet and dresser drawers lately. I have an ever growing pile of things ready to take to Goodwill. There are some things that don’t even make it to Goodwill–they make it straight to the trash. But every once in a while I will come across an article of clothing that I just cannot throw out. The memory, sentiment, or perhaps, intention behind it is just too strong to let it go. The biggest reason I don’t throw things out is because they are comfortable. I have this thing about being comfortable. Most of the things I can’t bear to get rid of (but should) are worn, a little too big, a hole here or there, and spot or two, and filled with memories. These are clothes I picture snuggling up in and reading a book during a snowstorm.

It must be genetic. My mother has these khaki colored cargo pants that I think were purchased the last time the BeeGee’s had a hit on the top 10. My mother loves these pants. Any Saturday when I saw my mom come down the stairs wearing these pants, I knew she meant business. They were her business pants; the business of the day being cleaning. She could shove things in those cargo pockets and wouldn’t get sidetracked. We often joke that we will bury mom in those cargo pants. But, I think all of us have something that we just can’t bear to part with because it makes us comfortable.

Maybe for you, it’s that old sweatshirt that you keep promising you’ll donate but instead just hide in another place. Or maybe it’s a hand knit blanket or scarf that no longer keeps you warm in temperature but keeps you warm in memories. Perhaps it’s your first pair of 501’s that you keep around even though you haven’t had a 34 inch waist in some time. Maybe it’s not clothing but that old Lazy Boy that you just can’t part with. Whatever it is, I have this theory that at some point in time we all like to be comfortable.

And comfortable isn’t bad, right? Comfortable is familiar. Comfortable is reassuring. Comfortable is guard down, no inhibitions, free to be me, no judgement, loveliness. And so I guess that’s why it’s so hard for me to come to grips with the fact that the last thing that Jesus desires from us is to be comfortable. Now, I think there are aspects of Jesus that we may find  comforting but that’s not the same thing as being comfortable. Because here is the truth, my friends, as hard as it may be. When we get comfortable in our faith, the Gospel message ceases to spread.

Let me repeat that again because it was just as hard for me to say it/write it as it may be for you to hear it. When we get comfortable in our faith, the Gospel message ceases to spread. After Jesus rose again on the third day just as he promised, and after he had a bite to eat, he once again taught the disciples (who, as usual, were a little freaked out and confused) . “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”

Jesus said what he said for a few reasons. First off, it was just yet another method of proving that he was who he said he was. He had already shown the disciples his hands and feet. He ate with them, just as he had done before his betrayal and death. And finally, he tells them once again what he had told them all along. And that last line is crucial. “You are witnesses of these things.” Unlike other stories in the Bible when Jesus says “don’t tell anyone what you’ve witnessed” this time he actually says [paraphrase] “hey! You all have seen that I did what I said I was going to do. Now…go and tell a lot of people.” And we hear about how the disciples went about doing that in the book of Acts. It’s called “Acts” for a reason. It implies ACTION. It’s not called the “book of passive-shy-invitation to new life.”

And it’s not just for the disciples, it’s for us too. We are also witnesses to the work of the resurrected Christ. But here is where it get’s uncomfortable. Verse 47 makes says something and I want to make it abundantly clear. “…Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” [emphasis mine]. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in Rome, the once proclaimed empire that is now crumbling because the real king and messiah has returned. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the temple where scribes and pharisees plotted to kill Jesus.

Now you just might want that familiar sweatshirt or blanket now because I am about to make you uncomfortable. Repentance and forgiveness of sins being proclaimed in God’s name to all nations means that we start with those who have hurt us the most. Forgiveness of sins, remember, doesn’t mean that we condone what was done. And as far as God is concerned, a sin is a sin is a sin. There is no “ladder” of severity. But we get comfortable in our faith; maybe even lazy. We hold the sins of others against them as collateral. We may be thankful to receive forgiveness but withhold it from those who need it the most.

One of the easiest things we can do to spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout this world is to proclaim God’s forgiveness of sins to anyone who needs to or wants to hear and experience that. It is easy to get comfortable in our faith and draw our own little lines as to who we think God should and should not forgive. You may come here every week harbouring a grudge against someone and your faith is not growing. You may just have trouble forgiving yourself and your faith is not growing.

Faith, brothers and sisters, is one of the places we cannot afford to become comfortable. Here are a few ways you can get uncomfortable in your faith (because really, that is the most efficient way for the Gospel to be spread). Pray for your enemies. Don’t pray that they would change their ways but instead, pray that they know they are forgiven. As you watch the news or read the newspaper, pray for those vilified by our society or by their own actions. Next time you see someone asking for money, don’t just give them a dollar or two. Take them for a cup of coffee, listen to their story and you just might be surprised how alike you are. Take action. Call up your congressperson or representative, let them know you are praying for them and then talk to them about the topics you’re passionate about. Volunteer. People everywhere, including people in these pews, need to know that they have not been forgotten. The more uncomfortable you get, the more likely you are to see Christ at work in you life, in the lives of those around you, and in the world.

So this week, I dare you to get uncomfortable. Do something that will stretch your faith, just a little bit. And then come back and tell me about it. I want to hear how you got uncomfortable this upcoming week. Don’t just rest on faith, challenge your faith. Get prepared to be uncomfortable.

Sermon for 4/12/15 John 20:19-31

I have been told more than once that the parsonage and the church are the highest geographical points in Clinton County. I don’t know if that is actually true or not, but it seems right. This thought keep going through my head on Thursday evening as I cowered in the basement of the parsonage with Ellen on my lap. I thought “it is a bad time to be the highest point in Clinton County” as the tornado seemed to make it’s path towards us. And so I did what I do, I prayed. I sat in the corner of the basement and prayed. I prayed for Ellen and myself, I prayed for the church building, and I prayed for all of you. I also prayed that I wouldn’t be interviewed on television just to be one of those women that says “I threw my body on top of my baby and I wasn’t gonna let no tornado take her!” And as much as I try and figure out Mother Nature, I can’t explain why the tornado did what it did and why the parsonage is still standing as well as this church.

After the storm cleared out, I walked outside to take a peripheral view of the church. I wanted to make sure we didn’t have any major branches down or windows out. Just as I was about to finish my walk around, Kenny Eggers pulled around and asked how we fared. I told him I had been through a tornado a time or two (true story) but this one came a little too close to home. I told him that we had been in the basement for about 40 minutes or so. And Kenny, without missing a beat said “Don’t you have any faith??” And I got a good little chuckle out of his question. But, of course, it gnawed on me for the rest of the night. I had been thinking about this Gospel text all week and now Kenny (not doing it on purpose, I suppose) had kind of called me out for being my own type of doubting Thomas.

Being born and raised in Kansas City, storms are no big deal to me. Much like many of you, when there is a tornado warning, we don’t go to the basement, we go outside. I think becoming a mother has made me a little more cautious. As soon as the alarms sounded, I gathered up some toys, books, and snacks and Ellen and I headed to the basement. I didn’t doubt that God would protect us, I just didn’t know what that was going to look like. But, was I a Doubting Thomas nonetheless?

I have said this before, and I stand by my belief, that I think poor Thomas gets a bad rap here. Because if we’re really honest with ourselves, we would probably ask the same questions that Thomas asks. I often like to think that if we were alive at the time of the resurrection that we might go along with Thomas to see the risen Lord as well. But, if confronted about our faith, we might blame Thomas. “Oh no, Lord! I believed! I just came along so Thomas wouldn’t be lonely.” Thomas is a great scapegoat.

I also think that there is a big difference in being faithful and being stupid. Sorry to use the word “stupid” it’s just that sometimes the Spirit calls me to tell it like it is. Faithful was me, going to the basement and praying. Stupid would have been me, staying in my living room, and saying “God will protect me.” It also made me think of those folks who may belong to a certain religious sect that refuse medical interventions because they believe that God will save them. “No chemo, for me doc, I’m going to pray the cancer away. I’m not going to put anything into my 401K because if God wants me to be rich, I’ll be rich.” I am sure you all might know or have heard of people like this. Let us not equate faith with stupidity.

Thomas was no dummy. I think he was just asking for what all the disciples wanted: proof. As we hear earlier in our Gospel text for today, when Jesus comes among the disciples (behind locked doors) the first thing he does is show them his hands and his side as if to say “I am who I say I am.” And I said, I don’t want to equate faith and stupidity. Faith and doubt, however, is a different story. We should not think of doubt as the absence of faith. Rather, doubt is probably one of the main components of faith. If we were people of 100% faith, 100% of the time, we might gather on only 2 Sunday’s a year: Christmas and Easter. But, here we are. The week after Easter, even! And I know that you’re not here because you doubt that Jesus did rise. But, perhaps you’re here because you doubt other things in your life.

Maybe you’re doubting your current employment. Maybe you’re doubting the state of your marriage. Maybe you’re doubting friendships you have or once had. Maybe you’re doubting the your health (I can relate to this one). Maybe you live your life day after day doubting, yet faith is the one thread that keeps you coming back week after week. Perhaps you doubt that you have been forgiven. Maybe you doubt that grace will ever find you. Maybe in the dark recesses of your mind, you have allowed yourself to doubt what will happen to you upon your death. Doubt is a very powerful thing, brothers and sisters. But, so is faith.

Faith is what has brought you back here. Even though we know the tomb is empty, we want to see it again and be reminded of such amazing love. Faith is what calls you to open your Bible and read to see what answers lie within its thin pages. Doubt would never drive you to your Bible. Faith is what causes you to pause and pray; and even if that prayer is “God, I doubt this is going to work” or “I doubt you are listening to me” it is faith that has opened you up to the idea that prayer actually works. Faith is what encourages you to ask the big questions like “why do bad things happen to good people?” Or “why does cancer, gun violence, and hunger exist in our world?” When we get into conversations like that it’s not because our faith is weak. It’s not because we all doubt the work of God through Jesus Christ. When we wade into murky waters asking those faith filled and doubt filled questions, its because our faith is so strong that we want to see where Christ is moving in those places.

When we talk about cancer, we do so knowing that our God doesn’t demand or wish that people suffer. When we talk about gun violence, it’s not because we doubt that God cares but because we know that God’s peace will eventually reign. When we lament hunger, it’s not that we doubt God’s provision, but look for ways to share what God has given us faithfully so that we may share with others. Doubt, brothers and sisters, is not a lack of faith but a strengthening of your faith.

So, if you need to put your fingers in the holes of his hands, feet, or sides to believe, then go ahead. If you need to take another look inside that empty tomb to believe that he was risen like he said he would be, then go ahead. If you need to taste and see to believe that you are forgiven, loved, and set free, then by all means, If you show up here week after week after week, I know that you are not filled with doubt but with such immense faith that you desire to hear the good news over and over and over again. And in the struggle in finding the balance between faith and doubt, I wish you the same thing that Christ did with his disciples: peace.

Sermon for 4/5/15 Easter Sunday Mark 16:1-8

I am grateful that you all showed up today. I know that may sound trite and silly, but I mean it. And you may wonder “why wouldn’t I show up today, Pastor? It is Easter after all and I have something new to wear, so I might as well.” But by you showing up, you have said to the world, to the doubters, to one another, and to Christ: yes. Yes, I believe. But showing up today you have made a very bold statement. Did you know that? I bet you had no idea coming to church would lead to such things. But by showing up today you have said to the world, to one another, and Christ hears you proclaiming this: death will not win.

We have every reason to believe that everything we have experienced over the last 40 days isn’t real. We have every reason to believe that everything over the last 3 days isn’t real. We have every reason to believe that the tomb was never empty, that the stone was never rolled away, and that Jesus, despite everything he ever said, never rose again. I’m about to get a little political, so I want to give you fair warning. It’s easy for us to not believe that Jesus rose from the dead because about 14.7 million children live in poverty in the us and 49.1 million Americans live in households that are deemed “food insecure” meaning that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. But it’s super important to find out what emails Hillary erased.

It’s easy for us to not believe that Jesus rose again from the dead when 147 people in Nairobi, Kenya died on a college campus just this past week. But instead, the news has focused on whether or not Indiana will join the 21st century. ISIS/ISIL continues to slaughter innocent people day after day, week after week. We now have Americans attempting to leave this country to join the terror war that ISIS is waging. But let’s not focus on that. Instead, let’s focus on whether or not the deal that President Obama made with Iran in regards to their nuclear program is a good idea or not. It’s easy for us to not believe that Jesus rose from the dead when 1 in every 3 African American males can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. But that’s not important; let’s talk about who got voted off Dancing with the Stars this past week. And with all of the bad news in the world; and with people seeming to lose focus on really crucial and important things, it would be very easy for us to not show up, to not declare an empty tomb, to not declare to a hurting and hungry world that indeed, Alleluia, Jesus is risen.

But no, we didn’t do that. You showed up. You said yes. Yes, we believe that a man can rise from the dead. Yes, we believe that Jesus did just as he said he would all those times. He died, was buried, and was resurrected. And we continue to say yes. We show up week after week saying “yes.” Or we read our Bibles saying “yes.” Or we wear statements of faith (either jewelry or other signs of faith) that say “yes.” Yes, I know there are a lot of places where Christ and Christ’s intervention here and now. This is why we continue to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are beseeching the risen Christ to come among us, to turn our world upside down, to make the broken whole, to make the words “justice” and “peace” not only mean something but to put them into action.

When that tomb was empty, people who had been saying “yes” all along were proven wrong. The Roman empire was proven wrong; their yes turned into a no. The disciples were proven wrong; their misbelief turned into belief. Those who watched Jesus perform miracles finally saw that he was who he said he was. And of course people were terrified. Everything they thought was going to be normal or the status quo was just turned upside down by an empty tomb. Yes, death no longer has the final word.

And here you are, saying yes. And maybe you are here week after week, in the same pew because you keep saying yes even though everything else in the news, in the media, and maybe even your family and friends tell you that “no” is the more logical answer. Or maybe you took the risk of coming here today; having been gone for a while (maybe since last Easter) you may be unsure if you would be received as a prodigal son or daughter or treated more like Judas. Nonetheless, you took the risk to say “yes” I am going to see for myself about this risen Christ. I am not going to let anyone or anything else stop me.

We continue to say “yes” over and over and over. There is too much suffering in this world; we keep saying yes because the “no’s” will never win or have the last word. God has made God’s love known through the suffering of one man, through the death of one man, and through the resurrection of one man. And no matter how many times you think God has said no because society, your family or friends, or the negative voices that scream at you have told you that you are forgotten, that God sees you as a “no” that empty tomb answers back with a very resounding, “yes.”

It is our turn, brothers and sisters, to say “yes.” Let’s say yes to a hurting world. Let’s say yes to feeding hungry people. Let’s say yes to clothing the naked. Let’s say yes to those behind bars that society has forgotten. Let’s say yes to those who have been deemed lost or not worth saving. God said “yes” and we say “yes” in return to serving in God’s name. I want to share this with you. It’s a poem from Edwina Gateley entitled “Called to Say Yes”

“We are called to say yes.

That the kingdom might break through

To renew and to transform

Our dark and groping world.

We stutter and we stammer

To the lone God who calls

And pleads a New Jerusalem

In the bloodied Sinai Straights.

We are called to say yes

That honeysuckle may twine

And twist its smelling leaves

Over the graves of nuclear arms.

We are called to say yes

That children might play

On the soil of Vietnam where the tanks

Belched blood and death.

We are called to say yes

That black may sing with white

And pledge peace and healing

For the hatred of the past.

We are called to say yes

So that nations might gather

And dance one great movement

For the joy of humankind.

We are called to say yes

So that rich and poor embrace

And become equal in their poverty

Through the silent tears that fall.

We are called to say yes

That the whisper of our God

Might be heard through our sirens

And the screams of our bombs.

We are called to say yes

To a God who still holds fast

To the vision of the Kingdom

For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes

To this God who reaches out

And asks us to share

His crazy dream of love.”

Sermon for 4/3/15 Good Friday Isaiah 52:13-53:12

For all of my experience, for all of my education, for all of my reading and research, I still find death to be a confounding and confusing thing. I find the way we speak about death to be fascinating. We use euphemisms to attempt in softening the blow of what has really happened: someone we care for or love is no longer living. Breath has ceased to exist in their lungs. Their heart has stopped beating. But, we use phrases like “passed on, entered the heavenly kingdom” or the very well meaning but theologically inappropriate “God needed another angel” phrases. And no matter how hard we try and sugar coat it, death is death. When someone dies, they no longer exist in our physical presence. Part of my training to become a pastor included Clinical Pastoral Education (or CPE) where I was a hospital chaplain for a summer. We often had to be the ones to share the sad and unfortunate news with loved ones arriving at the hospital that their family member had died. And we were instructed to use that language exactly “say they died” we were told. “We don’t want there to be any confusion over what happened.”

That did lead to confusion at times, no matter how hard we tried. Like when I went to visit a patient and was told “he went home” and I had to clarify “did he actually go home or did he die?” I have found that we talk about death the way we do because we really are unclear what happens. And I often have said “we really don’t know on this side of heaven” what happens after death. Scientists have been attempting to research this for years, but I doubt we are any closer to an answer than we were before. I think we also talk about death the way we do because it can be a scary or just plain unpleasant.

But we should not kid ourselves, brothers and sisters, about what happened that day on the cross. Jesus died. It was not some kind of euphemism. He was tortured via crucifixion and died. The air left his very human lungs. His human heart stopped beating. His brain stopped functioning. And those who loved him grieved. Even the temple curtain was torn open as he took his last gasping breath. There should be no question as to whether or not Jesus’ death was real because there is no question that his resurrection was real.

Those who have trouble believing in the resurrection struggle with this idea. And I get it, I really do. It’s hard to believe that a man who has been dead for three days would actually rise again. So some who question this idea might soften up the idea of Jesus’ death. They may say things like “he wasn’t really dead or didn’t really die” or maybe “he was just in a comatose state.” Friends, Jesus died. There’s no way around this, he died. He’s dead. And it would be easy, all too easy, for us to look away from the cross, to shield our eyes, to focus instead on the ground, or the sky, or anything else but our suffering savior.

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” This is not language used to describe someone who maybe didn’t die. He carried our diseases, was struck down, afflicted, wounded, crushed, and bruised. And if that’s not bad enough we hear this “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The “we” here, brothers and sisters, is us. We have gone astray. Sure, we may not have meant to go astray, but it happened. We lost focus of what is important in life. We wanted more, more, more. We took from people who have less. We stepped on those beneath us just to get ahead. We have shown little to no mercy and now we pay the price of watching a man be tortured for us.

It hardly seems fair. We are the ones who have gone astray. We are the ones who have sinned. We are the one with infirmities and diseases. Yet, here is this man; struggling, one foot after another, to carry a cross that would be where he would spend his final moments of life. And for us, it means so much more. It means that when we talk about death, we talk about it in very real and very tangible ways. But in the death of Jesus, we somehow are given life. It is one of the only times I can think of when something so tragic turns into something so beautiful. In the cross we are given freedom. In the cross we are granted forgiveness. In the cross we have someone who proclaims to love us even during the times when the world or the voices in our heads tell us differently.

On the cross, Jesus didn’t say much. But how many times can you tell a person that you love them. He had to show us love instead. It was offensive. It didn’t make sense. It’s not how a king and messiah would or should die. Some may wonder what makes a day like this so “good.” How can something good come out of something so horrible? The same way that life comes out of death. It’s the same way that green blades pop out of brown land every year. What makes Good Friday so good, is death. A for real, all the way dead, death. Never has there been more of an outpouring of love than this.

Sermon for 4/2/15 Maundy Thursday; John 13:1-7, 31-35

In my short time being a pastor, I have been around more than my fair share of people preparing for death. And when you think about it, we all, in one way or another, are preparing for death. I’ve seen people who know they are going to die (like with a diagnosis of one kind or another) and prepare one way versus those of us who know we’re going to die eventually and just like to have things in order (like wills, estates, etc…). Not once have I yet to meet someone who was preparing to die and chose to prepare by being of service towards his or her friends. And yet, that is the Jesus we get a glimpse of today.

We could have the Jesus who gives us long lectures reinforcing all the things we should know about life. Or, we could have the Jesus who just wants to be left alone (the introspective Jesus). Or, we could have the Jesus who wants to throw a big party because he wants to go out in style. But instead, we get the Jesus who has always been with us; the humble, unassuming Jesus, who just wants to serve his friends. And so he does what must seem very logical to Jesus but quite strange to us and even to those seated around the table: he rises, humbles himself, and kneels before his friends, washing their feet. And he did it for one simple reason: he wanted to show them that he loves them.

If you are married, have been married, or just have someone special in your life, you know that it’s not all rainbows and sunshine all the time. Hollywood is good to portray relationships as wonderful and amazing and never difficult. But, we all know the truth. When I started to think about love, the first person I thought of was Chris. He has seen me at my utmost worst and has seen me at my ultimate best. He has cared for me in ways that are very loving and nurturing and he has cared for me in ways that I find embarrassing (but only because I am horrible at asking for help). No matter how he cares for me, he does so out of immense love for me and out of respect for our marriage. I pray that all of you have a relationship like this no matter what you call it: friendship, marriage, etc…

Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine what the disciples must have felt that evening. They had just finished a very large Passover meal, most likely lamb, and they had come to that part of the evening where everyone leans back and sighs in satisfaction. If this were a Thanksgiving meal, naps would soon follow or at least the loosening of the belt notches. Jesus had tried to tell them several times that he would be departing from them and they don’t listen. And he knows it is almost time for his arrest, trial, and execution. Instead of being scared, as I would be, Jesus takes this opportunity to show and speak love to those around him. And I wondered if I would be able to ever do the same.

I’ve read this reading many times before and so often the focus is on the foot washing. And as I read through it again preparing for today I almost missed a wonderful sentence that gave me hope, it gave me peace, it gave me rest. Verse 3 (which could easily be overlooked) says “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God….” When we talk about the peace of God that passes all understanding, I think this is it. Jesus came from God and knew he was going to God. I once met a woman while on a trip to Milwaukee who had a son that chose a few wrong paths in life and at the time was locked up in a state penitentiary. She was sad at his choices, but her language caught me a bit off guard. “I’m just doing the best with what God gave me” she said. “That’s the way I look at it. God gave me my son to borrow, and eventually, I will give him back. He belongs to God.” It was a powerful reminder that none of us are in charge of our own lives.

Jesus knew the that his time had come. And Jesus could have said a lot of things, and he could have done a lot of things, but what he did was wash the feet of his friends. And he left them with this thought: love one another. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” It would have been easy to impart to them any other message or life lesson. But the Christ that loves us, and the Christ that loved the disciples, his friends, wants to leave them with just that one thought: I love you. Because I love you, you should love each other. As he prepares to be arrested, as he prepares for a trial he shouldn’t even have to endure, as he prepares for a gruesome death, he could have said many things. But instead, Jesus tells his disciples and us this: I love you. And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus tells them this “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another.”

Love one another. I don’t know about you, but this seems to be the simplest and yet most complicated commandment that Jesus gives us. I’ve had more than one occasion where I’ve said “I love you but I don’t like you right now.” Love is one of those words that often gets thrown around in our society but we really don’t know what it means. It has lost it’s punch. I love Chris. But I also love cheeseburgers. But I also love the Wizard of Oz. But none of that love can compare to the love that Jesus has for me and for you. In a time where flowers, chocolate, jewelry, cars, etc…can show someone you love them, our sign of love is a cross. It’s not fancy. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t sparkle. It certainly doesn’t come in a velvet box. But, I cannot think of anything else that has given me more life and freedom than the cross.

When I look at the cross, I see the pain and suffering of Jesus. When I look at the cross, I see the marks my sin inflicted on his hands and side. When I look at the cross, I see him crying out in pain and thirst. When I look at the cross, I hear the mocking of the bystanders knowing full well I would have been one to mock this labeled “king of the Jews.” When I look at the cross, I have to look inward at the ways I have been unloving, uncaring, uncompassionate, and quite un-Christ-like. That lack of love is my sin and it is what separates me and you from God. Jesus died on the cross because there was no other way for the disciples, for the Romans, for the emperor, and for us to see what love looks like. Jesus death showed us just how far love can go. Jesus death showed us that the law that he spoke of all those times was the law of love.

So when I’m asked “were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I usually respond with “yes.” While I wasn’t physically there, my lack of love crucifies him over and over again. Was I there? Yes. And while Jesus was the one who died; I ended up the one with life.