Advent reflection: dam(n)

Inspired by an Advent word-a-day prompt from some dear friends and colleagues, I have decided to take today’s word, dam(n) and do some free writing. The scripture basis is Genesis 8:13-14 although I may not reference scripture. The devotional isn’t for everyone. The version gaining traction and steam across the cyber world is profanity laced. More accurately, it’s called f*%k this sh!t. Now, if you know me, you know I am not one to shy away from profanity. With the state of the world, sometimes our cries to God are more like that than a solemn, humble “if you’re not too busy, God….”

I have felt unsettled lately. I can’t put my finger on it. I  have talked to my trusty therapist about this for several weeks. We both have been trying to figure out where this unsettledness is coming from. Is it just that time of year? Advent is my favorite liturgical season (along with Lent). I crave the idea of slowing down and waiting in the midst of the chaos of the holidays. Often, I can’t. Damn.

Is it the weather? Sometimes I wonder if I have seasonal affective disorder. I hate the longer days filled with darkness. The colder temperatures force me into clothes that keep me warm while at the same time making me feel and look bigger than I actually am. Damn.

Is it my depression and anxiety? I’ve been feeling pretty good. A combination of good meds, diet, random exercise, and therapy have kept me pretty even keel. But, the demons of depression and anxiety are always lurking not too far underneath the surface. My sleep has been off, I know that for sure. Damn.

Is the unsettledness coming from church? We are experiencing a great amount of growth. It’s been insane, really. It’s a good thing, but at times I am feeling like I am barely keeping my head above water. We are getting new faces every single Sunday. The amount of kids we have coming up for the children’s message is sometimes up around 20 (damn). But with more people come more expectations. I can only meet so many of those expectations in a day. I am bound to disappoint someone, which I hate. Damn.

Is the feeling of being unsettled coming from home? My beloved has a busy schedule and he is studying hard doing something he loves. He’s not the same kind of busy as years past, but busy nonetheless. We’re still trying to figure out how to navigate the waters of him being a full time student again. And then there is the 3 year old blonde tiny one that lives at our house. She is wonderful and exhausting all at the same time. She makes me say “damn” so many times a day. She challenges me and makes me want to tear my hair out yet I would do anything so that she never has to feel an ounce of pain or hurt. Damn.

Is this feeling coming from the greater world? The daily news is making me feel weary. My heart hurts at the news of another college campus shooting, the shooting of unarmed black citizens, the judgement and apprehension of our officers, the market, and don’t even get me started on the president elect. Damn. damn. damn. damn. damn.

I wonder if Noah felt unsettled when he finally looked out from his boat to dry land. The feeling of damn mixed with “now what?” I guess while I wait to figure out what has me unsettled, I will continue to pray, watch, wait, anticipate, and try my best to find love in the darkness of the world. Damn. This is hard.

Sermon for 11/27/16 Matthew 24:36-44 Advent 1

As it is so often, the end of Thanksgiving seems to signal the start of the Christmas season. I am sure that we’re not unique in our marking of this long holiday weekend by taking down all the fall decor and putting up all of the Christmas items. We turn on the classic cartoon movies that Chris loves so much (like Frosty, Rudolph, and Charlie Brown) as well as engage in an after hours viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. To say that my beloved loves Christmas is a bit of an understatement. I just let him indulge and watch his eyes light up as he plots and plans the best place for lights, trees, decorations, and on and on. And like any family, our conversation as we decorate the tree naturally turns to the rapture.

What? That’s not the way it is for you? You and your family don’t dive into Thanksgiving leftovers, test strings of lights, pour over the black Friday ads, all while living in fear that Jesus will return at any minute? I am sure most of your holiday to-do lists look like this: wrap gifts, mix sugar cookies for baking later, donate to charity, stay on guard, watch and wait for Jesus’ return. It does seem a little strange then, that as our thoughts, hearts, minds, and actions turn towards merriment, celebration, and some (hopefully) happy memories, that our gospel would speak of the rapture. We want the cute little baby in a manger story, we want the Wise Men, we want “the hopes and fears of all the years…” but instead we get “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (24:44)

Advent comes from a Latin word that means arrival. Yes, we mark these four weeks in advent as the preparation of our hearts and spirits for the arrival of the birth of a child. The baby born into this world to save this world. However, this story in Matthew isn’t the only time that Jesus prepares us, warns us, cautions us, (however you want to word it) that he will return again. Advent isn’t just a season leading up to Christmas. Advent, that is, the arrival, and the way of life surrounding the pending arrival and return of Christ is something we should mark and prepare for every day.

Please understand, my goal isn’t to scare you. I don’t want you to leave here and immediately contact your life insurance agent to up your policy. I don’t want you to sell all of your possessions. I don’t want you to call up our friends at Snell-Zornig (or wherever) tomorrow and make an appointment to talk about your funeral. Now, all of these things are lovely to do. Make sure your life insurance is up to date, get rid of the stuff you don’t need, and yes, as a gift to me and your family, please pre-plan your funeral. But don’t live your life on pins and needles. And please, please, please, don’t become one of those “doomsday preppers” that is more prepared for a zombie apocalypse than the return of Christ.

We are told from the very first sentence of this reading today that “no one knows” except for God when Jesus will return again. And then we hear some interesting examples of what has gone on before God has sent us signs in the past. We hear about the time of Noah and how people were doing normal, everyday things like eating, drinking, and getting married all up until the point where a flood came and destroyed everyone and everything. Then we hear about how farmers will be in a field and women will be grinding meal, also everyday things, and one of the pair will get snatched up; raptured, if you will.

What the writer of the gospel wants the community in Matthew as well as our present community to understand is that watching and waiting for the Lord is important. Yes, we should be prepared. Yes, we should be ready. Yes, we should understand that it can happen at any minute. However, this watching and waiting should not come at the expense of debilitating the rest of our lives or our work. In the examples given, people were carrying on with their normal lives, their normal activities, even their normal celebrations when signs of God’s return happened.

Matthew’s Gospel is all about the community that has heard the story of Jesus and encouraging them to continue the work of Jesus, all while still being aware and prepared. This is why, at the end of Matthew, we get one of my favorite verses to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Continue the work of Jesus. Make sure people know the stories. Make sure everyone knows about this savior of the world who was born in a manger, stood with those on the margins, taught, fed, and hung on a cross so that we may all be saved. Friends, there are still those in this world that don’t know this story in its entirety.

There is this common assumption (at least in the United States) that everyone knows about Jesus. It is also the goal of many churches to reach out to the “un-churched.” And I’m all for that. However, I don’t believe we have a lot of un-churched still living around us. I think we have a lot of “under-churched” people living around us. If you were to take the time to go door to door and ask people if they know about Jesus, they would probably answer yes. But, what he did, what he stood for, some of his miracles, etc…might get you a blank face. One of the best ways that we can be prepared for the return of Christ is to live a life that points to this preparedness and second coming.

The people in the examples given in our gospel lesson today weren’t anxiously awaiting behind locked doors for Christ to return. They were living their lives. They were going about their business. They were living! For us to speak of Christ’s return is to live our everyday lives as an example of what is looks like to be prepared for that. “Okay, great” you may be thinking “but what does that look like for me, right here, right now?” This means that you aren’t afraid to offer prayer to those around you, even if they are your enemy. This means you don’t hesitate to offer forgiveness, even to those who have disappointed you. Waiting for Christ means you not only tell others that Christ is the bread of life, but you bring them to the table with you. Being prepared for Christ’s return means that when there’s not enough room at the table we don’t turn people away, we build a longer, bigger table. It means we side with protection, not persecution; feasting, not famines; justice, not judgement; safety, not self-interests; and interactions, not avoidance.

The easiest way for us to prepare, watch, and wait is to do what Christ has been calling Christian disciples to do for thousands of years: make more disciples. Feed people. Heal people. Care for people. Love people. Help others be prepared for Christ’s return by telling your story. Tell others what difference Christ has made for you. Tell others why God is a priority for you. Bring others to church with you. Tell people about grace (trust me, not everyone knows). We don’t know the time, we don’t know the day, we don’t even know if it will be in this century, but we do know that Christ will return. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:5) and like moths to a flame, others will flock to the light of Christ that shines through us. Watch and wait, brothers and sisters. Watch and let your light so shine!

Sermon for 11/23/16 John 6:25-35 Thanksgiving

Alright, my brothers and sisters. I need to make confession to all of you. I hope that you will still find it in your hearts to love me after I admit what I am about to confess to all of you. I don’t do this lightly, nor do I do this without prayer. But, here it goes. I hate pecan pie. That’s right. The dish some of you are so looking forward to consuming tomorrow will not come anywhere near my lips. I know what you’re thinking “how is this possible, pastor? You seem like such a good person. How can you hate pecan pie when it’s like 99% sugar?” It’s easy. I don’t like pecans. They have always tasted dirty to me. So, I don’t like pecans. Therefor, I don’t like pecan pie. Can you believe I lived in Texas for 3 years without liking pecans? Chris and I even looked at buying a house with a pecan tree. We quickly nixed that idea.

I tried to think of another holiday that revolves around food as much as Thanksgiving does. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of another one. Christmas has food, but also presents (and Jesus). Easter has food (but again, egg hunts and Jesus). Valentine’s day has food, but in the form of chocolate. St. Patrick’s Day has drinks. There isn’t a lot that focuses on food as much as Thanksgiving does. And it’s interesting how many memories we have of family and events that center around food. I am sure a lot of you have that one certain food that it’s not Thanksgiving if it isn’t there. It’s not Thanksgiving without Aunt Mary’s oyster dressing. It’s not Thanksgiving without Uncle Mark’s deep fried turkey. For my family, it wasn’t as much the food as it was the activities surrounding the food. My family likes to gather around noon or so, snack off and on (while having a few drinks and playing games,) we eat around 3, nap, play more games, and then eat again (usually in the form of turkey sandwiches). But for so many families, it all comes back to food.

So it seems appropriate that today’s readings center around bread. As it is often in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as bread; as the only food that can truly really feed us. During a time when we gather to give thanks, to spend time with family and friends, and yes, to eat, we are reminded that everything we are, everything we have, everything we could ever need, is given to us by the bread of life: Jesus Christ. And Jesus tells the disciples, and us, to work for food that endures for eternal life, not the food that perishes. Just in case you’re already in a turkey hangover of some kind, Jesus isn’t speaking about actual food. We know that eventually all food will perish. But Jesus encourages us to receive the food of eternal life.

The wording that Jesus uses is, as always, crucially important. Jesus starts by telling his disciples “do not work for the food” but that the eternal food will given to them by the son of Man. Maybe there was a bit of confusion but the disciples still come back and ask “What must we do to perform the works of God?” And Jesus answers them “This is the work of God…” The focus keeps coming back to what God is doing through Jesus Christ. We cannot do anything to earn this bread. Just as a reminder, Jesus isn’t speaking about literal bread. He’s not talking about the rolls you have rising at home right now, the Wonder loaf you have in your cabinet, or the bagels you had for breakfast. Jesus is speaking about himself. We cannot do anything to earn Jesus.

Martin Luther was passionate about the Lord’s Supper and what happens at the table. Communion is one of 2 sacraments that we celebrate as the Lutheran church (the other is baptism). A sacrament is a tangible sign of God’s love and grace for us. This means that we receive something we can touch, taste, smell, feel, and hear as a outward sign of God’s love. With communion we receive all of that. Luther said “we go to the sacrament because there we receive a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because the words are there, and they impart it to us! For this reason he bids me eat and drink, that it may be mine and do me good as a sure pledge and sign–indeed, as the very gift he has provided for me against my sins, death, and all evils.” (Luther’s Large Catechism; 469:22)

Jesus reminds us this day and everyday that he is the one who sustains us. And Jesus promises that whoever comes to him will never be hungry and never be thirsty. Everything we have to be grateful for comes from this relationship. The people around our table are sustained through Jesus. The food on our table is provided by Jesus. The memories we share are a glimpse of the foretaste of the feast to come that we will have in the kingdom of God. Even when we have empty chairs at our tables because our loved ones are no longer with us, we are reminded of God’s love and the promises of the resurrection given to us in the life of Jesus.

My brothers and sisters, everything we have and everything we are is because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. When you are invited to this table, come. Come, not because you are guilted into it, not because you’re pressured into it by me or your family, not because it’s just that time. Come because you know that God has given you everything you could possibly need, but it is still a blessing to be reminded that you will continue to be taken care of, provided for, and loved by the bread of life, Jesus Christ.

I also would be remissed if I didn’t take time to thank God for all of you. 3 years ago tomorrow I was ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament. God prepared me for you and God prepared you for me. I am more in love with all of you than I was 3 years ago. God continues to provide for me and for all of us. I am so thankful you have given me your trust, your hearts, and your hopes, dreams, and fears. The Holy Spirit continues to stir in this place and we continue to feast on the bread of life and trust in that movement.

Sermon for 11/20/16 Luke 23:33-43 Christ the King

Who and what is your king? We seem to come back to this question year after year on this Sunday, known as Christ the King Sunday. And as we continue to reflect, heal, protest, or just sit and observe the world around us since the election, it seems that we have forgotten that to proclaim Christ as King means that we are proclaiming a crucified king, a king who declared forgiveness to all, a king who granted (and grants) salvation to criminals, and a king who promises to bring those who are condemned into paradise with him. In short, we have a king who has declared that love reigns. And, from my perspective, we’re a little short on love in this world lately. Now, please understand that I am talking in broad terms. I am not claiming that any of you are guilty of anything. I don’t claim that any of you have forgotten that Christ is King. I also am not claiming that any of you need reminded of Christ’s love and that love actually is king. But, I am just stating what I have observed over the weeks since the election.

Those crucifying Jesus had no idea what was going to happen. They finally had their guy. They finally had arrested and put on trial their guy that was a “threat” to the empire. What they didn’t want to admit was that the threat to the empire was a man who fed people, forgave people, healed people, stood beside people that others wanted to ignore, turned water into wine, and resurrected Lazarus. He was seen as a threat because he was spreading a message counter-cultural and counter-intuitive of the empire. He was spreading a message that Caesar wasn’t king, God is king. A “king” by Jesus’ definition sides with those whom society forgets. Caesar wanted to put a boot on the neck of those who didn’t support him. Jesus spread love; Caesar spread fear.

What Jesus did, who he defended, what he believed, and the message he spread was definitely not the message a “king” would give. It wasn’t the definition of a king during his time and it certainly doesn’t seem to be the message a modern day king would give. Those who were persecuting Jesus put the sign “King of the Jews” over his head as some kind of cruel joke. They were mocking him. As it turns out, the joke was on them. Jesus wasn’t a king of power, like the people were used to, he was a servant of love. Jesus continues to be a servant of love. However, in a time when we seem to so badly want, need, desire, and even crave the love of Christ, instead we look to the things in our life that cannot give us that. Nothing comes close to giving us the love we receive from Christ….but man, do we go looking for it.

When I ask you “who or what is your king” it’s not for a nice little question as an afterthought for you to talk about on the car ride home. I want to challenge you with this question because the way that we answer this question affects (or at least should) the way we demonstrate to others who God is in our life. Maybe think about the question this way instead: why does it matter to you personally to say that Christ is King? Because the thing is, the Jesus we hear about in today’s reading is the Christ of love. This is a leader who loved, who forgave, who grants salvation and mercy, who welcomed and brought condemned criminals into paradise. So, if we declare that to say Christ is King means that love is also king, then friends I fear that the church is falling short.

The church (and I don’t mean this church specifically, I mean the church as a general term) has become a safe haven for opinions that are anything but Christ is love. Because, if to say “Christ is King” means “Christ is love” the hour on Sunday at church wouldn’t still be the whitest hour in the US. If we’re going to declare that Christ is love, then that means we must fight against the ideas that someone like me (that is, a female) isn’t welcome in some pulpits. It means we must fight against the stigma of rape and sexual assault and work to dismantle the “old boys club.” To declare that Christ is love means that we should be angry that the corrections institution in this country is a for-profit institution. This means that the more bodies that are in prison, the more money certain companies make. To declare that Christ is love means that we should work to understand movements like “black lives matter” instead of thinking it is just a bunch of whiny kids protesting (as I’ve heard it called). But instead, we stay quiet.

The church has stayed quiet for too long. We stay quiet in the interest of making sure our neighbors in the pews are comfortable. We’re concerned about the bottom line. We’re concerned about no longer being relevant. And so we stay quiet. Instead of speaking to who Jesus is, what Jesus did, or what difference Jesus can make in the world, we stay quiet. Rather than tell the truth to the world: that Jesus’ love is a love for all people we remain quiet. We are quiet when racism becomes normal speech. We are quiet when sexism is shrugged off. We are quiet when systems of oppression stay in place and our fellow humans suffer. We are quiet when people with a little bit of color in their skin (Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, anyone not white) are persecuted despite the fact that the lord we claim is a Lord of love WAS NOT WHITE. We stay quiet.

Last week I spoke about how the church has been acting in the world through programs like Foods Resource Bank. But, we still have work to do. We have work to do, church. We have to be brave and bold. We have to not let fear win. We have to step up and say “enough is enough” and start to declare that Christ the King is King of love. Society, now more than ever, needs the church. And the church needs society; we especially need the members of society that don’t agree with us because that’s a great way to see Christ: in the face of the other. We have to be willing to shine a light on the dark places in our society that validate hatred, injustice, violence, and fear and say “this isn’t who God has called us to be. This isn’t the society the King of Love would want us to be.” The church can no longer afford to be quiet.

Members of the body of Christ are dying in the streets. Members of the body of Christ are  genuinely hurting. Members of the body of Christ are living in fear and in the shadows. Members of the body of Christ fear for their lives and for their children’s lives. And I’ve said this before, but when one member of the body of Christ is hurting, we all hurt. Now, more than ever, the world is hungry for the word of love that is Christ Jesus. So yes, church, we have work to do. It starts with listening, reconciliation, and not being in a big hurry to “fix” the other. And yes, to declare Christ as King means declaring that our king is a king of love. And this means that this is good news for you, and for me, and for all of us. But there are still those out in this world that don’t know that. We’ve got work to do, church.

Sermon for 11/13/16 Luke 21:5-19

** just a note that this is the Sunday the congregation I serve celebrated our ongoing relationship with the Foods Resource Bank (FRB) as well as a safe, happy, and successful harvest.**

“This will give you an opportunity to testify.” (Luke 21:13) I often wonder how comfortable we would be testifying to the presence of God in our lives. What would we do if we were called upon to give our “testimony” as it is sometimes called. If challenged, could you tell others what you believe, why you believe it, and how it changes your life and affects how you look at the world. Our confirmation students did it not too long ago. I think the challenge in testifying is that our fear and self preservation gets in the way. We don’t want to be labeled as one of those “crazy Christians.” We all have encountered at least one in our lifetime. These are the well meaning folks in our lives that question when we took the “Lord as our personal Savior” or when/if we have been “saved.” They are anxious to invite you to Bible study, life group, service projects, outreach projects, Tuesday night grief meetings, Saturday kids church, Sunday night praise service, and on and on. These are all awesome and wonderful things. But it can also be intimidating. And I think that is some of what keeps us from testifying.

This past week was a challenging one for me. I was tired from fall supper, as I am sure all of you were. And then Tuesday came. Chris and I came over to vote bright and early and brought Ellen with us. We wanted her to see that voting is something important that mommy and daddy value; and we hope that she will vote when she is old enough. And then, being the political junkie that I am, I stayed up on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning until the very end. I wanted to see the outcome; although once Ohio and Florida were called I had a feeling I knew where the night would end. And I’ll be honest, my candidate did not win. And the struggle I had was not how to comfort my own self, but how to address a congregation full of people after a very divisive election.

No matter who you voted for, I hope we can agree that both candidates made this a divisive election. We saw it leading up to the election and I think we have seen it in the last few days. And it’s interesting because in the midst of it, I have seen people testify to their faith in many ways. I’ve experienced everything from affirmation of God’s love for this country (“Trump is the answer to our prayers”) to abandonment (“where was God in all of this?”) to fear of the apocalypse. I am not going to try and correct any of these feelings; it’s not for me to tell you if your feelings are right or wrong. But here is what I do know: our testimony should be that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And no matter who you voted for (or if you even voted at all) God loves you and God thought you were worth dying for. Another sentiment I’ve heard is “we’ve got work to do.”

This sentiment has often come in the context of encouraging the country to unite once again. To come together once again meaning that maybe we need to acknowledge our failures as a people while at the same time, giving Mr Trump (or any other newly elected official for that matter) the opportunity to lead and prove that they too want a united people. And in the meantime, we remember that our call of loyalty is to Christ alone. But yes, we’ve got work to do. What people may not realize is that we’ve been doing some work for a long time.

No elected official is going to change the fact that we all show up in this place at this time week after week hoping to discern God’s will for our lives, yearning to be fed and forgiven, and then sent out in the hopes of doing God’s work in this world through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what we did before November 8th and that is what we will continue to do. If Jesus tells us that we will have the opportunity to testify about him to others, one of the best ways we do that year after year is through our relationship with the Foods Resource Bank as well as continued stewardship of the land God has given to all of us. Part of our call as Christians is to advocate for those who have less than us. We are called to stand with the marginalized. We are called to advocate for what is known as “preferential treatment of the poor.” We are called to tend to whatever God has given us with care, love, and devotion because everything we have and everything we are belongs to God.

So we testify to God and God’s love through FRB. For some of you, it may seem like or look like a check, or 50 bushels of grain. But, for someone benefiting from the programs that FRB has put into place, it can mean the difference literally between life and death. A woman in the Central African Republic now has new crop options to feed her previously malnutritioned child. The money she has raised for the sale of her crops may give her the ability to leave a dangerous environment full of rebels that want to mutilate her newborn daughter. Crops may give her a new start. Testify.

A man in Armenia has been trained on raising sheep. In an area that isn’t friendly to crops or sometimes to life for that matter, this man now has the ability to sell sheep’s wool and meat. The prospect that his children will not live in poverty like he did growing up is looking greater every day. Testify.

On the Palestinian West Bank, a family may now have a working well thanks to FRB. This means that their daughter no longer has to walk 5 miles each way to collect water. This means that she is no longer under the threat of sexual assault on her daily walk and that she now can attend school. We know that when our daughters are educated on the same level and extent as our sons, the world is a better place. Testify.

Locally, I know many of you that have been called by God to steward the land and the animals have done so with great care, love, and compassion. You consider the environment when choosing seed and pesticide; you may choose a no-till method so to enhance the soil; you may insure that some of your beef or pork gets donated to our local food pantry or other organizations that may use it. Testify.

Since Wednesday, we’ve been hearing “we’ve got work to do.” What the country needs to know is that we have been working. We may have been quiet about it, but we’ve been working. We’ve been working to show our neighbors in the next county and in the next country that we love them and that God loves them. No candidate will ever change that. And so maybe while we haven’t been super vocal with our testimony, we have testified about Jesus through our actions. And those opportunities to continue testifying will remain. No candidate, no politician, no one should ever stop you from testifying of the love of Christ.

We are in a hurting world, right now, brothers and sisters. And yes, there is a call to come together as the body of Christ. But, when even a small portion of the body of Christ is bleeding, we have work to do. People need to know that they are loved. People need to know they are valued. People need to know that they are seen and heard. People need to be given space to hurt, to heal, and to have hope. We can do that by continuing to be present with people here and globally. We continue to let people know they are loved by testifying to God’s love. And if this week has you questioning God’s love or God’s will, I am not going to tell you to get over it, or assure you that it will all be okay. What I will tell you is that God loves you, I love you, and nothing will ever change that. I’ll spend my dying breath testifying to that fact.

Sermon for 11/6/16 Luke 6:17-31

Dealing with death is one of the most unique parts of what God has called me to do. More than once I’ve had people say “I don’t know how you do that!” And, honestly, sometimes I’m a little unsure how I do it to. I just know to lean on God and the movement of the Holy Spirit. I am honored to be invited into a place of deep grief and vulnerability. Grief, unfortunately, is an emotion that all of us are familiar with; sometimes a little too familiar. And when someone you love dies, it can feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you. You may not remember what day it is, if it is night or day, or even if you ate on a particular day when you are in the midst of grief. The vulnerability you feel can be crippling.

Earlier this week, I got a message from a college friend of mine. Her first husband and father of her oldest child was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident. She said “I’m having irrational thoughts like something bad is going to happen to me.” She went on to tell me how she was paranoid while driving. I assured her that what she was feeling was perfectly normal. But when I reflected more, I realized she was feeling vulnerable. Death has a way of doing that to us. Death is a reality for all of us. And as much as we may not like it, death causes us to be vulnerable.

Luke’s telling of the beatitudes is a little different than what we get in Matthew. First of all, Matthew doesn’t give us all of the “woe to you” verses that we get in Luke. Second, Matthew’s beatitudes are often called the “Sermon on the Mount” or mountain. But, if you look again at the text I included in this morning’s reading you will see that the setting is a little different. “He came down with them” (the disciples) “and stood on a level place.” We already get a different picture of this Jesus. He has come to be on a even playing field (so to speak) with those around him. The first thing that Jesus ever says in the Gospel of Luke is that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (4:18a). From the very beginning Jesus gives us a clear picture who he is and what he has come to do.

So, Jesus comes down to the plain, and he is surrounded by people who want to be cured, who want to be healed, to hear him, and maybe just be seen. These were people in society who were vulnerable. And, as it is today, the vulnerable in our societies are easy to ignore or overlook. Maybe folks showed up to hear Jesus because they knew that for once they would be seen as human beings; they would be seen for more than their ailments and troubles. They showed up in all of their vulnerability because they had nothing else to lose. Often instead of being vulnerable, we chose to just be numb. We want to numb ourselves to pain, to suffering, to hurt, and to grief. But when we choose to numb ourselves to the “bad stuff” then we also numb ourselves to the “good stuff” like joy, celebration, love, and happiness. And so some choose to show up and be vulnerable.

When Jesus starts in with his “blessed are you” sentences he is speaking directly to those who have gathered around him; those who have chosen to show up and be vulnerable. And here’s the thing, I have to think that there was just one or two people in that crowd gathered to hear Jesus that had a small problem in believing him. The last thing any of us want to hear when we are grieving is “hey, you’re blessed because you weep and later you’re gonna laugh.” When grief is swallowing you up, threatening to take away every ounce of identity you’ve ever had the last thing you may want to hear is that you are “blessed.”

And trust me, brothers and sisters, we say this to other people. We are well meaning and sincere when we say things that are often said at funerals. But in reality, these sayings hurt and do nothing to bring comfort. But we say the things we say because we’d rather say something than to be vulnerable and enter into the pain and suffering of others. So we say things like “God needed another angel” or “they’re in a better place” even “at least they knew their Lord and Savior!” I beg of you, get these sentences out of your vernacular. They’re damaging and hurtful. If you don’t know what to say, say exactly that. “I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry and I’m praying for you.” END. OF. STORY.

Jesus continues by saying his three “woe to you” sentences. “Woe to you who are rich….to you who are full now…to you who are laughing now.” And so you may wonder what any of that has to do with the “blessed are you” sentences; or even what it has to do with you. Again, we don’t like to be vulnerable. Vulnerability, in our society, has become tied with being weak, which is just ridiculously stupid. So, we protect ourselves from being vulnerable with our money, with our possessions, with our class, with our status, our stuff, and yes, the one I’m most guilty of, our humor or sarcasm. We do this all in the hopes of not being vulnerable. We do this in the hopes of not being really seen. We do all of this in the hopes that death will not find us, and if it does, we will not be scathed. But we know that never happens.

It is my hope and prayer that church can be a vulnerable safe space of sorts. This is the place where anyone can come, just as they are, be vulnerable, and not apologize for it. Because this is the place where Jesus meets us. This is the place where Jesus comes, washes us clean, feeds us, and comforts us. Jesus always finds us where we are and how we are, but that doesn’t mean that he leaves us as he finds us. See, because when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you allow yourself to be opened up to love; not only the love given by those around you to you, but the love of God given to you through Jesus Christ. And in case there was any question or doubt, you are worthy of any and all the kinds of love given to you. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you open yourself up to grief, yes, but also to great amounts of healing that come through grace and mercy. When you open yourself to being vulnerable, you open yourself to healing and wholeness instead of carrying guilt and shame around like a blanket you don’t even want.

I know many of you who are grieving. You think you’re grieving privately, but we know. We know because we can see the Holy Spirit swirling around you, begging to be let in. We see you up at 2 or 3 in the morning because you can’t sleep the guilt is so great. We see you and hear you questioning if you could have done more. We have experienced the way guilt has turned into anger and hurtful words. We grieve the loss of the part of your spirit that died the day your loved one died. Brothers and sisters, if you are grieving, know that you are not alone. This is the place you can be vulnerable. This is the place you don’t have to apologize for your tears. This is the place you don’t have to explain why you’re grieving. This is the place you can come and be loved because this is the place where you are beloved. God finds us in our grief, God finds us in our vulnerability, God finds us in our mourning and reminds us that death never has, never will have the final word. The Saints are here, my friends, be vulnerable enough for them and keep showing up. Be vulnerable because they were and through their lives we are reminded of God’s love for us all.