Sermon for 5/27/18 John 3:1-17; Holy Trinity Sunday

As you know, I spent the last week in Washington DC on continuing education. It was a wonderful time that did a lot to feed my soul. One of the things I enjoy most about the conference is the little nuggets of wisdom I pick up here and there. New ways of thinking about scripture; new ways of singing an old familiar hymn; new words to traditional prayers. It helps me to not only be a better Pastor, but it strengthens my faith as well. But, what I really benefit from is the activities that don’t take place during the conference time. I met new friends walking from church to church. I got reconnected with old friends I only see at this conference. I got to have lunch with other young clergy women. I got to show off pictures of Ellen to my fellow pastor moms. I met 2 lovely Canadian women who told me they would adopt me. I told them they would have to take that up with you. But all of these encounters just affirmed what I feel is one of God’s greatest gifts: relationships.

I want to share a few quotes from the week with you as we start to think about scripture today, and the fact that we have yet another baptism, AND the fact that today we mark Holy Trinity Sunday. First, from Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, he said “we are not called to be religious, we are called to be faithful.” And then, we heard from Senator Cory Booker. He came to offer some brief remarks. Senator Booker is from New Jersey. He was speaking of his relationship with his former Governor, Chris Christie. He said that he and the Governor could be no further away in regards to politics and that they disagree on almost everything. But, said Senator Booker “I don’t look first at our disagreements. I look first at his divinity. I look at the divine in him to remind me that we are all made in the image of God.” And I wondered how our relationships might change if we were to look at the divine first instead of looking at our disagreements.

I love technology. I love technology almost to a fault. My love of technology is almost sinful in that it can take over and interfere with my relationship with God. But, technology has done nothing for us in regards to our relationships. When my grandmother died, my father lamented that not as many cards or phone calls came. Instead, people expressed condolences on Facebook. The same goes for birthdays. Social media and the internet allows us to be a part of one another’s lives without actually having to have face to face interactions. What kind of relationship is that? We are building relationships that keep one another at arm’s length. We keep others far enough to remain guarded and protected, and close enough to give the illusion of relationship and community. It is usually only when we experience a genuine crisis that we finally realize the gift of reciprocal relationships.

Today, the church marks Holy Trinity Sunday. And often, well meaning Pastors (like myself) try to explain the Holy Trinity and end up making nothing but a mess. It happens when trying to explain how God the Father is also God the Son is also God the Holy Spirit. Instead, what I want you to help me ponder today is how the Holy Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a fantastic example of what it means to be in relationship with one another. God cannot be the Father without the Son and Holy Spirit. God cannot be Son without the Father and Holy Spirit. God cannot be the Holy Spirit without the Father and the Son. And rest assured, my beloved, it’s okay if you don’t understand this Holy Trinity thing. Because remember, we are not called to be religious, we are called to be faithful. You don’t need to understand the Holy Trinity in order to be faithful. All that matters is that you know the three persons of the Trinity and that they are in relationship with one another.

The thing about the Holy Trinity is that it is a constant and ever changing relationship. Not one of the persons is always in charge. Sometimes it’s the Father, other times the Son, sometimes the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity cannot be without one another. And leaving is not an option. Part of being in relationship with one another is seeing the Divine in one another. Any more, it is far too easy to walk away from relationships without a second thought. You post something on Facebook I don’t like? Unfriend. You tweet something I don’t agree with? Unfollow. Being in relationship with one another isn’t easy work, my beloved. And I feel that instead of putting in the time and effort to do the difficult work, we just walk away. We view fellow creations of God, fellow children of God, our fellow siblings of Christ and say “you’re not worth it” and walk away. Sometimes without even a second thought. We forget that we are bound together. We forget that the Kingdom of Heaven is for ALL believers, whether we like it or not. We forget that we need one another. I cannot be me without you and, sorry to say, you cannot be you without me.

And yes, being in relationship with one another can cause tension. It can cause heartache. It can also cause joy and great amounts of peace. Just like you cannot be you without me and I cannot be me without you, so we, the body of Christ, cannot be one without each other. It is to us, the body of Christ, to follow the example of the Holy Trinity, and continue the difficult, challenging, but rewarding work of being in relationship with one another. It is easy, ooooh too easy, to vilify the other when we have not taken the time to know the other. And when we don’t take time to know the other, we cannot and will not ever be able to see the Divine in the other. If we cannot see the Divine in one another, then people will not be able to see the Divine in us. And that, my beloved, should make us worry.

In baptism, we are tied to one another. Hunter joins us today as another member of this community. In the waters of baptism God will claim him as God’s own. And we, we as the community of Christ, will make a promise to never give up on him. There are plenty of other places in society quick to give up on one another. The church should not, cannot, and if possible, will not be one of these places. Re Engage. Get to know your neighbor. Learn people’s story. Look past the labels we place on one another and that society places on us and instead, look at the Divine. God doesn’t need another gatekeeper. God doesn’t need another person using the Bible as a weapon. God doesn’t need people who want to limit God’s love. God wants beloved children of God who believe in the redemptive, life-giving power of community and relationship. God wants workers in the vineyard who see everyone’s value instead of complaining. God wants those who will look to the margins and say “I see you. I value you. You are part of God’s creation.” God desires a relationship with us. In your heart, it doesn’t matter if you understand the 3 in 1 and 1 in 3. Do you have room in your heart, instead, for me? And her? And him? And the homeless? And the undocumented? And the deported?? And the advocate? And the black? And the blue? And the trans? Because if we’re going to pray thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven, we best be prepared usher in that kingdom arm in arm. We better practice loving one another now because in God’s kingdom there are no classes or velvet ropes. And we must start being in relationship with one another because the work of discipleship gets very lonely.  

 

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Sermon for 5/20/18 John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 Pentecost

Trying to explain what the Holy Spirit is can be like trying to explain how the color pink sounds. Or maybe it would be like trying to explain how lightning tastes. Explaining to someone what the Holy Spirit is can be like describing what a hummingbird looks like when it is sleeping. I think just when we have the Holy Spirit figured out, or think we have her figured out, she surprises us. Instead of trying to explain what the Holy Spirit does, or how the Holy Spirit operates with God the Father and God the Son, I want you to think about how the Holy Spirit feels. Maybe some of you would rather go back and try to describe the taste of the color pink. I’ve been thinking about this off and on and I doubt my definition is any better than yours. But here is what I got. I don’t know what the Holy Spirit is, or how she does what she does. But I do know that once the Holy Spirit enters any facet of my life, I am changed. And some may ask “changed how? Changed good? Changed bad?” And I say “neither. Just changed.”

There are a few things I know for sure about the Holy Spirit (other than it has the ability to turn my world upside down). The Greek word in the Bible for Holy Spirit is “paraclete.” Now, that can be translated a number of ways. And perhaps the way we interact with the Holy Spirit will color the way we translate this. But, some options are: to walk alongside, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage, request, implore, entreat, cheer up, comfort, mediator, intercessor, or helper. Did you have any idea that the Holy Spirit could do all that? And what I’ve been thinking about this week is the idea that I can’t tell you what the Holy Spirit does in your life. I can only tell you what the Holy Spirit does in mine. I can’t tell you the way the Holy Spirit feels to you. I can’t describe the way the Holy Spirit sounds to you. I can only tell you the way I interact with the Holy Spirit. I think the Holy Spirit acts, sounds, and feels the way that we personally need it to act, sound, and feel. Because when God wants our attention, God will do it in ways that will make us pay attention.

So here is the Holy Spirit to me: God’s most aggravating component. I say this lovingly of course. I just know that when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of me, nothing in my life stays the same. And this is aggravating. Doesn’t God know I have plans? Doesn’t God know that I’ve got things to do? Doesn’t God know I’m stubborn? Oh. Perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit has to shake me up every once in a while. What I know about the Holy Spirit in my life is this: as soon as I make some sort of bold proclamation in regards to my life, it’s as if the Holy Spirit steps in, lets me finish, and then says “that’s cute. You’re going to be doing this instead.”  

There are so many times in my life that I can look back and know that the Holy Spirit was at work in my life and for the better. I had sworn off dating altogether. Chris walked into my life. I had plans to go to graduate school for higher education. The Holy Spirit sent me to seminary (which, to this day has been her trickiest plan accomplished). I had just about given up hope that I would actually be called to a church as a Pastor. The Holy Spirit told me about an awesome congregation in the country that was a perfect fit. So yes, the Holy Spirit for me has been aggravating, soothing, exciting, encouraging, a cheerleader, a helper, and, much to my chagrin, 100% right every single time she pushed me. For me, the biggest problem with even acknowledging the Holy Spirit in my life comes down to one issue: trust.

The idea of trusting the Holy Spirit is one I don’t like. That is difficult for me (personally) because what happens is a shame spiral. I realize I’m not trusting the Holy Spirit or that I don’t trust her. Then I wonder what that means for my own faith if I’m not trusting the Holy Spirit. Then I shame spiral because I think that I, of all people, a woman of faith, should trust in God and all the persons of God (including the Holy Spirit) but yet I don’t. And that’s not a reflection of God or God’s love for me, but it’s a reflection of my own humanity. And once I realize that my faith isn’t as strong as I want it to be then I fear that people are going to realize that I am not perfect. (Shocker) Then once people realize I’m not perfect, are they even going to believe a single word I say from the pulpit? And if they don’t believe what I say from the pulpit then am I even doing what God has called me to do? Shame spiral. Maybe something like that happens to you.

Yet, at the same time, I think that our all knowing-all loving God knows exactly how we were created. So our all knowing, all loving God knows that when the Holy Spirit stirs that we may resist. Perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit is often described as fire or a mighty wind. God knows we need something that is going to get our attention. And it is totally and completely possible that the Holy Spirit may need to shove us, stir us, shake us, whatever it may take a few times to get us to pay attention. A few things happen when the Holy Spirit starts to take hold (or at least in my experience). The first step is doubting. “That wasn’t God, was it?” Or “certainly God doesn’t want me.” Then comes bargaining with God (which never goes well). Usually that sounds something like “fine God! I’ll go! But, if you do then X, Y, and Z!” Or we make deals with God. “Hey Holy Spirit! I’ll do that thing you’ve been encouraging me to do but only if you do this for me first.” Again, this usually never goes in our favor. Lastly, we succumb to the will of the Holy Spirit and our lives are much better for it.

The Holy Spirit is always and will always be part of our lives. Illa and Lars are about to experience the Holy Spirit for the first time. An all powerful, all knowing, all loving God will inhabit these waters, claim them both as beloved children of God, and then proceed to turn their world upside down in the best possible way. The Holy Spirit is the most uncertain and unpredictable person of God. That may make it seem scary. But the Holy Spirit is nothing to fear. Let us let the Spirit be the Spirit. Let us wait in anxiousness. Let us wait in our fear. Let us wait in our joy. Let us wait in our grief. Let us wait on a Sunday in May or a Tuesday in November. The Holy Spirit will show up and in her own time. In her own time. Not ours. Not always in the way we may want her to show up. But she will make herself known in our lives. And the only thing we know for sure is that our lives will never be the same.

Sermon for 5/13/18 John 17:6-19

Alleulia! Christ is risen! Not too long ago, I was visiting with Arlene Thompson. We were just about to wrap up our visit when I offered to pray for her. This is a very normal part of our visits. In fact, I usually offer to pray with everyone I visit. So, we joined hands and I prayed for her. Almost as soon as I said the word “amen,” something happened: Arlene started praying for me. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to do. I am not used to people praying for me. I pray for people all the time. But, when someone does it for me, I don’t know what to do. I kind of got mad at myself in that moment. Because instead of appreciating this prayer that someone was saying for me, I immediately felt full of guilt and didn’t know how to respond. Prayer is such an intimate thing that when it is done for you, your vulnerability is on display.

In the Gospel for today, Jesus is praying. This, of course, isn’t strange. It’s what Jesus does. But, he is praying for the disciples and the disciples can hear him. And the prayer is intimate and personal. I often wonder how the disciples felt upon hearing this prayer. The way this story is placed, right after Jesus finished this prayer, he and the disciples head towards the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. Despite all of that, Jesus prays for the disciples anyway. He knows that he will be betrayed and abandoned by those closest to him and yet prays for them anyway.

And when Jesus prays for the disciples he uses language of belonging, protection, joy, holiness, and truth. This is not a relationship that is surface only. Jesus truly know his disciples and, I believe, they truly know him. As Jesus prepares to become powerless, he does the most powerful thing possible: he uses the platform of prayer to show his love, concern, and devotion. And on top of that, the disciples get to hear Jesus pray for them. It’s one thing for Jesus to pray for the disciples, it’s another for him to do it out loud. I think to pray for someone already insinuates that there is a level of intimacy happening. But, to do it vocally with the other person listening could be a risk. The risk is two fold: the person doing the praying is vulnerable to judgment and thus shame. The person receiving the prayer is vulnerable to judgment and thus shame.

When we ask someone to pray for us, we are putting ourselves out there. We are admitting to the places we have fallen short. To do that requires us to be vulnerable and admit that we are not perfect. In a world that demands perfection, to admit to imperfection is a risk. When the person doing the praying actually prays, they may not be “in the moment” and instead focusing too much on the words. Are we saying the right thing? Is this what the person needs or wants? Instead, we should just say what is in our hearts and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. There are times that I have prayed “God, I don’t even have the words or know how to begin…” and then pray.

Like I said, praying is an intimate act. I think that alone can make it feel uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable in a bad way, but uncomfortable like fidgety. That intimacy is humbling. For people to share holy moments with one another is humbling and also awe inspiring. You might think it is easy for someone like me, who practically prays for a living, to pray out loud. And, you’d be wrong. Well, kind of. There are times when it’s very easy for me to pray out loud. Before a meal? Sure! Every Sunday up here? Yep! But, when it’s a personal relationship, it can be difficult. As you all know, Chris has been having a lot of back pain and will now have surgery on Tuesday. Earlier last week he was in a lot of pain, couldn’t get comfortable, and was just generally miserable. We laid in bed, quiet. I heard him breathing and also holding his breath. I grabbed his hand and said “I’m going to pray for you.” I took a big breath and remained silent. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to say. There was a lot riding on this prayer. I wanted my words to mean something. I wanted my words to bring relief. I wanted my words to deliver a message of love. When I finally relaxed after about 30 seconds (which actually felt more like 5 minutes) I remembered that it’s not about me. A prayer is simply a conversation with our best friend, our loving parent, our most trusted confidant. Words don’t matter in this case. What matters is that we trust in God enough to speak our most personal thoughts.

Jesus prayed. Just saying that is amazing. Jesus prayed. Even Jesus himself called on God in hope, in joy, in pain, in suffering, in confusion, in all circumstances of life. Jesus prayed. And so often when Jesus prayed, he did so out loud. Jesus gives us an example of what it looks like to be vulnerable, to be exposed, to be needy (so to speak). And yes, we aren’t Jesus. But, in following Jesus’ ways, we may be bold enough and brave enough to not only pray, but to pray out loud. Praying for someone is a gift. Being prayed for is a gift. Prayer is one of the ways that we can be in communion with God. How is your life different in knowing that God prays for you, God is protecting you, God is guiding you? When someone else prays for us, it is almost like a love letter from God.

The thing about praying out loud is that we’ll never have the “right” words (whatever the right words are). It may always feel vulnerable. We may have problems getting out of our own head. But all that matters to God is that we do it. We are made and created to be the community of God together. Part of being in community with one another is speaking when others don’t have the words. To pray for one another not only is a gift, but sometimes it is a requirement. If you have ever been in a situation where your emotions or the situation is just too much that you don’t have the words to express your status, to have someone pray for you is a gift. Prayer is powerful. Prayer can change lives. Prayer can bring peace and comfort. Prayer is a gift. I would encourage you to give the gift of prayer to others. And if that idea is still to overwhelming, give the gift of prayer to yourself. Pray out loud for yourself. God is always listening.

Sermon for 5/6/18 John 15:9-17

Very rarely do we receive anything without a catch or strings attached. Sometimes we receive things with strings attached we didn’t even want (“call now and receive a second set of knives absolutely free!”) But there are very few things in life that come without any expectations at all. If you have a child or have children in your life and they are on a kick of being extra nice or sweet, what is our first reaction? “What do you want?” If you’ve ever been in love or if you recall that time when you were falling in love, there might have been an anxiety surrounding actually saying “I love you.” The anxiety of saying it was bad; the uncertainty of having it said in return was almost worse! The expectation is that if you say “I love you” that someone else will say “I love you too.” When you’re newly in love, that’s a challenging barrier to cross. It’s unfortunate that sometimes when we hear someone say “I love you” that we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. As in “I love you… can you loan me $20.” Or “I love you…please let me drive.”

So maybe it is because of that, we have a difficult time with the idea of abiding in Christ’s love. Perhaps we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe we’re waiting for the catch. We may even resist abiding in Christ’s love because we honestly don’t have anything to give in return. But isn’t that how our relationship with Christ sometimes works? Maybe you’ve never thought of it that way. But it may just be possible that Christ gives us what we need when we need it. All things on God’s time. So when we are invited to abide in Christ, it is most likely because that is exactly what we need.

I’ve talked about the use of “abide” before and what that may mean. But, it essentially means that we are to live or to dwell. Christ invites us to live in his love; to dwell in his love. If we think about this from a practical standpoint, what does living in something usually mean? It means we have safety, security, comfort, peace, and stability. When Christ invites us to abide in his love, we are being offered safety, security, comfort, peace, and stability. The expectation is that we do it. That’s it. We aren’t ask to make a donation. We aren’t ask to only stay for a few minutes. We aren’t asked to convert (x) number of people so that Christ has more people to love. Sometimes, as cruel and strange as this sounds, it really is about us as individuals.

While it is important to be the community of Christ together, it is equally as important to know that you, as an individual, is loved by Christ. Sometimes we need that reminder. We need that safety and security that can only be offered by dwelling and abiding in Christ. We need that reminder that nothing can come between us and the love that Christ has to offer. I preach a lot about being a disciple and what that looks like. It is so important that we follow where Christ has to lead us. It is crucial that for the sake of God’s kingdom we do what we can to spread the word of God to others. Our own faith grows when we share it with others. At the same time, being a disciple is hard, thankless work. We need a soft place to land. What better place is there than in the safety and security of Christ’s love?

We may forget that God is a parent like figure. If you didn’t have a good relationship with your parent or parents, maybe thinking of God like a parent isn’t comforting. Or maybe God serves as the parent you wish you had. But, when I think about what it may mean to abide in the love of Christ, I think about the relationship with a parent. I think about that comfort. I also don’t care how old you are, sometimes you just need the comfort of your mom or dad. If that image doesn’t work for you, maybe imagine how a mother bird gathers her babies under her wings to protect them. Abiding in Christ brings us comfort that nothing Earthly can compare. It is the comfort of knowing you can be you. You don’t have to be someone or something you aren’t. You can let your guard down and be who Christ truly created you to be. Which means that you are going to allow yourself to be loved without feeling guilty about it.

Our human brains have an issue processing grace. We may understand it on a scientific or even theological level. We understand how grace works. We may know (as the good Lutherans we are) that we are saved by grace alone. We are not saved by our works or deeds. We may understand amazing grace or we may be the wretch the song speaks of. But when the rubber hits the road, the biggest thing stopping us from abiding in Christ is ourselves. We don’t think we are worthy of such things. We don’t think we deserve it. And you know what? We aren’t worthy and we don’t deserve it. And that is what makes the love of Christ different from the love we can receive from one another. Christ’s love doesn’t come with a catch. Christ’s love doesn’t come with strings. Christ’s love has no expectations other than we just receive it. This love is so powerful and strong that we may want to fight it, but Christ will win.

We are able to do a lot of things of our own power. We can recharge our batteries with a good night’s rest. We can answer the call of hunger with a great meal. Our thirst can be quenched in a number of ways. We can soothe a lonely spirit with friends or family. But there is nothing that can fulfill our body and spirit’s need of Christ’s love other than abiding in Christ himself. There is no amount of rest, food, liquid or social gatherings that can fill the space that is meant for Christ. We were created by God. So yes, sometimes we just need to return to our creator to be fed and loved. What does that look like from a practical sense?

In order to abide and dwell in Christ and the love Christ has for us there may be a few things worth doing. First, get yourself in the mental head space to fully accept the love of Christ. Maybe you need quiet or even silence. Turn off the phone, television, or whatever. Maybe you enter into a time of prayer. Then, just be. Ask God to fill you with the love of Christ. That’s it. There’s no catch. Maybe prayer time for you is time in the boat, or on a jog, or in the planter, or whatever. Just opening yourself up to receive the love of Christ makes you more aware that it’s been there all along. Don’t fight it. It is all too easy for us to fight Christ’s love because we don’t think we’re worthy or deserving. But it’s easier if we don’t fight it. Lastly, take a posture of thankfulness. Listen to your souls and your spirits, my beloved. Christ may just be calling you to take a break. You cannot save the world. You may not even be able to save yourself. You cannot fill others from a dry well. Come, abide in Christ. Dwell there for a while. Rest and be fed.