About jealaine

ELCA Pastor. Mom. Wife. Dog mom. Sister. Daughter. Rookie theologian. Avid fan of: NWMSU Bearcats, KC Royals, KC Chiefs. Just trying to live faithfully among God's people in the rural landscape of Iowa (without saying too many 4-letter words). All opinions/views expressed are my own and do not reflect my denomination or the church I currently serve as pastor.

Sermon for 11/18/18 Mark 13:1-8

As many of you know, my mother was a teacher as I was growing up. So, she had her summers free, or as free as teachers normally have (I know you all work hard during the summer). When she wasn’t planning, writing, testing, and on and on, she would prepare to do her favorite thing with us kids: camping. We tent camped all around Missouri. We spent the days fishing, swimming, or doing local touristy stuff and spent the evenings sitting around a fire. We even once learned how to call owls. One thing we knew we could always count on was a comfy and safe place to lay our heads at the end of the night. One summer evening the air was just right for some adventure. The park ranger came around and over his loud speaker was announcing that we were under a “tornado watch/warning.” To this day we still talk about how confused we were. So, we decided to get out of the tent and head to safer shelter. When you’re from the Midwest, you can just feel a storm in your bones and we felt it! Mom was out of the tent, followed by Jon, then it was Jayna’s turn. Now, Jayna has a great fear of storms. As she was trying to get out of the tent, a huge clap of thunder and lightning struck. She practically jumped out of her skin and tried to fall back into the tent. Except she couldn’t. Her hair, a huge chunk of it, was stuck in the tent zipper. Another huge clap of thunder and lightning struck and she practically pulled her hair out herself. We joked that we found hair in the zipper for many camping trips to follow. We made it to the shelter (which was just a bathroom) in time for the tornado to touchdown. Our Chevy Astro van rocked in the wind. When it was all over, the rain guard on our tent was gone along with other odds and ends, but the tent was okay. So much for feeling safe and secure.

However, I find that we humans do this a lot. We put a lot of hope in structures that, with the right forces, can be destroyed. After all, most of us have lived in the Midwest for a good portion of our lives. We know how quickly tornadoes or flood waters can take over what we might have thought was untouchable. Our siblings in California are seeing all too well the destructive power of fire. Those in the paths of hurricanes know the force of water and wind. We don’t necessarily need these reminders of the power of Mother Nature and the realization that nothing is permanent, but it is humbling when we get these reminders. We don’t have to be betrayed by Mother Nature to realize this. So many are betrayed by their bodies. It could be a new cancer diagnosis, a life-long battle with an illness, or maybe the darkness of dementia; our bodies have a way of reminding us that nothing is permanent.

This isn’t a new struggle. We hear the disciples today marveling at the temple structure. What large stones and what large buildings. It’s almost as if you can hear the disciples say “nothing could ever happen to this!” The disciples were putting their faith, giving too much credit to a man-made structure. Jesus quickly let them in on a little secret. Not only will the temple fall, but the world is going to experience apocalyptic like occurrences. I mean, I don’t know that there is a different (or better) way to talk about wars, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, and famines. Then, Jesus said, this is but the beginning! The beginning! Rough stuff, Jesus. But we’re not all that different from the disciples, you and I. There is something to be said about the power that lies behind bigger, stronger, larger. And when the things around us fail, we turn to confrontational language to describe it. Have you ever noticed that?

When your body starts to betray you, you fight cancer. When an illness has wracked your body for years, you’re in a battle. We go to war against those weeds. When we’ve been hit, we talk about rebuilding bigger and stronger than before. Even when other people betray us, we may be tempted to say they don’t exist to me anymore or the darker they’re dead to me. There is one underlying tie that all of these ideas have in common: power. We want to be more powerful than the forces and situations that surround us. And when we’re reminded that we aren’t (thanks to a storm, illness, or broken relationship) we retaliate and use language of power and domination. This cycle goes on and on.

But the powerful will fall. This goes for buildings, structures, governmental systems, and people. The question is, will we notice? We have a lot of forces of nature and forces of power competing for our attention. Perhaps we’ll be too worried about large bodies of power failing to notice small moments of might: the widow giving her last few coins or a Jewish teacher being crucified. But how in the world can these small acts measure up to the rest of the world’s greatness? We’re so busy admiring false power and fearing false power that we may miss true power. We’re so busy and preoccupied with trying to be better and stronger and bigger that we may miss small acts of love, mercy, and kindness. We should know by now that anything we give power to and any of the powerful structures and forces we admire will fail us. Every time.

Despite our temptation to give space and time to power, Jesus comes for us and to us anyway. Jesus was surrounded by power in all shapes, sizes, and forms, and yet he still offered up his humble body as a sacrifice for me and for you. And the world may not have noticed this powerful testament of love, but we have. That alone should and does make a difference for all of us. There is nothing that God will not do to make sure we are not out of reach of the love that God has for each and every one of us. God is relentless. This love, this is what will be the thing that is stronger, bigger, bolder, better. This is the force that is stronger than nature. This is the antidote to so many of the world’s hurts. The love of God is more powerful than any storm, earthquake, fire, diagnosis, illness, or human relationship. This love is powerful, unforgiving, and comforting. God has not given up on us. Even in the times it may feel like it thanks to whatever powers may be, God will not abandon us. Even in the moments where our admiration may get the best of us and we say “look…what large stones” God, through Jesus Christ, still comes to us, always, in love to free us from ourselves.

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Sermon for 11/11/18 Mark 12:38-44

As a quick side note before I dive into the text today, I must admit that reading this scripture standing in front of all of you makes me very self conscious. This passage always does that to me. Because as I’m reading it, I realize that I am portraying the exact person described. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces” (Mk 12:38). It then goes on to say that these scribes also say long prayers. And here I am, wearing a long robe and rambling on and on. It’s a little disarming. Here’s what else makes me uncomfortable: as a “scribe” I rely on whatever offering you place in the plates of this temple. Me and my family would not be able to survive without your offering. Yet in next week’s reading, Jesus is going to tell us all about how the temple will be destroyed and we shouldn’t invest in the temple. All of this to say, friends, that I struggle with this reading and so this week I am going to invite you into the struggles with me.

I want to put you at ease (hopefully) by telling you that this will not be a stewardship sermon. The widow that gave her last two coins should not be lifted up as an example of faithful giving. This happens all too often. Scribes like me will say “this woman gave her all and so should you.” But, that isn’t going to happen today. Now, I may talk about her actions and I may talk about stewardship, but the point will not be to shame you into increasing your giving. Because the truth about this reading is this: it is likely that most, if not all of us, will never actually give everything we have. I mean, if we’re being honest, it’s just not going to happen. All of us have bills, and groceries, and life that has to be paid for. We may certainly be faithful people, but we are not “Jesus is just gonna drop groceries out of the sky” kind of people.

I have a theory about something. And, I’ll be honest, it might ruffle a few feathers. So, I’d be happy to be proven wrong. But, here is my theory. We (that is, citizens of this country) prefer not to speak, associate with, or maybe even help those who are in poverty for fear that it is contagious. Am I wrong? Perhaps we don’t like to talk about poverty because many of us are so close to becoming part of that statistic. Many are one paycheck or (sadly) one medical emergency away from being poor. Poverty is out there lurking and so if we just don’t associate with it, it won’t happen to us. We just finished with an election (thank God. I was ready for those commercials to be over). But, it might be good for us to remember the things our politicians promised especially when it comes to helping those in poverty. The poor should not be lifted up as charity cases to only be forgotten about once an election is over.

When the woman came to the temple came to give every last coin she had, people should have been angry. Was she shamed into giving her last few coins? Didn’t those gathered around realize that they contributed to her poverty? They were all compliant in a system that almost guaranteed that she would never be rich. Heck, the system guaranteed that she would never NOT be poor; forget about being rich. You may have heard me say this before, but I believe it needs to be said again: we don’t have broken people, we have broken systems. Time and time again we can pull up news stories or even share personal stories of the system failing the people not the people failing the system.

Do we have a gun control problem in this country or do we have a mental health problem? Are our Veterans not getting adequate care or do we have hoops in place that are almost impossible to jump through in order to get care? Do people really choose to stay receiving government help in the form of food stamps, welfare, and other programs or do we make it almost impossible for people to earn a living wage? These are just a few examples of some of the conversations we have around poverty. So often we blame the person in poverty when really we should be angry at the system that placed them there. We should be angry that for the majority of African American males there is a school to prison pipeline. We should get angry that in some inner-cities it is easier to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets than it is to buy fresh produce. We should get really angry that someone who busts their behind 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job still has to use government assistance.

But, we don’t get angry because then we’d recognize poverty. And if we recognize poverty, then we might catch it. But Jesus is so good and not letting us forget the poor. Jesus has warned his listeners before that the rich will have to face God’s judgement. And the judgement comes not because they are rich, but because they hoarded their riches. The widow who gave her all wasn’t a hero, she was a victim. Jesus wasn’t the kind of teacher who desired a widow with nothing to give in the first place to give everything she had to a temple that would be destroyed in few days. Yet when we see her, we struggle in that thin place between pity and empathy.

God sees her. Even when we don’t, God does. Not only that, God sees us and through us. God sees our half-hearted attempts to help the poor with the hopes that we don’t catch what they’ve got. God sees us as we contribute to systems that will keep the poor poor. Maybe what should scare us is this widow’s might (m-i-g-h-t). Because she has nothing, literally. But what she does have is faith. So much faith, in fact, that she gives all she has knowing that she will have to rely on God and a system that has failed her up to this point. That, my beloved, is faith. That kind of faith is awesome and frightening at the same time. It’s awesome because I wish I had it but it’s frightening because despite my desire, I still run away from it.

This widow does what Jesus has been calling us to do for quite some time: give our whole lives to discipleship and service. Many of us are not capable of that. But, thanks be to God, our Lord God through Jesus Christ is capable. Jesus gave his life, literally. And when Jesus gave his life, it came with a promise. The promise is that none will suffer in God’s kingdom. There will be no poverty in the kingdom of God. Better yet, those who had to suffer in life will be given seats of honor and glory in God’s kingdom. This is good news for people like the widow, and I pray it is certainly good news for us. We aren’t able to give our whole lives. We know that. Sin stops us from doing that. But we confess and proclaim a savior who did and continues to give his whole life so that we may be free from suffering. We are surrounded by broken systems. But, people who live under the law continue to believe in and maybe even contribute to broken systems. We are a people of grace. We are a people of mercy. We are a people showered in love and forgiveness. We no longer need to put our hope in broken systems. We have a God whose might (m-i-g-h-t) is stronger than any system and stronger than any oppression. We serve a God that promises systems of oppression will be crushed, flipped upside down, and destroyed. All will be made free. No matter what burdens you, all will be made free.

Sermon for 11/4/18 John 11:32-44 All Saints Day

I find it strange that death is something we all have in common and yet we still struggle to find the words to speak about it. If you’ve stood in that receiving line at a visitation for a loved one, you’ve probably heard the phrase “I’m sorry for your loss” more than you care to. Yet, when we’re on the other side of that receiving line, we say the same thing. Can you imagine if we had the anger and frustration of Mary and Martha? When people say to us “I’m sorry for your loss” we responded “if Jesus had been here, our brother would not have died.” Our gospel story for today is one of my favorites for a few reasons. It speaks and supports very clearly that we have a God who keeps promises. We also have a savior who is stronger than death. And lastly, this story is so full of the raw human emotions we don’t always get in these stories; even Jesus himself is emotional.

It is challenging for me, even, at times to find the words to express my grief and lament about death as I wish I could. After all, I am someone who has been called to speak the promises of the resurrection life. And I really do believe in the promise of the resurrection. I believe that we all will be raised on the last day. Nonetheless, when I am personally touched by grief and death, I find words difficult. I think of my friend and fellow Pastor, Benjamin Ahles-Iverson who died way to young from cancer earlier this year. I think of my friend and college classmate Brian Hopf who also passed from cancer. And as I come ever closer to being with you all for (almost) 5 years, I think of those that I buried this past year. The longer I am here, the harder it gets. And I have a story for almost every single saint remembered this day. And if I don’t have a story for them, I have a story about their family or the way their legacy has lived on. So even for me, a trained professional, a trained theologian, there are times that death literally and figuratively stinks.

I also think that there are several who have experienced deaths that are not as traditional. Perhaps you changed jobs, lost your job, or retired and now your wrestling with the death of what once was. Maybe you had a child move out and go to college; that brings with it its own sense of loss. Others of you may have ended relationships whether romantic or friendships and with that comes a sense of grief and loss. Or perhaps you are just grieving the loss of civility in our communities. Whatever the situation may be, we seem to be surrounded by death and yes, it stinks. “Lord if you had been here….”

Mary, in her great lament, throws herself at the feet of Jesus, and in all of her grief basically yells at him. “Lord if you had been here.” I think all of us, on some level, can relate to this kind of grief. This is the kind of grief that finally slaps us in the face when we realize we actually cannot stop death. Mary, having nothing but love for her brother, would have done anything to have saved him. She couldn’t. But, her faith made her realize and recognize that Jesus could. But he wasn’t there when Lazarus died. And death came. Death came and settled in and had stayed for 4 days already when Jesus arrived. Mary had already surrendered to the idea that death would have the final say. Now, as Christians we know that’s not true. We know that death is not the end of our story. Yet, we still operate and talk sometimes as if it is the end of our story.

All too often we give death way more power than it deserves. This is not to say that we should ignore death. It is, after all, a fact of life. Death will happen to all of us at some point in time. But, we allow death to suck the air out of our lives. It consumes us in so many ways. I think we all know people who are alive but not really living. The more power we give to death, the more it will take from us. Let me say that again. The more power we give to death, the more it will take from us. Death, in all ways possible, robs us from life and from living. When we give death as much power as we do, we are forced to ask ourselves which God we worship: the God of life, hope, and resurrection, or a god of death, destruction, and the ends of our stories.

When we give death power, it sucks everything out of us, like I said. And sometimes, it even robs us of words. As I said before, words often fail us when death occurs. But one of the ways we continue to be stronger than death is to speak of our loved ones, the saints  that surround us. I have talked to too many people that want their loved ones remembered. Even if we just say their names, that would be enough. As we mark All Saints day today, maybe that’s the best we can hope for. We can hope that people pause for a moment, no matter how brief, and remember how much our dearly departed were loved. How much they are still loved! It doesn’t matter if your loved one has been gone for just a few months, or it’s been years, you still love them. And what a gift it would be for someone else to recognize that as well! Because the truth is this: death is awful and terrible and it stinks (in our story today, it literally stinks). Even if your loved one had been ill for sometime and death, in a weird way, was welcomed, it is still terrible and awful. Someone we love is no longer physically with us and the pain of that loss is very real. At the same time, death is also part of our reality.

We recognize the loss of our loved ones. We will pause and remember them. There also seems to be a fear that somehow, we will forget about those who have passed. But that won’t happen. But it is to us, as Christians, to speak the truth about death. Death is very painful. Death is very real. Death causes great anger, heartache, and suffering. Even when death is the answer to prayer, our hearts break and we weep and mourn. And for Christians, we must also speak another truth about death: it’s not the end. We can’t skip over death, but we have confidence that it is not the end. As I’ve said before, we cannot be Easter people without being Good Friday people as well.

Jesus proved he was stronger than death with three words: “Lazarus, come out.” We prove we are stronger than death every single time we show up here to worship. We prove that we still believe in something stronger than death even when society tells us we shouldn’t. We sing praises to God; words that are stronger than death. We eat the body and blood of Jesus; a meal that is stronger than death. And we proclaim the tomb empty on the third day and shout “alleluias!” to a world that would rather keep us quiet. Death may be part of our reality, my beloved, but it will never be part of our finality. We live in the hope that death never has the final word. For the saints who have gone before us we believe this, and we believe it for ourselves. Even when the words fail us in our grief, God’s actions, which always speak louder than words, will comfort us.

 

Sermon for 10/28/18 John 8:31-36 Reformation

Last year, the Lutheran church celebrated the 500th anniversary of the reformation. 500 years since Martin Luther, after an intense study of scripture, was brave and bold enough to question and challenge the Roman Catholic Church. Since then, we’ve had many incarnations of the reformation but nothing, in my opinion, as brave and bold as Martin Luther’s original reformation. At the same time, we are a church of reformers. We are a church that claims reformation as part of our core. Despite that proclamation, we are also a church with punchlines that revolve around not liking change. So where does that leave us? Perhaps reformers who fight reform at every corner? I don’t know. But what I do know is that it is more important than ever that we are a reforming church and I really believe that society needs a reforming church right now.

Often when people speak of a reformation, they quickly slip into nostalgia. This can be a dangerous habit. Many think reformation is more people in the pews, full Sunday school rooms, a healthy bottom line, hundreds of students in seminary, lots of students at our church colleges and on and on. You know…like we used to have. But reformation and nostalgia are not the same thing. And it’s good to remember where we’ve been. That helps us to figure out where we’re going. But we cannot be a reforming church if we’re constantly looking backwards. A reforming church is bold, unapologetic, centered on Christ, and takes seriously the ministry of hospitality. These 4 reasons are why I think society is hungry for a reforming church.

The reforming church is bold. So, what do I mean by that? Well to be bold means proclaiming and believing that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. We confess this to be truth. But, did you hear the difficult part of being a reforming church that is bold? It’s one thing to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, but it’s another thing to believe it. To be a reforming church we must believe what we confess for ourselves. If not, no one is going to believe us or the confessions, evangelism, or gospel that comes out of our mouths. Scripture for today says “if you continue in my word…” Another way of translating that could be “if you abide in my word.” To abide means that we are in relationship with Christ. As a reforming church, and specifically as Lutherans, we believe that this relationship has nothing to do with us. We cannot earn God’s love. We do nothing to get closer to God. God draws near to us despite our sins and shortcomings. If you don’t think that this is a bold proclamation, then perhaps I need to say it more often. To many in this world believe that something, anything must be done in order for Christ to love us. After all, it can’t be as simple as Jesus loving us just because. But, it is that simple. And that, my beloved, is bold.

The reforming church is unapologetic. I think this needs to be discussed a little bit other than me just saying that and leaving it there. Please understand, I think it is important for the church to apologize in the ways and places it has fallen short, and there are many. I think it is even more crucial for the church to apologize to the people she has wronged, and there are many. When I propose that a reforming church is unapologetic, I mean that we do not make excuses or shy away from being who we are. I will never apologize for the rituals that center us in Christ: communion and baptism. So, no. I’m not sorry that we only have one baptism. It’s what we confess. And no. I’m not sorry that I will give communion to anyone who will hold out their hands. I believe these two sacraments are the most intimate ways we feel the love of Christ. Who am I to deny these to anyone? Here’s the other thing about a reforming church: we’re not going to be all things to all people. And, as the kids say these days, #sorrynotsorry. I’m sorry that not everyone will find a home in this particular reforming church. At the same time, we cannot change ourselves to accommodate everyone because we will end up being nothing. We are Lutheran. Our identities are shaped by that.

The reforming church is centered in and on Christ. I think this is kind of a given, but how quickly we forget that. There is too much temptation to make church be about anything but Christ that we can forget why we gather week after week anyway. How are the lights? Is the band playing up to date songs? Is the Pastor preaching practical sermons that make me feel good about myself (because that is his only job)? Do they have a hip coffee shop in the gathering area? What isn’t asked is where is Christ? I have been in too many churches where it isn’t obvious who or what they are worshiping. There is no cross, there’s no picture of Jesus, there’s no mention of Christ or God in the preaching. In a time where the church has turned into a consumer’s product, the reforming church remains centered on Christ and him crucified. When the reforming church stays centered in and on Christ the temptation to worship anyone or anything else disappears.

Lastly, the reforming church takes seriously the ministry of hospitality. Believe it or not, I actually think this is the most controversial and challenging thing we as a reforming church could do. Why? Because there are getting to be fewer and fewer places in society where all really are welcome. And if we’re going to continue to grow into a reforming church and be challenged by Christ’s message, the ministry of hospitality must be one of the cornerstone missions of the church. And I understand that for some, this ministry of hospitality may not be comfortable. It’s one thing to welcome those who look, act, and dress like us. But how far does our hospitality go when it’s one of our LGBTQ siblings? How far does our hospitality go when it’s a person of color whose primary language isn’t English? How far does our hospitality go when a new member joins and they like to speak in tongues? I think that’s also why it’s important to be reformers together in community. We become like this amazing, beautiful rock tumbler. We actually bump up against one another and polish one another’s edges.

So yes, I do think God is calling us into a new reformation, my beloved. Our voices are important and we have something life-saving to say. What doesn’t change in the reformation is that we continue to stay abiding in Christ’s love. Because when we are supported by Christ’s love we have the strength to boldly proclaim the message the world needs to hear. And that message is this: you are loved. You are forgiven. You are adored by a God who loves you so much that God went all the way to the cross for you. There is nothing you have to do to earn this love. You are forever freed from your sin. That, my beloved, is some bold announcements for a new reformation. The freedom given to us in Christ, the love given to us in and through Christ, and our abiding in Christ will always be stronger than our sin. In a world that is constantly tempting us with bigger, better, and stronger, how novel an idea to reform and proclaim that we believe in Christ alone, through Word alone, by faith alone.

 

Sermon for 10/21/18 Mark 10:35-45

Sometimes I wonder if we fully grasp what it means to be a Christian in today’s society. Because, in all honesty, we’ve got it pretty easy. In this country, at least, we are not a minority. Our lives are not in danger because we’re Christian. We don’t have to gather in secret to worship. We do not run the risk of physical harm just because we’re Christian. Many of us wear symbols of our faith either through jewelry or tattoos and don’t think twice about it. But, I think that if we lived a life that Jesus lived and the life that he was asking the disciples to live, we wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. For so many of us, our faith is our lifestyle, but it is not our core identity. There’s not very many of us who have given up much, or anything, to follow Christ. But, that is exactly what Jesus is challenging the disciples and us to this week. A life of service and a life of humility.

This story is a complicated one. A part of the story that we don’t hear is that preceding this, Jesus tells about his death for the third time. Jesus doesn’t hold back. He tells them that he will be spat on, mocked, flogged, and killed. Immediately following that, James and John make their request to sit at his side, one on his right, one on his left. James and John are asking for seats of power. It’s as if (as one of my colleagues put it) they’re asking to be vice president and secretary of state. Soon, James and John will see one person on Jesus’ left, and one on his right, but they will be the criminals sentenced to hang with him. James and John showed unadulterated enthusiasm for following Jesus and being able to drink the cup and be baptized like Jesus. They don’t realize that they’re agreeing to being crucified. I have to admire their confidence.

We are probably just as confident. We enthusiastically claim the label of “Christian.” We quote Bible verses. We hang them in our homes. We teach the commandments to our children and grandchildren. We reach out into the world in the name of Christ. Absolutely none of this is a bad thing. We may not be as blunt as to outright ask Jesus for a position of power, like a seat on his left or right, but perhaps we think that doing all the right things will garner us favor with Christ. Maybe worse yet, perhaps we assume that our faithfulness to Christ will bring us riches. Not money necessarily, but health, friends, more members, and on and on.

I also wonder if James and John asked what they did because they were operating under an umbrella of fear. They asked Jesus for seats of power before any of the rest of the disciples could. What if there wasn’t enough to go around? How quickly they would forget their requests as soon as they saw what Jesus’ version of power looked like. We operate out of fear quite a bit as well. We hold on to so many things for a time period that has yet to come; it’s called “just in case.” What I find interesting about James and John’s request is that they asked on behalf of themselves. In that brief moment their fellow disciples moved from companions to competition. And despite pledging allegiance to Jesus, confessing our faith in him, and singing his praises, when push comes to shove, we choose fear over trust. We choose to put our confidence in our own abilities rather than in Christ. And we look out for ourselves rather than being concerned for our neighbors.

Jesus knows all of this. After all, Jesus knows the depths of our hearts; our deepest wishes and darkest fears. Knowing all this, he points the disciples and us to a life of service and to a life where we will be last on this earth, but first in God’s kingdom. And as a reminder and an example of how we are supposed to live this life, Jesus shows us how to live this life of service and humility. He shows us, James, John, and the rest of the disciples what this life will look like all the way to the cross. Do we want what Jesus has now? Do we want this power? Do we want to claim that we can handle it?

Here’s what’s frustrating for me in this reading. I know so many of you who have sacrificed a lot. I see it week after week. I see it as you rush in during the first hymn and sigh as you slump down into the pew frustrated that you didn’t make it on time after promising yourself you would…even with all the kids. I see the sacrifices made as I look in your eyes and listen to your voice. I ask how you are and you say “fine” but your eyes and voice tell me that you’re anything but. The worry of crop prices and a harvest challenged by mother nature is so very present. I see the sacrifices you make for yourselves, for your families, and for this church. And so when Jesus tells us once again to make more sacrifices, perhaps there is a small part of me that wants to yell at Jesus “how much more do you want?”

I mean, from the sounds of it, Jesus is asking (maybe challenging us) to follow him all the way to the cross. Jesus asks us through his actions and leadership if we’re willing to give up everything we know of comfort to follow him. Are we willing to lose our homes, jobs, friends, family, privilege, maybe even our good names, just to follow him? Again, Jesus! How much more do you want? Don’t you know what I’m going through already?

But Jesus was sent into this world to free us from our sin. Jesus came into this world to free us from ourselves. We may think we want power, prestige, and fame, but what will that cost? What will be the cost to our relationships? What will be the cost to our ethics and morals? Jesus came to challenge our ideas of what it looks like to have abundant life. Jesus came to challenge our ideas of what it looks like to have power. I think Jesus knows what we have sacrificed. All of us have had to sacrifice something in life. And maybe you feel like no one noticed. Like all of your hard work, your worries, your late hours, your pacing,  your whatever has gone unnoticed. But Jesus saw you.

The good news, my beloved, is that following Christ actually frees us from what we think we want and instead frees us to receive what we need. Let that sink in for just a moment. We ask Jesus for places of power. He asks if we’re willing to follow him all the way to a cross. The cross is where our best intentions go to die. The cross is where the feeling of not being enough goes to die. The cross is where all the sacrifices you have made are recognized and Jesus says “but wait! I have something better for you.” When we are a servant to all and last on the list, we have nothing but room to be filled up with Christ’s love. Christ frees us from the expectations of this world and prepares us for kingdom living. I don’t know about you, but that’s good news to me. God doesn’t expect me to be the world’s best Pastor, or the world’s best mom, wife, daughter, or friend or whatever. What God expects me to be is the best receptacle of love that I can be. All God desires for us is to open ourselves up to the love of God through Jesus. We don’t need seats of power, we don’t need to be rulers or titans for God to love us. Serve others. Serve God. God will love us. The sacrifices of this world are taken up in the cross. God will keep coming to us and for us in love. Even in the moments that we’d rather shoo him away; even in the moments we’d rather run from that love; even in the moments that we’d rather deny that love. God will come in love over and over again. Thanks be to God!

Sermon for 10/14/18 Mark 10:17-31

This reading tends to make people a little nervous. I have no idea why. I mean, it only talks about money a little bit. So, I’d like for you all to get out your wallets and checkbooks… nah I’m just kidding. It’s easy to take this reading and turn it into a stewardship lecture. We should give away more of our money. We can’t take it with us. You’ve never seen a Brinks truck following a hearse now have you? So, give it all away now. Rest assured, that is not what this sermon is going to be about. Now, don’t get me wrong. I hope you all are generous. I know you all are generous. I pray that you have made plans for yourself, your family, and your monetary goods upon your death. But, I’m not about to stand up here and lecture you on money today. At the same time, if you have an extra million or something burning a hole in your pocket, let’s talk.

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s a question we all kind of want to ask but we’re afraid of the answer, aren’t we? I mean, I’ll admit, I’m a little curious. But I’m not going to ask. In my heart I know, as a Lutheran, we don’t believe in what is called “works righteousness.” Meaning, we don’t believe that we can do anything to earn our way to eternal life. Eternal life is a gift from God. However, that doesn’t make my heart want to know the answer to that question for myself. Life would be so much easier with some kind of checklist for salvation, wouldn’t it? We do x,y, and z and bam! Eternal life! But I think we all know that it’s not that easy. Life as a Christian isn’t a series of boxes or tasks we can check off and be done with it. It is a lifestyle; a way of being, and acting, and moving in the world.

Jesus tells the man he lacks one thing. Then proceeds to give him the task of selling everything he owns and giving the money to the poor. But, here’s the thing: Jesus tells him he lacks one thing. The man is rich beyond rich. He has everything he could possibly need when it comes to material goods. How in the world could he lack one thing? I think that what he lacks isn’t necessarily a thing, but a trait. As I started to think about this more and more I wondered what the man lacked. What cannot be purchased? What cannot be stockpiled like goods to pull off a shelf? And then it occured to me: the man lacks compassion.

Now, I don’t think that he was a heartless man. I don’t think that he set out purposefully to not have compassion. I wonder if his money turned him compassion blind. We know that he has a great deal of respect for Jesus. We know that he has tried his best to follow Jesus and the commandments. But, remember, sin is whatever keeps us from a full and right relationship with God. Sin takes many forms. And yes, sometimes it is money. But, it can be other things just as easily. Because the man had money, more than he probably knew what to do with, he wasn’t able to fully see the suffering in the world. He wasn’t able to fully relate to those whom Jesus would be ministering to. He wasn’t able to fully live into the idea of having to rely on God alone for all things.

Again, I think the man had a good heart. But having a good heart and being compassionate are not the same things. Jesus knew that the man would only be able to gain what he was lacking by giving up everything that caused him to be blind so to speak. His money served as blinders to the hurting world. I’m guessing it was easy for the man to see a problem in the world and throw money at that problem. However, the problem may not have needed money, but a compassionate, listening, loving, caring person. This revelation has personally made me uncomfortable. I think it makes me uncomfortable because I’ve realized that putting money into a problem is so much easier than being compassionate.

Is that a terrible thing to say? Does thinking that make me a terrible person? At least I am willing to confess that, I suppose. Here’s what I’ve come to realize: when I can throw money at a problem, it allows me to keep my distance. And the fact that we all live in the richest nation in the world allows the majority of us to throw money at problems. Even the poorest person you may know is still infinitely richer than most in the world. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t donate funds and money to whatever causes are close to our hearts. However, money affords us the luxury of not getting to close. We are able to keep those people and their problems at a distance as if whatever they’re going through is contagious. Additionally, we also don’t always have the ability to enter into problems with people and show them compassion. Sometimes money is the best resource.

For instance, Hurricane Michael just hit Florida coast. For us to physically travel down there to help and show our compassion in person may actually be more of a hinderance. Often after natural disasters, people with the heart to be compassionate are told to stay away. In times like this, our money actually does help more than our presence. But there are instances when problems and challenges do need compassion. Additionally, compassion usually goes hand in hand with humility. It can be very humbling to actually know you can’t fix a problem by throwing money at it. What in the world is left when we’re not trying to take care of a problem with money (because we’re trying to do what Jesus asks) and our compassion has us spiritually and emotionally tired. What in the world is left? Jesus. That’s what.

There’s an important detail of this gospel story today that should not be skipped over. When the man told Jesus that he had kept all of the commandments since birth, we are told that Jesus looked at him and loved him. And Jesus loved him before he told the man to sell all of his things. Jesus is modeling that compassion for us to us. What we need most, Jesus has already given to us and will continue to give to us: love and compassion. First and foremost, before anything else, Jesus loves us. Jesus doesn’t give us a handful of cash and expect us to feel better. (I mean, it wouldn’t hurt, but in the long run, that feeling wouldn’t last.) Jesus does exactly what he always does: models for us and showers us with compassion.

Compassion breaks down walls. Money allows us to keep issues, whatever they may be (including people) at an arm’s length. But in order to engage in compassion, we have to become intimate with someone. We have to be willing to look at one another in the eyes, listen to one another, maybe even hold hands in prayer. Compassion is what allows us to truthfully say “I don’t know the answers. I don’t have the answers. But, I love you and I’m here for you.” Even in those moments where we’d rather take the easy way out (that is, forgoing compassion) Jesus still looks at us and loves us. What must we do to inherit eternal life? Follow Jesus. Follow Jesus in every possible way. Walk with the forgotten. Feed the hungry. Work for justice. Basically, be compassionate. Jesus loves you. Love like Jesus.

Sermon for 10/7/18 Mark 10:2-16

I don’t do this very often, but I think I’d like to start this sermon out by inviting all of you to take a good, deep, cleansing breath. And as you breathe in and out, let me assure you that God loves all of you. And at the same time remind you that absolutely nothing comes between you and the love of God. So breathe deep and relax. This sermon is not going to be about marriage or divorce. I invited you to breathe because when the topic of divorce comes up at church, walls are almost immediately constructed. I am going to guess that all of us have been touched by divorce in one way or another. You have either been divorced, had a family member divorce, maybe your parents divorced, or you have a good friend that has gone through a divorce. For many of us, it’s several of those. My sister is divorced, my uncle is divorced, and a good friend of mine from seminary is in the middle of a divorce right now. And sadly, all too often, a place that should be a place of refuge: the church, often becomes a place of judgement. So hear this now, my beloved, if the church, any church, has made you feel unloved, unwelcome, or unworthy simply because your marital status changed, please accept my apologies. Life is hard enough. The church should be a place of love and welcome. And if that was not the case for you, I am so terribly sorry that you were hurt in that way.

No one ever gets married with the intentions of getting divorced. Sometimes it is for the best. And we have to remember that new life comes from death. But, with today’s reading it is especially important to remember that divorce as we know it was nothing like divorce during Jesus’ time. Marriage as we know it was nothing like marriage during Jesus’ time. It might be helpful for us to remember that marriage during Jesus’ time was usually an agreement between families (more than likely the patriarch of the family) with the woman having little to no say in whom she would be married to. It was often a decision of economics and not love. A woman could not divorce her husband. Even in the case of abuse or infidelity, a woman had no power (and most likely, no money) in order to divorce her husband. A man, however, could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever.

In Jesus’ time there was a hierarchy of people. Men, of course, were at the top. At the bottom of the pecking order were divorced women and children. Even widowed women were a bit higher up than divorced women. During Jesus’ time, divorced women were often divorced for one main reason: they were barren. If a woman could not conceive a child she was viewed as broken or damaged goods. Of course, as a woman who had a terrible time conceiving a child, I really hate this explanation and I know I am far from damaged goods. So a divorced woman along with children was the lowest thing you could be in society. Little did society know that Jesus preferred the lowly. Little did they know, Jesus preferred justice for those that are forgotten. Little did they know that Jesus had no use of power and prestige. Little did they know that the women and children were just the kind of people that Jesus preferred.

While the majority of this conversation in today’s reading takes place between a Pharisee and Jesus, the disciples must have been nearby, listening intently. As they and Jesus continue to make their way to Jerusalem, Jesus is always looking for ways and opportunities to teach and show the disciples what he expects of them as disciples. And he continues to encourage them to use their gifts for the benefit of those that society often forgets: the children, the poor, and those with no status. Basically, Jesus encourages them to remember the vulnerable.

But too often the Pharisees and the disciples were too concerned about what the law says. The law is important. It gives us order. I’m not saying that we should completely ignore the law. In fact, knowing and obeying (or at least attempting to obey) the law gives us a greater appreciation of grace. The law enforces our need for grace. The law has had and will always have a place in our society. However, when we live our lives only by the law, we miss out on that grace. When we live our lives only by the law, it is very black and white and we live in a gray world. Jesus knew the law. But his concern is and always was for the least of these in society.

The way that divorce worked in Jesus’ time (and often still does) there are people that are left unfairly treated and disproportionately forgotten and abandoned. That was Jesus’ concern. It is always his concern: those who society would rather cast out, forget about, and leave abandoned. And why? Because society doesn’t want to deal with those that we only view as broken and a problem. But see, that’s Jesus’ specialty. Jesus favors those that society views as broken and a problem. He sees them, really sees them, and desires to bless them. And when Jesus blesses them, he not only verbally gives them a blessing, but actually lays hands on them proving that no one is unreachable.

You don’t have to be divorced or be a child to understand this feeling. Society always has ways of telling us that we should be forgotten. Perhaps it is divorce. But there are other ways society gives the message of “you’re not important.” Sometimes it’s because of our job or income (or maybe lackthereof) and sometimes it’s because of our physical status, abilities, or even our visual beauty. Our modern day Pharisees always find a way of getting the message across that we are untouchable, unloveable, and should be cast out for not living perfect lives. And Jesus doesn’t have any of that. Not then, not now, not ever. God favors the forgotten. God favors those whose powers, abilities, and class have been stripped of them. God favors those that society throws away.

It is important for us to remember, my beloved, that it is exactly when you feel forgotten that Christ remembers and is with you the most. God sent Jesus into the world to upturn the world. Jesus came so that the powerful may be humbled, so that the weak may be made strong, so that the lowly would be lifted up. This has not changed. God’s favor for the weak may not always be evident in this world; it may only be evident in God’s kingdom that is to come. But, Gospel says it will come. And this should either make us very relieved or very worried. The good news today, my beloved, is that if you feel forgotten, abandoned, untouchable, or even like you are damaged goods, you are Christ’s people. You are the people that Christ preferred. God sees you as beautifully and wonderfully made. And all of us have a bit of brokenness in us. In God’s kingdom we will be made whole. In God’s kingdom we will receive the love we so deeply desire and so deeply deserve. Thanks be to God!