Sermon for 5/28 John 17:1-11

I’m not usually one for eavesdropping. In fact, if I find myself doing it, I immediately internally scold myself and move along. But, have you ever eavesdropped and heard something wonderful? What about eavesdropping and hearing something wonderful about yourself? Who doesn’t like a little ego boost now and again? It can feel really good to hear positive things about yourself. Maybe you’ve overheard your spouse singing your praises to someone over the phone. Or perhaps you’ve heard your kids telling other kids about their awesome parents. Maybe you’ve overheard your boss or coworker. Whatever the case may be, there is something lovely about hearing someone speak positively about you.

In today’s Gospel text, we get the chance to eavesdrop on Jesus. And honestly, we’re not even eavesdropping. We’re not even up to anything sneaky. Jesus is praying. And unlike other Gospels where he goes off somewhere by himself and prays, he instead prays at the dinner table right in front of the disciples. He prays out loud so that the disciples, and us, can hear him. By the way, don’t ever ask Jesus to pray at your dinner party. This prayer actually goes on for around 26 verses or so.  This prayer is part of the farewell discourse in John. We’ve spent almost 3 chapters listening to Jesus say goodbye to his disciples and prepare for his death. Maybe it’s appropriate for Jesus to end his time with them in prayer.

How do you feel when someone prays for you? Not when they say they are going to pray for you, but actually prays for you right then and there on the spot? It can be awkward, can’t it? I mean, I pray for people all the time, it’s part of my job description. But to have someone pray for me is not a feeling I am used to. I trust that you all pray for me on your own time. But to pray for me with me, and with me present is a totally different thing. When someone has prayed for me in my presence, the first thing I feel is guilt. I feel like I don’t deserve such a grand gesture. And I have a hard time being in the moment. My mind starts racing and I have a hard time listening to what the other person is saying. Instead, I’m busy thinking “will they want me to pray for them? What will I say? I feel like this is really personal. Should I be letting this person in like this?” Then, before I know it, the person praying says “amen” and I have no clue what has happened.

And maybe the disciples don’t fully understand what is happening either. After all, the son of God, the savior of the world, the one who would die on a cross to take away all of their sins and ours, is praying for the disciples and us….out loud! On the scale of “big deals” this is huge! Jesus could have prayed for a lot of things, himself included, but instead, he lifts up those whom God gave him: the disciples. Jesus prays for the things that concern him the most. The ideas and concepts that take up the most room in his heart, soul, and mind. He lifts up, verbally, that which is most important to him. And so, as he prays, he prays that we all come to know God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because for Jesus, this isn’t about him. Jesus doesn’t want the focus to be on him, what he has done, or what he is about to endure. Jesus desires for his life to be a light of sorts that shines on God, God’s love and God’s saving and redeeming actions.

Take a moment and think about that. What difference does it make for you personally that Jesus prayed for you? Be selfish for a moment. Don’t think about what difference it made for your family, your co-workers, or even for me. But think about yourself for a moment. Jesus prayed for you. And the amazing thing is (at least for me) is that Jesus didn’t pray for me to repent or leave my sinning ways behind. No, Jesus prayed that I would know God and God’s love through him. For me, that is mind blowing. Next week we will mark Pentecost, a celebration of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. The church the disciples started and the church we continue to work hard to grow. Because the empty tomb isn’t the end of the story, it’s just the beginning. We have seen and experienced all that God can do through Jesus Christ now it’s our turn to go out into the world sharing these stories, spreading the good news, and reminding people that they are loved. And if we’re going to share that word, perhaps it is best that we are reminded of it ourselves first and foremost.

As Jesus prays for us, he prays for something very interesting. He says “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” And while we may not realize it, this is where this discipleship stuff gets tricky. The first part is pretty humbling: Jesus is praying that God’s protection will be on and over us. Again, pretty amazing. But, the second part of that statement is difficult. Jesus prays that as he and God are of one being, one person, one purpose, that we, their followers, also be one. That means no matter what we call ourselves, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, even just “seeker” that we set those distinctions aside and embrace the only title that matters: beloved children of God. In theory, it sounds easy enough. It’s easy enough until you realize specific denominations got started because those who were supposed to be one couldn’t agree to the point of splintering. You all know that there aren’t denominational sections of heaven, right?

The idea of being one is difficult. It gets even harder when we realize that Jesus is praying for everyone to be one. This means that Jesus is praying for us to be one with those we disagree with, with those who have done us wrong, even for us to be one with those we consider the “other.” Now this idea and this prayer just gets uncomfortable. But remember, Jesus’ main goal with this prayer is that we would all come to know God and the love of God through Jesus. It is impossible for us to know love when we don’t have the ability to look at a sibling in Christ as an ally and not an enemy. So, what do we do? We pray.

We humble ourselves and lay our troubles at the foot of the cross. We admit that what Christ is asking of us is almost impossible if we attempt it by ourselves. So we call on God. We rely on the Holy Spirit. We trust that there is enough of God’s love to go around. We pray for ourselves, our friends, our families, and yes, even our enemies. A strange thing happens when you start to pray for your enemies: the heart starts to soften. It may not happen overnight, but it happens. It is almost impossible to be in a stance of anger and hate when you are on your knees praying. I don’t pretend that this is easy. Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy. This is why this prayer didn’t have a date, time, or expiration. This is probably a prayer that will continue for quite some time. This kingdom work stuff isn’t for the weak, friends. The work is hard, the pay is terrible, the feedback is usually negative. But, the reward is amazing glory.

I am going to give you a challenge this week. I want you to pray for someone. I want you to pray for someone, out loud, in front of them. Pray that they are reminded of God’s love. Pray that the discord in their lives disappears. Pray that their life in the Lord is strengthened. Pray without expecting prayer in return. Pray like God is listening because God does. Pray like the cross mattered, because it did. Pray like the tomb is just the start of our stories. And then when you are done, come and eat, and pray again.

Sermon for 4/30/17 Luke 24:13-35

It never fails that when the weather is nice, I will get a text sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. It comes from Heather, my therapist, and it usually only says two words “we walking?” Sometimes I beat her to it and let her know if we are walking or not. Heather’s office isn’t that far from the dike, and so, we take the opportunity to walk and talk. This was originally her idea, which didn’t surprise me. She’s really into fitness and is the kind of person that runs for fun. She gave me a warning “there are people who will see us together. They might know what you do. They might know what I do.” She was basically giving me a heads up that our therapy session would be outside, open to the world, and whomever we might run into. She never tells anyone she is my therapist (out of respect for me) but I don’t keep secrets. There are times when our walk is a nice brisk pace and we can manage to get 2-2 ½ miles in during the session. There have been a few times when my own self revelation has made it necessary for us to stop walking. But we always start off the same way: in front of her office, laces tied, and her saying “so…what’s up?” And away we go.

I thought about our walks as I read this walk to Emmaus story this week. And I have come to realize that it’s not the distance of the walk, it’s not the terrain that matters, it’s not necessarily even the conversation, but sometimes your walking companion makes all the difference. The disciples had been walking along the road; it was around a 7 mile journey. I am sure that in many ways, it felt longer. These two had become friends. And now, they lamented the death of their friend Jesus as they walked along the way. I doubt this was a record-breaking pace they were setting. And sure, while they might have been walking a normal pace (whatever that is) they were most likely weighed down by grief, disbelief, and maybe even disappointment.

These are two people who (literally) sat at Jesus’ feet and now, when he comes walking along the road with them, they don’t even recognize him. Usually if someone joins your conversation, you know them. The conversation that follows is fascinating. “What are you talking about” nosy Jesus wants to know. And Cleopas says (paraphrasing) “Have you been living under a rock? Don’t you know the things that have happened?” And Jesus’ response is so loving, so tender, and so amazing that we just might miss it. “What things” he asks? This is Jesus’ version of “so…what’s up?” Jesus is creating space for mourning, for anger, for grief, for misbelief, for all of the emotions that go along with death. More importantly, Jesus is listening.

It’s important for us to remember that Easter Sunday does not erase, undo, or reverse Good Friday. That needs to be repeated: Easter Sunday does not erase, undo, or reverse Good Friday. Jesus died a very real death. It was a very real, very painful death, filled with suffering and agony. Death happened. Jesus wasn’t playing dead, he wasn’t faking it, he wasn’t just “asleep,” he was all the way dead. His friends and followers witnessed this. They witnessed him carrying his own torture device. They witnessed as his executors drove nails into his hands. They witnessed it all. I cannot even begin to imagine that kind of pain. When Jesus asks “what things” he gives room for the disciples to express all of the pain that accompanied them and continues to dwell in them as they mourn their friend.

If you have a friend that offers you space, you know what a gift this is. We so often want to fix, not listen. We want to offer solutions without fully understanding the problem. And sometimes, we are tempted to join our friend in their situation. What I mean is that when a friend is complaining, even about something mundane (like bills or laundry) we tend to agree. We support our friends, right? But is it always for their good? We join in the lamentations “I totally understand, I also have 9 loads of laundry waiting for me.” Or maybe “I know! Visa called me like 4 times last week. I sent them straight to voicemail.” And maybe what our friends need, maybe what we need every once in awhile is not to be fixed, not to be offered solutions, not even to be given solidarity. What we need is the space to voice our heart, no matter how wonderful or how painful that will be.

And yes, while Jesus does offer this space, he follows the space with a bit of a lecture. However, at the end of the lecture, he gathers his friends for a meal. He takes bread, breaks it, blesses it, and feeds his friends. It is in that feeding that the disciples recognize their fellow traveler for who he really is: the risen Christ. And if you go back and read the passage again, did Jesus say anything while he was doing this? No. He was leaving space for silence, for contemplation, for pain, for suffering, for mourning, and for discovery. Jesus feeds the disciples, just like before his death, and by doing so, he brings them back into community.

In this feeding, they are reminded of his love, his care, and his mercy. They are also reminded of their new identities as disciples (instead of fishermen). They are also reminded that Jesus has always and will always provide for them. And this is all done without Jesus saying a word. How comfortable are you in the silence?  How often do you leave room for silence? Are you quick to fill silence with noise because it makes you nervous? Maybe you don’t like silence because it makes you uncomfortable. But friends, as I have said before, if we are talking, we miss listening to God. Because it is in our silence that God moves, acts, and speaks.

Brothers and sisters, we are surrounded by a lot of noise. Some of it is helpful noise, but a lot of it really is just noise. What happens when we start to rid our world of noise? Turn off the radio, mute the commercials, resist the urge to interrupt; something happens. We really start to listen. We start to enter into deeper relationships with one another. We start to see one another as a fellow travelers on the road: fed by Christ. Offer one another space. It will feel a little weird at first, maybe even a bit unnatural. But it will become easier the more you practice. Offer space. And in that space, make room for the Holy. Make room for all possible emotions. Make room for God.  We don’t intentionally NOT listen to one another, it’s just habit. But maybe we don’t listen to one another as a protection for our emotions. We are surrounded by people we have the ability to love and who have the ability to love us. And that happens in the silence.

Sermon for 3/26/17 John 9:1-41

Much like last week, I could preach on this text for a month straight and still not say everything I’d like to. It’s a great story that often gets misinterpreted. People have said this story is about spiritual blindness. People have used this as proof that our children are punished for their parents sins. But here’s the thing: this man didn’t ask to be healed. He didn’t cry out to Jesus in the hopes of regaining his sight. And the other thing is, he was born blind. And he wasn’t born blind just so God could make a point later and have Jesus give the man sight. This text is a great example of “why do bad things happen to good people.” That question is often called a “theodicy” question. Friends, we’ve been trying to answer questions like these since humanity first started walking the earth. And it’s not always “why do bad things happen to good people” it’s questions like “if God was really present in that school then why did that school shooting happen?” Or “if that person is such a faithful Christian, then why did they get cancer?” And as frustrating as it may make us, we just may not know the answer to some questions on this side of heaven.

But, what I do know for sure is that God continues to act and move in the midst of all of these bad things. And we, lucky and blessed as we are, continue to experience grace upon grace. There’s a lot of dialogue in this reading today so you may have missed a crucial sentence and statement. The blind man (whose name we never get) is being spoken about around verses 18-23 or so. We do this often, don’t we? We speak of and about those who are differently abled than us instead of directly to them. The Jews are speaking to his parents and asking them how their son can now see. And I love the parents answer “Ask him; he is of age.” And the Jews press on, calling to the man. First they give glory to God and say “we know that this man is a sinner.”

They said this because they believed that being blind was some kind of punishment for sin; either your own or your parents. And again, I love how this man answers. “I do not know whether he is a sinner” (and that wording is a bit strange since he is speaking of himself). “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” And in that moment, this man, the man born blind from birth, gives those around him, most of whom were disbelieving that anything like this could even ever happen, a working definition of grace upon grace. For us, sometimes the way that God works has no explanation. And that is so frustrating, isn’t it? We are such black and white people. We want to know how things work. We want to know how the world operates. We want to know that up is up and down is down and that yes means yes and no means no. God laughs at our desires and instead gives us grace. And when we try and explain grace to someone else we often sound like the blind man. “Look. I dunno what happened. I was this but now I’m this.” I suffered for years and now I’m cured. I was hopeless and now I’m starting to see the world in color. I had just given up and then the phone rang. Whatever it may be. What happens between the “then” and “now” is grace upon grace and sometimes we just can’t explain it.

We don’t hear from Jesus in this reading from verse 7 all the way to verse 35. All the verses in between, everyone around this man was trying to figure out how he was able to see. They were trying to figure out how grace works. So, see! We’ve been doing this for centuries. Trying to figure out how grace works. We also try and figure out how grace affects us and those around us as a way of sizing one another up. “Did he or she get more grace than I did?” Or we get mad at grace. I’ve done that. More than once. I’m not proud. “I can’t believe that person was given grace! Doesn’t God know what kind of person that is??” Yes. And God knows what kind of person you are as well.

But see, grace isn’t measured. Grace isn’t based on anything we’ve done or not done. Grace isn’t earned. Grace certainly cannot be bought. Grace cannot be hoarded. Grace cannot be rejected (although we may try). We cannot stand in the way of grace. And we often cannot explain it. Grace is simply the presence of Jesus. And grace, in the most complicated way, is the presence of Jesus. Grace comes to us in ways that the world probably think are pretty normal: in water and in bread and wine. Grace doesn’t come to us with fireworks, big banners, or much to-do. But instead, it sneaks in and infiltrates our lives to the point that we know we’ve been changed, but we have no idea how. “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” And maybe that’s all the testimony we need for God’s grace.

Maybe the only thing we need to testify to as disciples is that we were blind but now we see. We were lonely but now we belong. We were lost but now we are found. Grace relieved our fears. Grace protects us. It serves as a compass, always pointing us to our true north: Jesus Christ. The only thing in this world that can give us life. Jesus and him crucified are the only thing that can save us. Our money can’t save us. Our looks can’t save us. Our business can’t save us. Even any good reputation that we’ve built for ourselves can’t save us. We certainly can’t save ourselves. Only God through Jesus Christ can save us. Grace is wakes us up yelling “sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14b). Because even though you may have a heartbeat. Even though you have a pulse. Even though you have blood flowing through your veins, can you really live without grace?

As hard as this is, part of being a Christian means being okay with saying “I don’t know how it happened, but I know it happened and I know it happened to me.” People will push you for answers. People will question you until they are blue in the face. But that’s okay. Some people don’t understand grace. I don’t understand grace. All I know is that I can’t live without it and that I would be blind without it.   

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 9/18/16 Luke 16:1-13

If you thought to yourself “well….that sounds like a confusing story, I don’t quite understand it all, thank goodness Pastor is here to explain it to me” have I got some good news for you! I don’t understand it either. I thought about the various things I could say to you off and on all week long. I knew I didn’t want to talk about money. It’s not because I’m afraid to talk about money. And it certainly isn’t because this text doesn’t talk about money, it does obviously. I didn’t necessarily want to focus solely on money this week because it’s not as easy as saying “worship God, don’t worship your money.” Money is a complex issue and means something different for everyone. Instead what I want to talk about today is self care. Stick with me, I promise it’ll all come together. I also want to talk about self care because I’m horrible with self care.

There are endless magazine articles, books, webinars, etc…on how to have the perfect balance in your life. Maybe it’s the work-home balance, the friends and family balance, whatever 2 forces you want to pit against one another, it’s always about balance. There is a misnomer that indeed, we can have it all! While at the same time we look at others around us, look at how they live their lives, and wonder “how do they do it all?” Really, can we all just agree to give up on the idea that we all have balance in our lives? Can we just give up the facade that we all have our shit together and just be honest with one another? Because the truth is this: the idea of balance exists to make us feel horrible.

There is no way that balance can exist in our lives because the focus of our attention changes day to day, maybe even minute by minute. Think about it like this: if you have 3 buckets that you are trying to fill with water and one springs a leak, are you going to keep trying to fill the other 2 up or are you going to stop and fix the leak? So let’s just stop pretending we have it all together or that balance is a good thing. There are people, tasks, and events in our lives that are just going to get more attention to others, that’s as simple as it is. Can we all just agree that we are going to stop trying to attain the unattainable goal of balance in our lives?

Now, please understand, I’m not advocating for chaos in our lives, but be willing to be flexible to have a little give and take. See, in today’s Gospel, Jesus isn’t chastizing the wealthy, although I can understand how it sounds like that. Instead, Jesus is calling our attentions to our loyalities. Jesus is calling attention, yes, to God, but also to whatever loyalties we have that draw us away from God and turn our attention elsewhere. Jesus is calling our attention to the ways that we spend our time, efforts, energy, and yes, money being creatures that God did NOT create us to be. When we’re not fully living into who God created us to be, we’re not being good to ourselves. And when we’re not being good to ourselves, we’re not being good to God. Let me be clear, being good to yourself, engaging in self care, is not a sacrifice or self serving; it does not make you a martyr. As strange as it sounds, being good to yourself points to the saving work of God and it may even give others hope of salvation.

Stick with me here, and follow closely, okay. When you take time to care for yourself, to feed yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, you are, in an essence, stating that you actually cannot do it all. When you rest or care for yourself, you allow others to see that they don’t need you. People are able to accomplish things without you because they are relying on God (instead of you). I once was asked a very simple question: “why Jesus?” The question basically was “why do you need/want Jesus in your life?” And the best answer I could come up with at the time (and I still believe it) is “because I cannot save myself.” When you take the time to care for yourself, you are a living, breathing example of God’s salvation. If we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need Jesus, that’s for sure.

Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters. So, we cannot serve God and money. We cannot serve our job and our family. We cannot serve our boss and our hobbies. We cannot serve the desire to sleep and technology. Balance is a fallacy of human desires. When you try to serve anything but God, you will feel empty. And so God calls us to rest; to partipate in self-care. God calls us to sabbath. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with taking a break. Perhaps when we start to feel “off kilter” (so to speak) it’s because we’ve been working so hard to balance everything and that’s impossible. Brothers and sisters, there is only one savior and we are not him. There is only one who gives life, and we’re not him. There is only way to salvation, and it’s not through us.

And here’s the amazing thing, when we finally give in to God’s call to rest, the thing that God does is hospitality and comfort. God feeds us, washes us, clothes us (with mercy), allows us to rest, and ultimately, loves us. Don’t be afraid to say “no” every once in a while. And if someone says “why can’t you….” do whatever it is. Speak about God. Speak to God. Tell others “I’m going to rest. God is calling me to do that and that is what I am going to do because my salvation, and yours, is not up to me.” Will this be easy? Nope. Being busy and trying to balance everything is the American way. Will it be worth it? Totally. Think about the 23rd psalm: “he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.” It’s not “he leads me beside chaos and ball-juggling, he challenges me to keep going….” No. God invites us to a life of calm and rest. Let’s do away with the myth of balance and just serve the one who found that balance meant two arms outstretched and feed crudely balanced and nailed. We can’t save ourselves, friends. Let the scales tip in favor of God.

Sermon for 10/5/14 Matthew 21:33-46

This is an interesting and a bit of a violent text to have on a Sunday when we are celebrating the harvest. Such as it is, the occasion to gather, give thanks to God, and to joyously come together to once again mark the relationships we have formed is always lovely. When I speak of relationships, of course I mean the relationships that we form with one another. But, I also mean the relationships we have formed with the other congregations as we once again participate in the Food Resource Bank program. And I also want to celebrate, or perhaps lament, the relationship that so many of you have to the land.

So many of you know that farming has not always been in my vocabulary. I learned a lot on internship and all of you have been so gracious to teach me more and more every day. There are still occasions when I see a piece of equipment in a field and I just gawk and say “I wonder what that thing does.” And if I were to try and explain whatever I saw to you I’m almost positive I would sound a bit silly—but I’d be willing to take the risk anyway. All of this to say I also want to celebrate today the relationship that all of us have to the land. And ALL of us have a relationship to the land whether we farm it or not. This year, so far, seems to be a pretty okay year. I know many of you still have corn or beans in the field; but from what I’ve heard so far, things are looking okay. We might have a celebration year. But I also know that there have been many years where it hasn’t been great and the lament is hearty.

Our ties to the land are much stronger than many people realize. Before becoming a pastor and learning the language of farming I would drive past corn fields having no idea what all that corn was used for and why was it so brown? Wouldn’t you want to pick it while it was still green? It’s dead now, right? And I thought things like “what do you mean those are soybeans and not weeds?” I fear, my brothers and sisters, that our society is moving further and further away from knowing where their food comes from and we are moving further and further away from knowing how the American farmer really (seriously) keeps this country moving forward.

People, I’m sure, might be surprised to know that as they drive past those corn fields that the ethanol used to help fill up their car started as corn. That the soda they are drinking started out as corn. That the burger they are munching on was probably a cow that ate corn. All while driving past fields upon fields of beautiful stalks that beckon for us, for all of us to listen. Listen as the corn tells us the story of how, year after year after year, it provides not only for this community but also for families and communities world wide.

Our Gospel today tells us “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” I highly doubt that as any of you prepare to fire up your combines and grain carts that you think “well, here I go…collecting the fruits of the kingdom.” However, the relationship that we have to the land, to other congregations, and to the FRB program certainly produces the fruits of the kingdom. Micah 6:8 tells us “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” When we use crops, time, and money to train those in Honduras, Guatemala, Uruguay, the Congo, Kenya, Cambodia, Nepal, and many many other places around the globe we are doing exactly what the Lord has commanded us to do.

While a cart full of grain may not look like fruits of the kingdom to you, it looks like a sustainable well watering system to someone in Guatemala. A cart full of grain may not look like fruits of the kingdom, but to someone in Honduras, it’s seeds that produce much better in that environment. Those grain carts may not look like a lot to the average human eye, but to those who benefit from the FRB program, it means life, an opportunity to feed their families and the village around them, and ultimately, it may mean freedom. All of what we might normally take for granted as Americans is gifted to others in the gift of beans and corn.

The work of being a disciple, the work of being Christ to others in the world isn’t always easy. The work of being Christ and sharing God’s message to others in the world isn’t always comfortable either. However, when you take something that you already love, like farming, and combine it with helping others, how much easier is that Gospel to spread? In the gifts of the FRB program the message that we are sending to others is the same message that God sends us: you are not forgotten about. You are worth something. I love you. I care for you. Thanks for trusting me as we walk through this together. All of these words, all of these sayings are things that God says to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I love you. You are not forgotten about. You are worth something. I care for you. Trust me as we walk through this together.

And while it may seem like nothing to you, when we give the gift of water, grain, machinery, experience or time to those in other countries through the FRB program what we are saying is the same thing to those in need. My brother, my sister: you are not forgotten about. I care for you. This is easier when we go about this together!

Friends, all of us are engaged in kingdom work. You don’t have to be a farmer to bring about God’s kingdom in the here and now. The fruits of the kingdom are as easily given in meals, time, donation, listening, and advocating as they are given in the gift of grain. As of right now, we only have one planet to live on. I give thanks to God for all of you who steward the land as a gift from God. I give thanks to God for all of you who support those who are good stewards of the land. I give thanks to God the ecumenical work that reminds us not only are we tied to the land but we are tied to one another. Most of all, I give thanks to God who created this land and saw fit to call it “good.”

What’s this all about anyway?

Welcome to “taking stalk.”  This will be a look into my life as I live out my various vocations in life.  Taking stalk got its name because my soon to be ministry setting is a rural context and I am surrounded by corn fields.  Thus taking “stalk” like a corn stalk.  But I also like taking stock of a situation.

This blog will highlight daily ministry, my life as a wife, mom, daughter, friend, maybe some recipes, and even the occasional humorous post.  I’ll do the best to give you a smile or at least something amusing to read while you’re looking to waste time on the internet.

Legal disclaimer: my blog represents me and only me.  All parties are innocent until proven guilty.  Happy reading, friends.