Sermon for 2/16/20 Matthew 5:21-37

And to think, you could have skipped church today. But no. You’re here. With that scripture. Just sitting out there now. And how in the world will I deal with all of that in 10-12 minutes? Let’s talk about the most obvious piece of the elephant first: divorce. Yeah, we’re just going to dive right in and not waste time. I understand that no one gets married with the intention of getting divorced. But, it happens. I know some of you are divorced. Maybe your parents are divorced. Or, maybe, like me, you have siblings that are divorced. In Jesus’ time, the law was such that marriage was forever and there was no room for things like abuse, neglect, or violence. In Jesus’ time, if a spouse was being beaten on a regular basis, well, that was just too bad. Things have changed, thanks be to God. We read scripture with a different lens. We know that divorce, in some cases, can actually be a healthy and really life giving thing. While it’s painful, I can think of examples where people are actually better friends and parents when they were divorced than when they were married. But I also know that in some circles, scripture can be used to harm and hurt and I doubt that was ever Jesus’ intention. All this to say, if you are divorced or you love someone who is divorced and you or they have been harmed by the church or scripture, I am so sorry. I believe in the freedom that Christ brings and the love that Christ proclaims. 

But what I really want to focus on today is the overarching theme of today’s reading which I believe is reconciliation. Reconciliation is the difficult work that comes after confession and forgiveness. It’s relationship building and rebuilding. It’s community rebuilding, re-identification, and it can be a very slow process. But, in my experience, it’s also worth it. We don’t necessarily talk a lot about reconciliation a lot around here, but that’s not because it’s not important. So I stopped and asked myself that hard question. “Pastor, why don’t you talk about reconciliation more?” After some self reflection (which I didn’t like) and some ignoring of the obvious answer (which I preferred) I confess to you, my beloved, the truth: I don’t talk about it because I’m not all that good at it. 

See, confession I can do. I can lay out my sins like clay pigeons lining up to be shot. I don’t have a problem with that. Years of being raised Catholic, maybe. But, I also try to be self aware. I am still a fan of our confession that proclaims “forgive us our sins known and unknown” because that about covers it all. We know the places where we have messed up and so does God. Now, I will admit that confession isn’t always comfortable. At the same time, it shouldn’t be. When we aren’t living a full life in Christ, it’s not comfortable. Confession to one another isn’t always comfortable. But we are imperfect people serving a perfect God. 

Forgiveness can be easy, at times, because sometimes, it’s not on us, it’s on God. Of course, we must believe, and live, and act like we’ve been forgiven. That’s a whole other sermon for a whole other time. Forgiveness can be tricky when it’s human to human. What I have learned in my brief time here on earth is that forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Now, that’s not the same as holding a grudge. But once you touch a hot stove, you learn not to stand so close when it’s on. Forgiveness is an amazing gift we can give one another and that God gives to us. And it’s free. Forgiveness, however, is also something that keeps us from living in right relationship with one another and with God. It’s that grudge holding that the scripture spoke about.  

Once we’ve done the work of confession and accepted or given forgiveness, then comes the reconciliation. Like I said, this can be slow going work. But, in my opinion, it’s what makes being in relationship as members of the body of Christ worth it. Now, I’ll be honest, sometimes reconciliation isn’t really that hard. Sometimes it’s as simple as “we’re good, right?” And the other person agreeing. And then you move on. But reconciliation usually takes time and trust, and if we’re honest, those are two commodities we as humans don’t always like to just give away. Reconciliation also requires vulnerability which usually isn’t an emotion that most people enjoy dealing with. Over and over in today’s reading we hear Jesus say “you have heard it said…but I say to you.” In that quick turn of phrase is grace.

Please understand, that’s not permission to forget this passage, or the difficulties that come with it. But, what Jesus says only Jesus can say because only Jesus is perfect and we would all do well to remember that every once in a while. There is a difference in being right and being righteous. Reconciliation works to put some space between these two. Following every single letter of the law doesn’t make you a perfect Christian; you may be right, but you may be far from righteous. Righteous is really living into who God created us to be. Reconciliation is the effort, the time, the trust, the love it takes from many people to move from being determined and set in being right to gracefully setting up camp in being righteous. Reconciliation is filled with grace. It is filled with life. It is filled with love. Reconciliation is worth it. 

But, my beloved, it’s not enough for me to stand up here and just talk about all of this with no action. If I desire to continue to be your faith leader, it is to me to set the example. So, I humbly confess to you all the ways I have disappointed you, let you down, betrayed your trust, failed your expectations, or just otherwise failed. I may have done this knowingly or unknowingly. I ask your forgiveness the same way I already have asked for forgiveness from God. And when you’re ready, if I have hurt you, I hope you can forgive me and we can be an example of what reconciliation looks like. And if this doesn’t apply to any of you, then we should consider ourselves blessed. But if it does, then please, follow my example. Start your reconciliation journey today. Remove your armor and be brave with me. This is what being disciples looks like. 

Sermon for 12/22/19 Matthew 1:18-25; Advent 4

Take a deep breath. Stay with me. Resist the urge to move forward two days to Christmas Eve or even three days to Christmas day. Stay with me right here and right now still in Advent, still in the season of waiting and anticipation. We don’t have that many days left. Take another deep breath. And now mentally assure yourself that it will all get done. All of the worries that you have that will take up residence in your heart and brain over the next few days, it will all get done. Even if it doesn’t, Christ still comes. But for now, we wait. For the next few moments you can’t do anything and perhaps that’s a gift. Because despite what you heard in the reading, this isn’t actually a birth story, this is an identity story. While we wait, what does it mean to know we wait for, we wait with, and we are surrounded by Emmanuel? Emmanuel, which as we’re told today means “God is with us.”

I want this to be my main focus today. And I’m keeping things short and sweet because the kids are doing such a great job. But when I tell you that God is with us, what does that mean to you personally? I polled the residents of my home and got a few different answers, as you can imagine. But I want you to think about what it means for you personally. What difference does it make in your life. If this is the one for whom we wait, do we still need Emmanuel? Do we still need a God that is with us. Let’s break this down word by word. 

God is with us. This means that within every single one of us there is something divine. We may not always recognize it, thanks to sin. But every one of us holds the image of the divine creator inside each of us. You cannot look into the eyes of someone else and not see God. But what this also means is that those we would rather ignore have some God in them as well. At the same time, we might do well to recognize that we ourselves have a bit of the divine in us. Let us not be so quick to judge ourselves and be so harsh to ourselves. The fact that God is with us means that any power attempting to be with us or walk with us will be defeated. Scripture tells us that nothing comes between us and the love of God (see Romans 8:38-39). Because God is with us we have the ultimate force for defeating the evils of sin and the devil on our side. God is with us. 

God is with us. Notice something about this verb. Now if you didn’t know, I have a degree in English. I use it a lot to stand up here and talk with you week after week. So, words mean a lot to me. The word “is” is an ongoing verb. Meaning that this “is” has no ending. This isn’t God was with us or God will be with us. God is with us. God’s presence has no beginning and no ending. God’s presence is an always thing. There is never a time when we will not be in God’s presence. That, my beloved, is good news. God is with us. 

God is with us. This might be my favorite word of the whole phrase. Maybe. I keep changing my mind. This is the word that talks about relationships. God is dwelling next to us. God is cozied up on the couch, snuggled in for that Netflix marathon. God is in relationship with us. God is our partner. God offers us protection, assurance, and comfort. This relationship can help with loneliness and grief, though God knows it does not disappear forever. God is with us means that we have a perpetual cheerleader. God is with us does not negate the troubles of the world, but it does seem to make them a little easier to handle. God knows we may forget about this relationship. The beauty of the relationship is that God is always there, with a firm grip on us. God is with us. 

God is with us. Notice something here. Scripture doesn’t say that God is with me. God is with I. God is with him. Or God is with her. No, God is with us. See, God created us to be, live, flourish in community. So it makes perfect sense that God would choose to dwell in and among us. God is the thread that ties us all together. Unlike other things we may have in common, this is our strongest bond. We are all bound together in Christ, by Christ, because of Christ because God is with us. Once again, God is with us, all of us. We may not always recognize it. Sin is tricky like that. But we all come to the table. We are all fed. We are all forgiven. And at the foot of the cross we stand on equal ground. God is with us. 

The baby is coming. But we know now that he will be Emmanuel, God is with us. We know the end of the story. We know all the parts in between. Through all of it he will remain God with us, always. We still need to hear this word. We still need to hear this promise. Nothing else in this world can offer us what Emmanuel can: an ongoing, indwelling, relational God that did and will continue to change the world, and us. God is with us.  

Sermon for 11/3/19 Luke 6:20-31; All Saints Sunday

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) I wanted to start my sermon out that way for a few reasons today. First of all, the resurrection of Jesus is core to what we believe, so it’s never a bad thing to remember that. But on this day, when we remember the saints,when we bring to mind, heart, and voice those who are no longer with us, we voice this promise of Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) as a reminder that death doesn’t have the final word. For so many of us that have lost a loved one death feels very final. I know this well myself. But as Christians, death isn’t the end of our story. 

I don’t know about you, my beloved, but I need this promise. I need this promise that is completely contradictory to everything that the world would have me believe. If you have had a loved one die, you know that there is paperwork. There is so much paperwork. Like really, it’s huge pain for your friends and family for you to die. And nothing about the paperwork makes sense. If you want to close your loved one’s bank account, you may think you need a death certificate, proof of purchase, a blood sample, the last three paychecks, and one live chicken. But many times, it’s just a visit to your local friendly banker and it’s taken care of. But, if you want to cancel that Sam’s Club membership, you’re going to need an act of congress. Nothing about death makes sense. So, honestly, the fact that it’s not the final word doesn’t make sense either somehow, weirdly, makes sense. 

This past year, this congregation lost three of its saints: Joan Burkert (sister of Shirley Howe and Arlene Thompson), Rosella Robinson (just a few short weeks ago), and Neil Nord. And death is weird at times. As I pick out hymns that are challenging, I’ll forget for a brief moment that Neil isn’t here. I’ll think to myself “we’ll be okay singing this, between myself, Neil, and Chris leading this, we’ll be okay” and then I remember. Or I’ll look up and out while I’m preaching and I’ll see the space next to you, Bev, and think “Neil must be protecting the casino today” and then remember. But the truth is, it isn’t just Neil we miss. We all have saints in our lives that remind us that death is very real but not the final word. 

As Lutherans, we think of saints in a very different way than our friends with other beliefs. We don’t venerate people into sainthood, like Saint Francis for instance. Sainthood instead, is a call to a particular kind of living. Take a brief moment and bring to mind the saints I’ve either already mentioned or the saints in your own life. Think about their best qualities. Think about their best gifts. This is what makes them a saint. Our loved ones who have died weren’t perfect. I don’t say this to be disrespectful. I say this because it’s the truth. None of us are perfect. This is why we need Jesus. Being perfect doesn’t make us a saint. Our best qualities, our best gifts, and the ways we use them to serve God and neighbor is what makes us and our loved ones saints. 

I think about Elaine Hofer’s organ playing skills (even though I never heard them, I knew they were a gift). I think about Al Galbraith and his giving heart. I think about John Howe and his love for the land. I think about Marlene Lilly and her care for family. I think about Irene Fink and her care and love for Lyle and her deep faith. I think about Alec Horst who always knew the true definition of home. I think about Allen Petersen and his willingness to do anything that needs to be done. I think about Augie Petersen and his very special Augie way of doing things the way only Augie could. I could go on and on. 

At the same time, sainthood is about how we live our lives. It is about why we are remembering, yes. It is about who we are remembering, yes. At the same time, it is also about how we live out God’s call of justice in human flesh. So on this day, we celebrate that death never has the final word. However, we can also celebrate the living saints around us. That is part of what this scripture talks about in versus 27 to the end. How do we live a saintly life? We have living saints around us. Every Sunday I look out and I see living saints. We aren’t perfect. We don’t claim to be perfect. This is why many of us show up here week after week after week. We, well at least, I need to hear the words of forgiveness. I need to receive the body of Christ. I need to be in community and be refreshed so I can continue to do what Christ has called me to do. 

What I know for sure on this day, my beloved, is that we have all had our share of blessings, that’s for sure. I am also acutely aware that we have all had our share of woes. Death has touched all of us in various ways. For some, death has been a cruel visitor. For others, death has come after a long illness and it is a relief. But death is usually wrapped in complex emotions. Society wants us to hurry past all of those emotions and then close the door. As if an occurrence like that is just a box to be checked. “Well, that happened, we’re done with that, and now we move on.” But for all the saints in our lives, living and dead, we owe it to each other, to celebrate what it means to live fully into who God created us to be, who God called us to be, and who God redeemed us to be. We also celebrate that death never has the final word. We have the saints around us that are living that remind us of God’s call to justice in all our lives. We also have the saints that now reside in God’s heavenly kingdom that remind us of God’s eternal love. Death never has the final word. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) 

Sermon for 10/13/19 Luke 17:11-19

I spent some time at a conference in Denver last week called “Evolving Faith.” Many of the attendees of the conference might classify themselves as “exvangelicals.” They came from various faith denominations. Many, however, have been hurt by the church and her people. Something happened in their lives and the church that they loved was no longer a safe place. I heard a story of a woman who was heavily involved with her church and then her brother came out as gay and she and her family were no longer welcome in church. Another story of a cancer diagnosis and no one from the church bothered to call. At the end of the conference, we misfits, all 2,000 plus attendees gathered around the table to have a humble meal of bread and wine. For some, it had been years since they had communion. For others, like me, it had just been a few weeks. But for so many in attendance, it was the first time in a very long time that they felt seen. They didn’t need to put on airs, pretend to be okay or well, have it altogether, or even be confident in what they believed. We were welcomed at the table, just as we were, and so we went. There is power in being seen. 

The lepers in our story today were seen. I think this is a story about healing. I think this is a story about what it means to be grateful. I also think this is a story about what it means to give praise to God. I also think this could be a story about what it means to give thanks. But, it all starts with being seen, and there is power in that. The lepers were probably used to not being seen. After all, they weren’t the most aesthetically pleasing crowd. Jesus met them on their turf, so to speak. Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. This was dangerous territory. It probably wasn’t a well traveled road. It wasn’t safe for the average Judean. But, it was safe for the lepers. In this region, they could just be. They could be in community with other lepers without the stares, without the gossip, without the looks of pity, without people crossing over to the other side of the street. They could live without having to justify even the breath in their own lungs. And then Jesus came along. And I think it’s important for us to once again hear and see what happens before healing and rejoicing happens. Listen again. 

Verses 12 starts “as he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,” because remember, that’s what they were used to, society had trained them to do that, “they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them,” and I want to stop right there. Jesus saw them. He saw the lepers. He saw their full humanity. He saw them and then healed them. And his immediate command was “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” What Jesus said basically was “go and make yourself seen by someone else as well!” The priest was the person that could bring the lepers back into community fully. The priest was one of the people that would insure that the lepers would be seen fully. There is power in being seen. 

I believe that the lepers praised God because they were healed, yes, (I can’t blame them) but because of what the healing means. See, during this time, there was much expected of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. If someone had an illness that could be visually observed (such as boils or leprosy), or if someone had been seized by a evil spirit then they were outcast by all of society. Their family, their town and community, even their church didn’t want anything to do with them. After all, what if it is contagious. Thank goodness we don’t operate like that anymore. (eyeroll) For the lepers, healing meant that they can now be seen as members of the community again, as members of their families again, as participants in worshiping communities again. There is power in being seen. When you feel seen, how can you not but praise God? After all, it is often only God that truly sees you. 

When was the last time you felt seen? And I mean truly seen? I had to ask myself this question and I don’t know that I have a good answer. I am seen a lot as my roles, which isn’t a bad thing. I am seen as Ellen’s mom, or Chris’ wife, or Pastor, or sister, or whatever. But, when was the last time I felt seen as Jealaine, child of God? Because, as I’ve said over the last few weeks, if that is our core identity, which it is, then when was the last time you felt really seen in your core identity? And I also had to wonder what what prevents me from being seen. The answer really stung, my beloved. I prevent me from being seen. There is power in being seen and there is healing in being seen and I am getting in my own way, maybe you can relate. 

Maybe I don’t want to be seen because then if I am seen, I will be fully seen. This means I will be seen with all my flaws. I will be seen with all my shortcomings. I will be seen with all my sins. I don’t want people to see that. I don’t want to be shunned from the community. I don’t want to be a leper. But did you notice something about the lepers that Jesus healed? There was more than one. Even within the leper community, there was more than one. This was a group of people that managed to look at one another’s brokenness and said, “hey, me too! Let’s travel together.” Maybe church should be more like that. I am broken. You are too. And together we aren’t whole. But we are a whole lot. That is because God sees us. All of us. Just as we are. 

Soon, we misfits in this place will gather around this table to be seen once again. Sure, I will hand you bread and wine, but it is God that is meeting you in this meal and is seeing you. The body of Christ given for you who is working long hours for little pay. The blood of Christ shed for you who feels guilty for letting those dishes sit in the sink another day. The body of Christ given for you whose marriage is falling apart. The blood of Christ shed for you who just needs a break, is that too much to ask? The body of Christ given for you whose own body is starting to fail you. The blood of Christ given to you who doesn’t quite know what to think about this God and Jesus stuff. The body of Christ given to you who fight demons every day. The blood of Christ given to you who have a child that breaks your heart daily. You are seen. You are called. You are claimed. And you are seen. You are loved right where you are, no matter where you are. And you are seen. All thanks and praise be to God, you are seen. 

Sermon for 9/1/19 Luke 14: 1, 7-14

If I somehow had the ability to transport you back to my childhood home on Tudor Lane in Liberty, Missouri, the first place I’d probably take you was the kitchen. Like so many other homes, our kitchen was the hub of the household. We had a large bar that served as the collection site of the mail,notes to one another (or to ourselves), lunch making prep, and on occasion, it was a sitting place (although my parents weren’t huge fans of us sitting on counter tops). Not too far from the bar was the heart of the kitchen: our family table. It was a solid wood oval piece with an optional leaf. For the longest time it had only 5 chairs. Dad sat at the head of the table to his left was mom, then my sister Jayna (opposite my dad), my brother Jon, then me to dad’s right. Even when someone was missing from the table (which was rare) we always sat in the same seats. It was rare for someone to sit in Dad’s seat. A lot of learning took place around that table. We learned a lot from one another but it also was the homework hub of the house. It wasn’t uncommon for the table to be cleared from dinner and everyone took their place to study. That table was a place where our identities were formed and shaped. It was where we processed bad news and celebrated good news. It was the place where we planned for weddings and babies. While this may sound strange, my parents don’t use that table any more; their new table is just as big and nice, but it’s not the same. 

I thought about that table a lot this past week as I reflected on this Gospel reading. Jesus does a lot of his teaching in Luke around a table and around food. In fact, he does more of his teaching, fellowship, and discourse around the table and food more in Luke than in any other Gospel. Are you like me? Were you formed and taught around a table? How many of your core identities are tied to a table? I think about who I am and how that part of me was formed and shaped around a table. I am a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, an aunt, a niece, and a wife. All of those roles were formed and shaped around our table. I learned a lot by watching, listening, learning, and the fellowship, hospitality, and lessons shared around tables taught me how to be who I am today. But, I am also a Pastor, a mom, a friend, and a lot more. Many of those roles were formed around tables that I had the honor of being invited to. What tables shaped you? What identities do you have?

It helps to know a bit about Jesus’ context that he speaks from this week. He is at a dinner on the sabbath. He has just come from healing someone on the sabbath, again. This is a dinner of a captive audience of the Pharisees and their leader. These are people who would be very well versed in what proper table and party etiquette would be. At a wedding banquet during Jesus’ time, the place of honor would be held for someone important, perhaps someone high up. Usually this seat was saved for some government official. Jesus is cautioning his listeners to not sit in the place of honor. Perhaps he is trying to save them all from embarrassment and shame. The thing is, however, a lot of these people he’s surrounded by in this story would be people sitting close to the seat of honor. That’s how it went in Jesus’ time. If you weren’t in the seat of honor, you were seated almost by rank. 

Instead, Jesus encourages his listeners to take a posture of humility and sit in the lowest place, wherever that may be. Jesus, as usual, is challenging the status quo and what tradition looks like. What his listeners may not understand or just may not hear is that a banquet, at least a banquet during Jesus’ time, isn’t a true banquet unless everyone is invited. The banquet that awaits us all in God’s kingdom isn’t a true banquet unless everyone is invited. At a kingdom banquet, we are shaped and formed by those around us in ways that may be unexpected and yet also in ways that are most rewarding. 

Think back (again) on your identities. Take a moment to make a mental list of the identities you have. Do any of these come with honor and prestige? Are you given a seat of honor at the table because of this title? Or are you given the seat of honor out of fear of retaliation. Do any of you have a title or identity that perhaps once gave you honor and/or prestige but societal expectations have diminished that? Here’s an example: being a teacher (in my opinion) is a position of power, prestige, and honor. I was raised by teachers and I married a teacher. I was taught to respect my teachers. If one of my child’s teachers brought up a concern over her attitude or behavior, I wouldn’t first jump to believing that the teacher was lying. “Oh goodness! Not my angel of a child.” Doctors and nurses have to deal with this too (I’m guessing). It used to be that whatever doctors and nurses said went. It was the truth. Doctors and nurses could be trusted (in my opinion, they still are to be trusted). But, then came Doctor Google. And suddenly, an identity of honor and prestige is no longer. 

Society also places expectations on our titles and identities. The titles and identities so carefully formed around tables of comfort, safety, security,and learning are challenged externally all the time. I am guessing there are millions of articles out in the world about how to be a better mother. How to be more involved, how to better discipline, how to make the perfect nutritious lunch, how to raise children to not be addicted to electronics and on and on. And make no mistake, there are similar articles for men. There are articles out there for any identity you may have. For me, it’s the articles on increasing attendance and increasing the bottom line that give me impostor syndrome. I mean, after all, what kind of Pastor am I if I am not leading 6 services a weekend to a congregation of 5000 with a $3-5 million dollar budget? Our identities are important. But they are what we are, not who we are. 

Jesus wants to shake up the status quo. He’s not trying to be a jerk about this. 

But he desires for the Pharisees, his disciples, and all of us to start living into the idea that hierarchy is a human construct. Places of importance based on status and human given identities is just an easy way for us to persecute one another. It is important that we are aware of our identities. It certainly is important that we celebrate our identities. It is crucial that we grow in our identities and nourish the relationships that form from them. But in God’s kingdom, at the ultimate banquet, around the most lavish table, none of that will matter. There is no place of honor at that table other than Jesus. 

Today, Kami receives her most important identity. This is the identity that will matter more than anything else. This is the identity that should mean more to all of us than anything else. Because nothing else matters more than being a called and claimed child of God.  This is the identity that will shape all others as she gathers around tables in the future. Because her place in the kingdom is secure, as is ours, that is what allows us to look at tables and not celebrate who is gathered but instead make room for the forgotten. Our identity as children of God is what encourages us to build more tables and chairs when we have more than enough food. Our baptismal identity is what allows us to look into the eyes of the stranger, the forgotten, the downtrodden, even our neighbor and say “here, have my seat.” 

Sermon for 8/25/19 Luke 13:10-17

Not to long ago, I started watching a new series on Netflix called “Diagnosis.” It is a documentary series that features real people dealing with real physical ailments. These people usually have been suffering for years but with no relief and no diagnosis. With the help of a doctor and The New York Times, these people and their stories are shared world wide in the hopes of finding a diagnosis. And it happens and it’s so amazing. I wondered if the internet or The New York Times would have existed at the same time as Jesus if the woman in today’s gospel would have suffered for 18 years. 

Think about this, she was bent over for 18 years. There was the physical pain, I’m sure, that accompanies being bent over for that long. I mean, I think many of us take for granted all of the ways we are able to bend and stretch. It’s only usually when we are unable to do those things that we learn how important they are. But, there also had to be an emotional, mental, psychological, and maybe even spiritual component to her ailment. Think about this: she was literally hunched over. Her world view consisted only of what her eyes could see. For 18 years, she hadn’t been able to see the sun or the stars. She may have struggled to look into the eyes of her loved ones. Because of her ailment, she was most likely shunned by those around her in the community. She was avoided, ignored, or maybe even shunned. While the text does not say as much, I can only imagine the kind of toll that took on her mental health. 

Enter Jesus, of course. He was in the synagogue teaching. The woman shows up. Now, we are not told if this is her first time at the synagogue or if she is a regular attendee. What I do know is that no matter if she’s a visitor or a regular, it takes a lot of courage to show up. I commend her. And Jesus, of course, sees her. And Jesus, of course, does what Jesus does, and heals her. But he goes a step further and lays hands on her. Her healing takes place immediately. All of her 18 years of trouble are gone in an instant. The woman’s response is to praise God. This is where our language lacks (once again). The idea behind this praising verb is that it is continual. This praising is not a one time thing. She praises God and praises God and praises God and on and on. 

But there are the naysayers. There are always the naysayers, aren’t there? We so badly want to side with Jesus on this one, don’t we? Well, at least I do. Of course he’s going to heal on the sabbath. Jesus sees someone in need and responds to that need. That’s what Jesus does. But, I have also sounded like or at least thought like the leader of the synagogue too often. Sunday is the day of sabbath. Scripture tells us we are to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. There are very few places any more that are actually closed on Sunday. Sunday has become the day when we grocery shop, do the laundry, catch up on that yard work, participate in the club sports, prepare for the week ahead and on and on. I even engage in a lot of these things once my work here is done many Sunday’s. 

At the same time, it’s not unheard of for me or any of my other colleagues to lament the attendance at church. Maybe you’ve done it yourself. People say “church just doesn’t seem to  be the priority of families any more.” Or “the only time available to have youth group is Tuesday nights at 10pm or Thursday morning at 530 because these kids are so busy.” By saying or thinking these things, we are just like the leader of the synagogue. So, I am actually understanding the lament of the synagogue leader here a bit. I understand why Jesus did what he did but I also understand why the leader feels the way he did. It’s a bit of a conundrum really. 

For Jesus, it wasn’t a matter of obeying the sabbath, it was a matter of life and death. The fact that he brings up obtaining water for the animals is his way of trying to convey this message. Remember, his audience were people that live in a very hot and humid climate. Having water for your animals (animals, I might add, that will provide sustenance for your family) is a matter of life and death. If the animals die, the families might not have food or a way to monetarily support their family. Others might argue though that keeping the sabbath is a matter of life and death. Luther says that following the sabbath means that “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” There are many who believe that attending church, listening to God’s word, feasting at the table, and being in Christian community with one another is a matter of life and death.

What are we to do then with this conundrum? Well, it should be no surprise to any of you that I am going to preach and encourage us to look on the side of grace. I say it shouldn’t surprise you because if you’ve been here longer than a minute you know that my sermons,my life, my “brand” so to speak is all about grace. While Jesus gives the crowd and the synagogue leader what sounds like a lecture, it really is an invitation to grace. Jesus highlights the ways that they are not living into a sabbath by feeding and watering their animals. Although it may not sound like it, this really is grace. Jesus is inviting them to continue living into grace instead of  always trying to live by the law. The law is great. God’s laws are there to protect us and guide us. But trying to live our lives by the law can be exhausting because it is practically impossible. I know many of you would love a true sabbath day; a day when literally nothing has to be done other than the spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental feeding of your body. That sounds amazing. But, I also know that it is impossible. There is always something that has to be done. 

So, we can either beat ourselves up knowing that we’re not obeying and keeping the sabbath holy or we can live into the grace God through Jesus Christ invites us to. While we may not be physically impaired like the woman in our story, our focus can tend to be like hers prior to healing. We are only able to see so much. It is only when Jesus heals us and lays hands on us that our perspective opens up. Sometimes we are so focused on the law, the must-dos, and, unfortunately, shaming those who do not live by the law (including ourselves) that our focus gets to be like tunnel-vision. Jesus invites us to open our eyes and our minds. When we engage in confession of the things we have done and the things we have left undone, we confess in the ways we have lived by the law, or not, and the ways we might have demanded others live by the law. And through the saving and redemptive power of the cross, we are forgiven. When we are splashed with those baptismal waters, we are reminded that even when we desire to live by the law and fail, God will be there, naming and claiming us each time. When we are fed at the table, we are reminded of God’s grace that is for us, despite us, every single time. 

If trying to be a perfect Christian (whatever that is) and trying to live perfectly under God’s law has you bent over, my beloved, I invite you to live into grace. It is a gift from God. It is given to you freely. We need not ask for it (the woman didn’t ask for healing, Jesus just did it). But here’s the thing about grace: it will mess you up. In the best way. Grace allows us to be free to love ourselves and our neighbors. Grace is what allows us to stand upright, praise God continually, and rejoice at all the wonderful things Jesus has done, is doing, and will continue to do. 

Sermon for 6/23/19 Luke 8:26-39

In my experience, mental illness doesn’t come with casseroles. Usually when a loved one is diagnosed with something that affects his or her life, people stop by with casseroles and offers to help? A new cancer diagnosis? Here’s a casserole, an offer to drive you to chemo, and a future date to clean your house. A new MS diagnosis? Here’s a casserole, plans to modify your house so it’s easier to get around, and a team to walk in the next charity fundraiser. An autism diagnosis? Here’s a casserole, me learning more so I can be a better advocate, and keeping a lookout for tagless clothing (true story). Suicidal ideation with manic bi-polar swings? No casserole. No companions for the journey. No house cleaning. Mental illness is often kept in dark places, hidden from human and public consumption, and shrouded in secrecy and shame. As hard as I’ve tried, I can’t shake the idea that the man in today’s story, Legion, has been and is suffering from a mental illness. I would also love to say that things are better now for people with a mental illness. Pharmaceutically, they are. But, people like me with mental health issues are still often relegated to places of darkness, secrecy, and shame. I will continue to talk about mental health from the pulpit because it needs to be spoken of. People need to know they’re not alone and that the church takes seriously the issues of mental health.

Legion had been living in a tomb. Legion had been living in a place that was sequestered, dark, isolated, and a place meant for the dead. Legion was very much alive but I doubt he was living. We aren’t told whether Legion decided to segregate himself or the pressure, judgement, and shame put on him by the others in the town sent him to the tomb. Make no mistake, my beloveds, we all have tombs. Sometimes we are very familiar with the tombs in which we reside, other times our tombs are like a terrible vacation home that we only sometimes visit. So the question I asked myself (which I pose to you now) is how do we live in our tombs and/or what keeps us living in or visiting our tombs? I think some of the things that drive us to our personal tombs are: shame, secrets, fear, expectations, our own disbelief, isolation, misunderstandings, identity, and even our physical health. How might all of this actually look? Maybe you’re driven to the tomb by the secrets you keep: an affair, a situation at work, or an assault. Maybe you’re driven to the tomb by shame. The one or two drinks a week have turned into 5 or 6 a night. You still sneak that one cigarette after dinner even though you told your family you quit. Some of you may have thought you didn’t have a tomb but then this recent planting season happened, or didn’t. And doubts crept in. And you questioned your identity because if you’re not farming, then what in the world are you doing? Before you know it, you found your tomb. We all have tombs.

Legion is tormented by evil spirits. I don’t know that we talk enough about evil spirits or even know enough to talk about them. But evil spirits are very real. This is a common topic of spiritual conversations in churches in countries where witchcraft is practiced and very real. As someone with a brain health disease, I can attest that evil spirits are real. Legion is bound, literally, by his spirits. The spirits kept him under guard and bound with chains and shackles. Even if Legion did manage to break free, he was driven out into the wilderness which was another place of darkness, uncertainty, and lack of life. How might evil spirits move in our lives, then my beloved. Evil spirits tell us lies. Lies like “no one cares” or “you’re all alone.” Evil spirits whisper doubts in our ears. “You’ll never do this” or “this will never work.” Evil spirits also seem to control our internal dialogue. This is the way we speak to ourselves. When my evil spirits are working at full throttle, I say things to myself I would never in a million years dream of saying to any of you or my beloved Chris or Ellen. But, I believe my internal dialogue maybe a little too easy. Evil spirits move about in rumors, anxiety and anxiety like symptoms, and fear. Evil spirits, external and internal want to keep us bound and in tombs. Evil spirits obviously don’t know that Jesus will always meet us where we are even if it is a tomb being held captive by our own thoughts.

That’s exactly what Jesus does to Legion. Jesus removes the demons, casts the demons into a herd of swine, and the swine (as a result) ran into a lake and were drowned (sorry Mommsen’s). Jesus freed Legion. But, an interesting response from the townspeople was fear. They were afraid because of genuine fright. After all, who was this Jesus and how was he able to do this to so many demons? And maybe they were afraid because now they had hope. It’s the kind of hope that says “if it can happen to Legion…maybe it can happen for me.” Fear can look like a lot of things to a lot of people. Legion literally had his identity changed in this moment. I believe that his actual name wasn’t even Legion. He had just been called that for so long that it had become his identity. After the demons left him, Legion was clothed and “in his right mind” as we’re told. He will become part of the community again. Jesus has the power to claim us and the identity that comes with that is something no powers can overcome. This is the identity given to all of us in baptism.

When Jesus claims us, we learn that healing is possible. Restoration is possible. Relationships are possible. Inclusion is possible. Community is possible. Recognition is possible. Now, here’s the thing. Legion had a “place” in society. He was that society’s outcast. That was his place. Jesus removed him from that place and gave him a place in society once again. A place where he wouldn’t be feared and a place where he would be included. The town people were certain of Legion’s place before Jesus came along. Then Legion was healed and they got scared. I mean, if we can’t be certain of certain people’s places and situations in society, of what can we be certain? Jesus. Even if no one else sees us or recognizes us, Jesus always will.

Baptismal promises will be made to Basil Sue today and it’s a good time for all of us to be reminded. We have all been marked with the cross of Christ. No demon can erase that. We already belong. Even if it feels like you belong nowhere, you do belong to Christ and there is a home for you in God’s kingdom. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Sealed, protected, shielded. Even in your tomb dwelling moments, you are sealed, claimed, called, and protected by God the Father through Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. What sometimes frustrates me with stories like this is that it all seems to tie up in a neat little bow. Legion is healed and Jesus is on his way. We know all too well that healing seems to never come for those we love that struggle with mental health issues. I know this well. In those tomb moments, it’s good for us to remind each other of the promises made to us in baptism. In those tomb moments, it’s good for us to remind one another that Jesus continues to show up right where we are, without judgement, to be with us (even if the place we are is dark, dim, and full of death). It’s in those tomb moments, that we, the body of Christ need to show up and be with one another and believe enough for those struggling with disbelief. It’s to us,the body of Christ, to show up and share our light with those in the darkness. Well, we do all of that, and bring a casserole. Amen.

Sermon for 6/2/19 John 17:20-26; Easter 7

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) Alright, so I want to start today by asking you some questions. I will give you your choices first and then we’ll do a little informal polling. These questions aren’t meant to shame you or get you in trouble. It’s more for just my information. Here we go. The first question is this “when it comes to my prayer life, I (1) pray daily (or on a semi-regular basis) or (2) I only pray when things are overwhelmingly good or pretty darned bad. Next question. I prefer to pray (1) quietly. Almost a whisper. Or silently in my head. Or (2) out loud. Final question. If I had to pray out loud I would rather pray (1) for myself or (2) for someone else. So, just in case you wondered, we’re going to talk about praying today. And why? Because that is exactly what Jesus is doing in this text.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is probably one of the most confusing passages in scripture. It’s like reading the directions from an Ikea television cabinet in Swedish. What’s frustrating is that this passage is so beautiful and what is going on is amazing. And yet, the language makes it hard, if not impossible to understand what actually is going on. Jesus is praying. He is praying out loud. Unlike other places in the Bible, Jesus has not gone off by himself to pray. He is praying for the disciples. And the disciples can hear him. What is most amazing about this passage (and quite possibly my most favorite thing about this passage) is that Jesus is praying for you. Out loud. Let that sink in for just a moment. Jesus is praying for you. I know what you may be thinking “how is that even possible?”

For reference I am talking about the very first sentence of the reading for today. It says “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” The translation found in the Message says “I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me.” Remember, Jesus is praying and he is doing it out loud. Anyone and everyone present would be able to hear him. In this instance, it is the disciples. Jesus says that not only is he praying for the disciples but also anyone and everyone who will come to believe in Jesus through the works and words of the disciples. Jesus is praying for all the future Christians that are to come. This means that Jesus is praying for you. But it also means that Jesus prayed for your ancestors and Jesus is praying for your loved ones that are yet to come. Jesus is praying for your loved ones that may not even be a thought in your mind; or at least, not at this time. For example: with this prayer, Jesus is praying for my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, and my great great grandchildren. That thought alone has enough power to make my brain hurt.

We know that Christians didn’t just come to be magically. There were followers of Jesus, yes. But, we know so much of Jesus message and ministry was spread by the disciples. In fact, there’s an entire book of the Bible dedicated to this: Acts. You being a Christian didn’t happen by accident. And you aren’t here just because you are the third, fourth, or fifth generation to attend this church and be Lutheran. You are Christian, I am a Christian, we are all Christian because after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the disciples went from town to town, from village to village, and made more disciples. This is core to what it says in Matthew 28 “go and make disciples of all nations.” That is exactly what the disciples did: they made more disciples and more Christians just by telling the story of Jesus.

Then, year after year, generation after generation the stories got told and Christianity grew. All along, Jesus prayer covered all of those believers. If you read carefully, you’ll not hear an expiration date on Jesus’ prayer. Jesus said that he is praying for “those who will believe” in him through the words of the disciples. While we weren’t literally there, there is something really powerful and humbling in knowing that Jesus prayed for me. Jesus prayed for you. Jesus prayed for all of us. Jesus prayed for everyone who calls themselves a Christian. Jesus prayed for everyone who will call themselves a Christian.

Here’s the thing, my beloved. Yes, I am a Pastor. Some might think that I am like a professional pray-er or something. Some might think that I am spiritually healthy. Like some kind of spiritual marathoner. But, I am just like you. There are times when my faith struggles. There are times when my belief is more unbelief. There are times when I look at all the world has to offer and I have no words. And in case you’re new to getting to know you may not know this: I am horrible at asking for help and I’m horrible at asking for what I need. In those moments, I think about this scripture. In fact, verses 20-21 hang in my office. I need to know that Jesus is praying for me. I need the comfort that comes from prayer. When I can’t even pray for myself, for whatever reason, I know that Jesus has prayed for me.

This has been especially comforting to me these last few weeks as it seems like every time I look out the window it’s raining. And my heart breaks. My heart breaks because I love you all so deeply and I can’t even imagine what this rain is doing to you and to your planting. I have no words. And then I remember: Jesus prayed for you. I want that to be clear. But, especially for those of you, my beloved, that are farmers or a farming family, Jesus has prayed for you. For everyone who relies on farmers (and that is all of us, by the way) Jesus has prayed for you. In those moments where you were calculating acres and days left, Jesus prayed for you. In those moments where your bones ached from being in the cab for hours much longer than usual, Jesus prayed for you. In those evenings where your loved ones sat down to a dinner table with an empty chair and bedtime happened, again, without you. Jesus prayed for you. And when the weather report came on quickly followed by crop prices and all you could do was have a sigh that was too deep for words, Jesus prayed for you. I know it may feel like the world has no idea the impact of all of this rain has had on you, your family, and your business, but Jesus knows. And Jesus prays for you.

When we gather around water and splash one another with baptismal promises, we can feel Jesus’ love. When we gather around this table and we are fed with Jesus’ body and blood, we can taste Jesus’ love. But in this holiest of moments, when we are meant to overhear, Jesus prays for us, and we can hear Jesus’ love.

Sermon for 4/28/19 John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) I know that we all have things about us that are unique. But have you ever noticed that there is somewhat of an instant bond among people that find out they share the same unique qualities? It’s like you’ve finally found someone who understands your troubles or just how awesome you really are. I’ve seen this with my twins (my brother and sister) when they meet another set of twins. I’ve seen this with those of you that are left handed (because you make it very clear where you want to sit at dining tables). I’ve seen this with Chris and his fraternity brothers and their special handshake. I’ve also seen this among veterans, no matter the battles they’ve fought. Even if you have nothing else in common with this other person, there’s something to be said about sharing unique qualities. I’m a firm believer in knowing you are not alone. There is power in that. It’s powerful when you find out you share unique qualities with someone else. It’s even more powerful to find you share experiences with someone when those experiences weren’t so pleasant. As I said, there’s something to be said about knowing you aren’t alone.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost the sense of community, the sense of belonging. Now, I don’t mean “we” as in this church. But, more often, I wonder if we as a nation have lost that. That’s an easy thing to lament. When we talk about how things “used to be” part of what we miss is the sense of community and neighborhood. I used to play on the street where my childhood home was located. We would play kick the can for all hours of the day until Jan Corley would yell out her children’s name “EricPattyRobin” and we all kind of knew it was time to go home. This doesn’t seem to be the case any more. We don’t always know our neighbors names. Our kids can’t go outside by themselves and use the streetlights as a signal to come home. I imagine there are several contributing factors to losing our sense of community. Perhaps that’s why then when we do realize we’re not alone, especially during our most challenging times, that a sense of community and belonging is all that more powerful.

I think that Thomas gets a bad rap sometimes. I think he’s not doubting, as his nickname often portrays, but rather, I think he simply wants to know he is not alone. He wants to know he’s not alone in his questions. He wants to know he’s not alone in his wonderment. He wants to know that the wounds left on his heart from mourning the death of his friend Jesus will soon become scars. And as much as we don’t like to see those around us hurting, isn’t it powerful when we’re hurting and we look around and see that others are hurting too? We don’t wish it upon others, but to know we’re not alone in grief, sorrow, and suffering makes the grief, sorrow, and suffering a little softer. I think this is part of why we have funerals. I’ve always said that funerals are for the living. We want to know we’re not doing this alone.

I also often think that sometimes, as a Christian community, we don’t always want to deal with the ugly. We don’t always want to deal with grief. We don’t always want to deal with scars and wounds. I think this is the same reason why people think they can’t come to church until they have their life straightened out. There’s a fear of judgement. Because we’re all so perfect and everything. The church hasn’t always done a good job of meaning it when we say “all are welcome.” But we all have scars. And whether we know it or not, we bring those scars with us every Sunday morning. They aren’t always seen. They aren’t even always acknowledged. But we all have them. And when are scars are exposed to others, then that’s when we really get a chance to be Jesus to and for one another. I don’t know about you, my beloved, but I want to be part of a community of faith that has some scars. Because scars are proof that you have lived life. Scars are receipts for the lessons learned. I would rather be part of a community that acknowledges it has scars and wounds than part of a community that works really hard to cover it all up. Scars make us human and when we see and acknowledge one another’s scars, we see and acknowledge one another.

Again, I don’t know about you, but to have a savior who is willing to let Thomas touch his wounds tells me that we have a savior who would be willing to let us touch his wounds. We have a risen Lord that wants us to feel seen, validated, and understood for all of our scars and wounds. And so much so that the risen Lord is willing to let Thomas and us feel his wounds. We serve a God who has been through some stuff! I find a lot of comfort in that. I need to know that the one I turn to the most, Jesus, knows what it is like to show up, again and again and again, over and over and over, scars and all and be willing to be seen. That kind of action gives me courage. Jesus wants you to be seen. Jesus wants you to feel like you’re part of a community. Jesus wants you to feel love. And in order to do all of that, Jesus is willing to show you his wounds. Not his scars. His wounds; still fresh from a state-authorized execution. Once again I say there is power in knowing you aren’t alone. There seems to be even more power in knowing you aren’t alone and your companion is Jesus.

Did you notice what Jesus did? Thomas needed proof. I don’t blame him. Thomas needed to be shown without any hesitation that Christ was indeed risen. Thomas needed proof before he was willing to be part of a community of believers. He was hesitant. I don’t blame him. Jesus didn’t shame Thomas. Jesus didn’t make Thomas feel guilty. Jesus just did what Jesus always had done: he made Thomas feel loved and feel seen. By showing Thomas his wounds and allowing himself to be touched, he made Thomas part of a community. What do you need to be seen, my beloved? What do you need to feel safe? What do you need in order to start letting your scars and wounds be seen? What do you need to tell your story. And your story is your whole story, not just the cleaned up parts that make you sound really good. What do you need to tell your whole story that tells about how despite it all, you’ve been redeemed? Because those are the stories we need to hear. Those are the testimonies the world needs. We don’t need prettied-up Christianity. We need Christianity that’s a little rugged, a little torn at the edges, a little rough, but all real. The world doesn’t need any more clean-cut sparkly clean Jesus. We need disciples who will show the wounded Jesus. Because the wounded Jesus feels like someone that could know our story. The wounded Jesus sees us.

There is power in community. There is power in being seen. There is power in showing up with your scars, your wounds, your tattoos, your stories, your histories, your prison records, your speeding tickets, your indiscretions and proclaiming a risen Lord anyway. The tomb wasn’t empty with an asterisk. The tomb was empty, period. The risen Lord sees you, scars and all, and loves you just the way you are. No catch.

I want to share a quote with you from one of the shows I’ve been binge watching lately. It was the drama series, The West Wing. The Chief of Staff, Leo McGary, played by Jon Spencer tells this story. “This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up ‘Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.’ That’s the power of not being alone. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)  

Sermon for 8/5/18 John 6:24-35

Welcome to week 2 of what I jokingly call our “carb loading” series. I say this because last week, this week, and the next 3 weeks all speak about bread. Last week, I laid a little bit of groundwork for the rest of the weeks. If you missed it, you won’t be far behind. What I hope you remember, or what I want you to remember, is that we are fed to feed. We are fed by God through Jesus Christ in order to feed other people. This feeding is done with food, yes, but with other things as well: a phone call, a visit, a quick text, a letter, a card, a casserole, and on and on. And the great thing is that while we are being fed by Jesus to feed others, others are being fed by Jesus to feed us. This is what the body of Christ looks like. I also invited you to remember or have the verses of John 3:16-17 going through your head as well because I am going to continue referring back to those verses. Luckily for you, I have made this handy-dandy poster cheat-sheet so that you can remember those verses.

Our text for today comes right after the feeding of the 5000 where we had a feast of loaves and fish and enough left over to fill how many baskets? (12) A crowd continues to follow Jesus and when they finally catch up with him, he asks them a question. He says (basically) “are you looking for me and following me because I gave you something to eat and now you want more? Or… are you looking for me because you finally understand I am the son of God and I offer more than bread?” Jesus tells the crowd gathered who he is. He tells the crowd that they must “believe in him whom [God] has sent.” It seems simple enough. But the crowd isn’t pleased with that answer. They say Moses gave us bread in the wilderness. What are you going to do to prove you are who you say you are? The nerve of these people, right? I always believed that when someone shows you who you are, you believe them; or when someone tells you who you are, you believe them.

Then Jesus, meaning no disrespect to Moses, tells them it wasn’t Moses that fed you, it was God! And continues to say “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Because remember, “God so loved the world… Indeed” God sent the Son into the world in “order that the world might be saved through him.” And I love the crowd’s reaction. They say “Sir, give us this bread always.” But, I often hear it more like this “sounds good! Where can we get us some of this bread??” And I have to also imagine Jesus rolling his eyes and wanting to say “guys!! I’m right here!” But instead, we have the very first instant in John where Jesus identifies himself as the “I am.” And what an incredible statement he makes following that “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

So! Wait! Wait! WAIT! The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. AND THEN! Jesus says he is the bread of life! Whoa! We should probably believe Jesus when he says who he is. God, the all knowing, all powerful, all loving, all encompassing being that we profess our faith to week after week, is the same God that sent us Jesus. God is the source of the bread from heaven. And the bread of heaven is Jesus. And God gives us Jesus why? Because God so loved the world. I know this sounds like some kind of crazy circular argument, but I just think that when we see the relationship of God to Jesus and then Jesus to us and this relationship is all because God loves us, then I am going to figure out all the different ways that I can say this until you start to believe it. I am going to keep saying it until I believe it.

Jesus Christ is God’s love letter to the world. Let’s take a brief step back and remember last week’s reading. Jesus fed the 5000, right? If Jesus fed the 5000, and Jesus is from God then wouldn’t the feeding of the 5000 just be another sign of God’s tangible abundant love? God so loved the world that God loved the world and then kept loving the world and then kept loving the world and then…. But there must be a catch, right? There is no way that God can love us that much. I mean, God created us, right? So God must know all of the things we try and hide. God knows our deepest darkest secrets. God knows all of the times we’ve messed up. God knows the depths of our sin. So there’s no way God can love us. There’s no way God should love us. There must be a catch. We feel like there has to be a catch because that is the way we humans love one another.

People have to work to earn our love. You love me and then I’ll love you. Do x,y, and z for me and then I’ll love you. And if we screw it up, we write one another out of each other’s lives. Just like that. But that’s another reason why God is God and we are not. God doesn’t just stop loving us. We may think that God can, should, or even does stop loving us. But it just doesn’t happen. Last week I talked about the idea that we are fed to feed. This is another one of the ways that we are fed: we are fed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. We are so filled up with this love that we then love others. Sometimes that looks like actual love: a hug, a light touch on the hand, the promise of accompaniment. Love can look like forgiveness and reconciliation. Sometimes love sounds like this “I don’t know the answers, but I’ll stick with you until we figure it out.”

God fed us with abundance through Jesus Christ. God fed us with baskets of love. Enough love that there is left overs. We can never have too much love. Then, just when we think we’re full, God, through Jesus Christ, reminds us that Jesus is the bread of life and that we will never hunger or thirst. We will never hunger or thirst for actual food or the food that fills our souls. When we are told God so loved the world, there is no catch. God feeds us with abundance. We do nothing to earn it. We believe in the one who sent us Jesus who continues to offer us love until we really do believe that it is for us and that it really never will run out. When everything around us is chaos, when it feels like the world is coming to an end around us, when we don’t even know right from left, the one thing we can know for sure is the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.