Sermon for 5/14/17 John 14:1-14

This is a strange place to find ourselves in the Bible. After all, we are still in the Easter season for a few more weeks. This means that yes, you can continue to consume Starburst jelly beans by the handful. This particular reading today actually takes place before Jesus’ execution. It is part of what is called the “farewell discourse” in John. There has been a final dinner, some feet washing, an announcement of betrayal and denial, and finally, what we heard today. Jesus has practically given the disciples (and us) a play by play description of what will happen on the journey to the cross. Then, almost amusingly, he says “do not let your hearts be troubled.” The disciples must have sat up from their lounging position, bellies full, feet clean, and gawked at Jesus as he continued “believe in God, believe also in me.”

Why might their hearts be troubled? Were the disciples disturbed because they knew their friend Jesus would soon be tortured, humiliated, and executed? That’s enough for someone to have their heart be troubled. Were the disciples being told to not have trouble in their heart because the task set before them was great. After all, Jesus has told them more than once that they should love one another, that they should serve one another, and that they will be doing even greater works than Jesus. In short, they would soon be in the world telling the story of Jesus to any and all who would listen. The responsibility that comes with being a disciple wasn’t lost on the original 12 and it certainly shouldn’t be lost on us. Maybe the disciples were troubled because they have heard that one among them would betray Jesus and additionally, they have been told that Peter would deny Jesus not once but three times.

Perhaps their hearts were troubled after having experienced the most extravagant love. Jesus had humbled himself and kneeled at the feet of his friends, even the one who would betray him, and washed their feet. This was an act usually meant for slaves or servants.   The disciples had watched as Jesus fed around 5000 with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and there was even enough for leftovers. The disciples were gathered when Jesus gave a man sight even though he had been blind since birth. Their hearts certainly had to be troubled when Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave after 4 days of death. Maybe, just maybe the disciples hearts were troubled because they weren’t used to such extravagant love. I don’t know that any of us are used to extravagant love.

When you think about it, the disciples hearts were troubled for the same reason ours would be troubled: we’re used to getting the love we deserve and not an ounce more. And the love that Jesus gave was undeserved, extravagant love. That kind of love can feel like love with a catch. The kind of love that makes you say “ok. Ok. What do you want?” We are used to getting love with strings attached. We most certainly are not used to receiving love we don’t deserve and love that we didn’t earn. But that is what Jesus has given the disciples and us over and over and over. Jesus’ love is unconventional. It certainly doesn’t follow any rules. Everyone gets the same amount of love all the time? That hardly seems fair. Anything that is that unconventional is enough to make a person suspicious. It’s enough to trouble a heart, that’s for sure.

On the other hand, we currently have a lot of reasons for our hearts to be troubled. We live in a state of constant change that starts at the government level and spills down to our local PTA. If we ourselves don’t have health problems, we may have loved ones that do. There are financial burdens that weigh on us. As so many of you start to plant, the anticipation and hope may have your hearts troubled. There is enough bad news in the world to last us a lifetime. Additionally, today we are celebrating our graduates and if you’re a parent of one of these graduates your heart may be troubled just thinking about what comes next for your baby. And, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention today’s holiday: Mother’s Day. It’s a day that can hold a lot of spiritual, emotional, and maybe even physical weight. And so our hearts are troubled. And when we hear Jesus say “do not let your hearts be troubled” it can sound a little like Jesus being a jerk.

Jesus, after all, should know our pain. Of all people, Jesus should know the pain of our heart. Jesus should know the worries of our minds. Jesus especially should know the creaks and groans of our bodies. We have a lot to worry about. We have a lot that troubles our heart. And it’s okay if you hear Jesus say “do not let your hearts be troubled” and you have a response of “that’s not helpful AT ALL, Jesus!” And in those moments of pain, distress, frustration, confusion, and even anger, it’s okay to cry out to Jesus. It’s okay, even, to be mad at Jesus. It is perfectly fine and even understandable for your hearts to be troubled.

But, even in the darkest of hours, on the darkest of days, in the darkest of circumstances, we are all still victims of extravagant love. And when Jesus tells us “do not let your hearts be troubled” what he is saying is “do not let your hearts be troubled for anything.” Maybe a better way of saying it is “you don’t have to worry.” This isn’t Jesus poo-poo-ing our concerns. It is a reminder to us that, as always, Christ provides for everything we may need. It’s hard to remember that in those moments of darkness. But remember, Christ is the light that no darkness can overcome. The problem with this statement that Jesus gives us of “you don’t have to worry” is that we must trust that Jesus’ love, his extravagant love, will provide. And if we’re going to be honest, trust isn’t always the easiest trait for we humans to come by.

However, when we take time to step back and observe our lives, we can clearly see the times when we trusted in our own capabilities and resources versus the times when we trusted in Christ and all he could provide. And time after time after time, life, and life abundant comes only when we trust in Christ and all he provides. We are fed by Christ, not by fear. We are washed by water, not by works. We are forgiven by a cross, not by our courage or lack thereof. We are given life by a shepherd, a servant, a teacher, and a rebel, not by our class, status, righteousness, or by anything we buy or anything that’s sold to us as a quick fix.

Friends in Christ, I am not going to tell you to not worry. I worry and my heart is troubled often. What I will do, however, is invite you into the possibility that when your heart is troubled, it is simply God shaking things up to make room for Christ’s extravagant love. The love that provides. The love that protects. The love that gives life. Trouble your hearts, if you must. But do not worry. We are children of a heavenly father, children of a nurturing mother, and victims of obnoxious, extravagant, ludicrous, ridiculous, and mostly extremely costly love.

Maundy Thursday 4/13/17 John 13:1-17, 31b-35

It seems our political discourse of late has caused a fraction in God’s kingdom here on Earth. Voters are now being identified more and more by their religious affiliations. The news often speaks of “evangelicals” versus just “Christians.” And while there are some churches that are wondering where to build their next 10,000 seat capacity sanctuary, or what to call their Saturday night “contemporary-yet also traditional-yet also family centered while being friend towards singles-yet also the spiritual but not religious” service, other churches struggle to keep the doors open. And so often as self-proclaimed Christians allow divisions to become deeper, problems to become impossible obstacles, and continue to gaze inward, I wonder if Christ doesn’t think “y’all, I didn’t die for this!”

In this familiar scene that we hear every Maundy Thursday, Christ lays out for his disciples, and for us, what it means to call ourselves “disciples,” or what it means to call ourselves Christians. It means appreciating (maybe even celebrating) the extraordinary purpose in ordinary things and service to one another. That’s it.

We aren’t told where this dinner gathering happened. I think many of us like to picture it in a church of some kind. But, the truth it, this gathering could have happened in the middle of a field, in the middle of a town square, even in the middle of a bar! Do you know why the location isn’t mentioned? Because it doesn’t matter. Jesus has not yet once allowed location to dictate his ministry–why would he start now? Whenever Jesus saw the opportunity to engage in ministry, he took it. And let us not forget that Christ ministered to the disciples. They needed love and care, too. Just because they were part of Christ’s “inner circle” didn’t make them immune from needing love and forgiveness. Heck, Jesus didn’t even wait for dinner to be over before jumping into service. Verses 2-3 say “and during supper…” Jesus doesn’t wait for a “so-called right time” because the “right time” is right now!

Then, Jesus takes ordinary objects and uses them for extraordinary purposes. The towel he tied around himself wasn’t the nice, plush, high-thread-count, Martha Stewart style towel. This was probably a worn and tattered piece of cloth, well hew, ragged edges, previously used towel. In so many pictures and artwork, we see it as this nice, neat, white towel. When, in reality, it probably looked more like that ratty old college t-shirt you couldn’t bear to throw away and now it’s a dust rag. We are told that he then poured water into a basin. We aren’t told how. Does he go to a well to draw water? Does he take a pitcher off the table? Is it a fancy porcelain pitcher and basin? Who knows, really. But the chances are good that it most likely was a plain clay pitcher and a plain clay bowl. Nothing special. But again, Jesus takes ordinary things and does extraordinary ministry with them.

Of course, he pours water into the bowl. This isn’t the first time that Jesus is going to do amazing things with water. We have the ability to hear that Jesus poured water and conjure up images of baptism. We have the ability to know previous scripture stories that speak of ritual cleansing. And, really, when Jesus is involved, nothing is ordinary. And all the while, the question that gets asked of the disciples, and the question that should stay with us until Easter morning is “do you know what I have done to you?” Why gather, brothers and sisters, why gather to mark these three days if we can’t answer this question. What has Jesus done to us? He has taught us how to love one another. And it looks nothing like we thought. It looks ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

All of Jesus’ actions up to this point were done out of love. Jesus’ actions after this dinner were done in love. All of Jesus’ ministry was about one thing: love. And all along the way, Jesus took ordinary people, ordinary situations, ordinary objects, and used them all for extraordinary purposes: to show his love. We hear in the Corinthians reading, Jesus takes simple items: bread and wine, and turns them into extraordinary love. Jesus takes water and turns it into extraordinary love. Jesus took old tree branches and turned them into extraordinary love in the form of a cross. Jesus took on 3 ordinary nails, piercing his skin all the way through, into extraordinary love. And, on the third day, Jesus turned an ordinary tomb into further proof of extraordinary love. The commandment that he gives to his disciples and us this evening is to love one another as he loved us.

But, hearing of all of Jesus’ extraordinary actions can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even a little put out. Loving one another as Jesus loved us? It almost seems impossible. Jesus seemed to go the extra mile all the time. There are days we may not even be willing to go the extra foot. Jesus’ love was amazing. Jesus loved through humble service towards those around him. God was glorified through his actions. What might humble service look like for us? A friendly phone call? A visit to someone no longer able to make it to church? Maybe allowing someone to go ahead of you in the grocery store line. How might the world react if we took ordinary moments and used them for extraordinary ministry? See, Jesus doesn’t care about the size of your wallet, the size of your house, the size of your garage, the size of your behind, even the size of this congregation. Jesus only cares about the size of your heart. Jesus doesn’t care if you call yourself a “Christian” or an “evangelical” or even a Lutheran. What Jesus does care about is if you love other people.

We can’t say we love Jesus while watching Syrian refugees gasp for air. We can’t say we love Jesus while our black brothers and sisters get treated as if their lives mean less. We can’t say we love Jesus while building walls. We can’t say we love Jesus while limiting the health care that the world so desperately needs. We can’t say we love Jesus while advocating for the death penalty. We can’t say we love Jesus while wanting to limit what love looks like and while wanting to limit who does and does not deserve it. Because the truth is, brothers and sisters, no one deserves the love that God has to give us through Jesus Christ. But, the audacious truth is, somehow, someway, a world full of sinners receives it daily.

Don’t get overwhelmed, friends. In a world hungry for love, it can be overwhelming to think about trying to love the entire world. But see, through the power of the Holy Spirit, fed by bread and wine, you are able to take your ordinary love and turn it into extraordinary things. This world is hurting. Even the smallest bit of ordinary love can seem like an extraordinary thing. Soon, we too will gather around this table, hearing the words once again that are so so ordinary, but do you understand what he did for you? The body of Christ given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you. Extraordinary love from an extraordinary Savior.

Sermon for 2/5/17 Matthew 5:13-20

I spent the first part of my week at continuing education in Minneapolis Minnesota. I went to a conference to workshop a new book. The book is called she five keys for women in power and leadership. It was an empowering time. It was wonderful and affirmative to be surrounded by other women in ministry. One of the things that was talked about quite a bit is how our gender affects our call. In this current context, I have not encountered my gender being too much of an issue. My gifts, skills, or even ability to give care to you has not been questioned. However, that has not always been the situation for my colleagues. One of the best examples of what we female clergy face almost on a daily basis is our title. Often, my male colleagues will be referred to as Pastor so-and-so. However, I will not be given the same courtesy. I will be called Jealaine. Not Pastor Jealaine, just Jealaine. And it is situations like this where I have to try extra hard not to have my light diminished. This week, I want to invite you into the struggle of what it means to have your own light diminished as well as think carefully about the ways we diminish the light of those around us.

Scripture talks today about no one lighting a candle just to put it under a basket. Of course most of us remember the Sunday school song “This Little Light of Mine.” And one of the verses talks exactly about this. “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.” On occasion, that verse for me has inspired me to continue to be the evangelist that God has called me to be. It causes me to laugh in the face of what it means to be a stereotypical Lutheran. We are known to be kind of quiet, we don’t want to bother anyone, and maybe, We can tend to be a little passive aggressive. So the language of hiding my light under a bushel, gives me pause and reason to remember my baptism.

Maybe upon hearing this scripture today, you remembered your baptism, or maybe recalled baptisms we have done in this setting. One of the things that we tell the newly baptized as we hand them a candle is “let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” I also think about the gospel of John. The very beginning of John when we hear that in the beginning there was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God and then it goes on to continue with that there is a light in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. This is also a good reminder for me that the light of Christ that is in me and in all of you can never be extinguished. It is important to remember that especially with today’s reading. You will see that even though the light is under a bushel, there is no mention of the light being extinguished. The light is hidden, or maybe even dimmer to the naked eye, but it is never extinguished.

In what ways have people tried to diminish your light? In what ways have you tried to diminish your own light? When you stop to think about these questions, the answers can be very painful. We may have to wrestle with demons we have a long kept buried. It’s not comfortable to face when we have been in positions where our power has been taken from us. When the forces of this world have attempted to diminish your light, it can be very painful. When the forces of this world have attempted to shame you into hiding your light, it can be very painful. When the forces may drive you to not want to claim your light, it can be very painful. When we allow others to diminish our light, or when we attempt to diminish our own light, we are trying to hide the incarnate God that lives in all of us.

If we take seriously the idea that God became flesh, and we should take that idea very seriously, then God lives in each one of us. That is the light that shines through us. So when our light is diminished by the world, others around us, or even ourselves, we are devaluing the God that lives in us. I have no doubt that most of us have unfortunately been victims of an attempted diminishing. Can you finish this sentence: you cannot do that, you are only (or just a)…. can you finish this sentence: since you are…. you probably can’t or don’t want to….

And when you think about filling in those blanks, I am not talking about filling it in with excuses. I am talking about filling in those blanks with the incarnate God that lives in us that makes up our humanity. This is different from saying I can’t do this I don’t have enough time. This is someone saying to us you can’t do this, you are a woman. Or you should not do this, you are over 65. When people and forces try and diminish our light, they are often trying to diminish the things about us we cannot nor would not change. And we would not change them because it is essential to whom God created us to be.

And whether we care to admit it or not, we tend to self diminish more than anything. And while I cannot speak for you, my experience has been attempting to diminish my light out of nothing but fear. I said last week that doubt feeds off of fear and fear feeds off of doubt.

At the same time, it is important to recognize when we have attempted to extinguish the light of others around us. Perhaps, it means engaging in a time of confession and forgiveness and ultimately, reconciliation. It is important to remember that the majority of us come from a place of privilege. In this country, being from a place of privilege, means that you are most likely white, middle-class, and heterosexual (and, more times than not, male). When you come from a place of privilege, it is easy, almost too easy, to diminish the light of others. It’s completely fine and acceptable to not understand someone or some thing because of a lack of education, but it’s not okay to diminish someone or some thing because you don’t agree with it.

Allow me to explain. You may say “I don’t know why those women marched” or “I don’t understand why the black lives matter movement protested by blocking traffic.” IF you express these opinions from the standpoint that you don’t understand because you haven’t taken the time to learn more, that’s fine; claim that. But, if you have learned about these movements or the people involved and yet still say “those people marching are just stupid” then you are attempting to diminish someone else’s light. You don’t have to agree with people or movements or even support them. But that doesn’t give us the right to diminish one another. Another example may be the desire to rush injustice aside. People have said to me (on occasion) “Pastor! We love you and wouldn’t treat you differently because you’re female. This stuff certainly doesn’t happen to you!” And while I appreciate that, just because you love me doesn’t mean I am universally accepted.

Recognizing that others have the light of Christ in them can be difficult, I get that. It can be difficult because once we recognize that light, we have recognized that God indeed dwells in them too. As much as we may hate to admit it, we just may not want the light of Christ to be in others; we may not want God to dwell in other people. Once we realize and see the light of Christ in others, we then must start treating them like they are loved by Christ and have God dwelling within them. This means we can no longer hate them or dislike them. See, if we hate or dislike others around us that have the light of Christ in them, that have God dwelling within them, then what does that say about us who also have the same thing? What does that say about our relationship to the divine?    

Brothers and sisters, you have the light of Christ within you. We are in a dark time. There are people who are hurting and hungry. God lives in you. Now is  not the time to be shy. Now is not the time to hide your light. And if now isn’t the time for you to shine your light, don’t you dare attempt to dim the light of others. Darkness never has the last word. “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Sermon for 1/29/17 Matthew 5:1-12

The trouble with preaching on the beatitudes (as they are called) is that scripture like this is so well known. Sometimes too well known. You may hear scripture like this and wonder “what is new? What is Pastor going to tell me that I haven’t already heard about this scripture before?” Well, I think that if Jesus were running for President and he made a stop at the Iowa State Fair (as they all do) and then read the beatitudes as his stump speech that he would be booed, run out of town, or worse…all before he could pick up a corn-dog or one of those buckets of fresh, hot, chocolate-chip cookies. Unfortunately, our definition of blessed is quite different from what Jesus says it means.

Jesus gathers his disciples for a time of teaching on the mountain top. If this were a class, it might be called “discipleship 101.” Remember, one of the names that Jesus is often called is “Rabbi” or teacher. He gathers his students, his pupils, his anxious evangelists to teach them one of the most important lessons: how to recognize those that are blessed. That is so important to remember. This is not a how-to list. This is not a to-do list. Jesus is teaching the disciples how to recognize those who are already blessed. And I have to wonder if the disciples were as confused as I am. Do you think that the disciples sat there, listening and processing, all while thinking “that doesn’t sound like being blessed at all”?

I got curious this week of what our definition of “blessed” would look like. I went to my favorite place, the internet. Actually, I went to Instagram to start. If you don’t know much about Instagram, I’m not going to go too much into it. But, it’s a social media site where people share pictures. With those pictures, you can add captions and hashtags (also known as the pound or number sign). This is handy to find other pictures with common themes. For example #ELCA or #dogsofinstagram. So, I looked up #blessed. And here is a small amount of the pictures I found.

I tried to select a nice mix. As you can see, I found this couple kissing on the subway or train, a man with a monkey on his shoulder, in the middle is a picture of a journal and a blender bottle, a Houston jersey and shoes, and then on the right hand side is a picture of a couple announcing that they are pregnant with a boy and finally, the last picture is (of course) Indian food. I wondered what made the picture takers (or picture posters) use the word blessed. Maybe the pregnant couple suffered through years of infertility like we did and they mourned for years. And now, surprise! It’s a boy. Maybe the kissing couple had just gotten over a huge argument and this is a kiss of peace? Maybe the person journaling is trying to discern what God wants from his or her life and striving for peace of heart. I can’t figure out the Indian food or monkey picture.

But, sadly, most of these pictures and many more like them on social media and other places isn’t the kind of blessed that Jesus talked about. You don’t usually hear people say “well, I  just lost my job, my house burned down, my spouse left me, and I haven’t eaten in 4 days, but at least I’m blessed.” It’s usually “just bought my new car. I’m so blessed.” Or “I’m headed to the caribbean for vacation. #blessed.” Because the truth is that when we think of someone who is blessed, it is usually equated to wealth, status, power, fame, success, and even beauty.  

At the same time, God is not in the shaming business; we usually do fine enough shaming ourselves. It’s not like these beatitudes are meant to make us feel bad. It isn’t as if Jesus wants us to be poor in spirit, or in a state of mourning, or even meek. What I don’t want for any of you is to hear these beatitudes and get down on yourself. I don’t want you to hear these and think that God has forgotten you. The challenge of the beatitudes is that God blesses the things in us that no one else (including us) can see as a blessing. Remember that Jesus was teaching the disciples how to recognize that someone was blessed. I wonder if they were being taught so that they could remind those that seemed downtrodden that they are blessed and therefore, loved? Or perhaps they needed to be taught what being blessed looks like so that those who claimed to be blessed would be invited to see the things they hide as a blessing instead?

Blessed are you who fight mental demons, who curse the darkness by lighting a candle. Blessed are you who wake up daily and keep fighting. Blessed are you who doubt God’s existence, who question, who struggle, but keep showing up. Blessed are you whose every breath is a battle. Blessed are you whose biggest battles are internal. For God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who sit at empty tables. Blessed are you who still reach for hands that are no longer present. Blessed are you who loved hard and now hurt much. Blessed are you for who tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are you who “shouldda, couldda, wouldda,” and “if only” for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who are overworked and underpaid. Blessed are you who are underappreciated. Blessed are you who have to make difficult business decisions. Blessed are you who want to feed the world but just can’t. Blessed are you who get frustrated by regulations, rules, and the weather. Blessed are you who keep others working even if you may not need them; for God see you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who draw blood and clean up disgusting things. Blessed are you who study until your brain leaks out your ears. Blessed are you who work while others sleep. Blessed are you who teach. Blessed are you who parent or grandparent. Blessed are you who share your crayons, playdoh or class notes. Blessed are you who feel invisible, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who love without boundaries. Blessed are you who love someone others don’t approve of. Blessed are you who stay only for the children. Blessed are you who keep fighting because you know it’s worth it. Blessed are you who feel like you sleep next to strangers. Blessed are you who sleep alone. Blessed are you who struggle just to love yourself, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who love and support our President. Blessed are you who are scared and engaged in resistance. Blessed are you who can have a civil disagreement on Facebook. Blessed are you who want to register as a Muslim. Blessed are you who are patriotic. Blessed are you who stopped paying attention because it’s all just too much, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who hunger for something different. Blessed are you who are comforted by routine. Blessed are you who want all the answers and blessed are you who know all the answers. Blessed are you who hunger for something more than food. Blessed are you who are full and overflowing, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

The darkest parts of you? The parts you try and hide or cover up? Those are the things that God sees and blesses. Blessings are not of human doing, they are of God’s doing; and that means they rarely look like we think they will. What a blessing.

Sermon for 1/1/17 Matthew 2:13-23

I don’t know if it was the moon, the tides, or just life, but this past week was challenging. Not good, not bad, just challenging. The week between Christmas and New Year’s I had planned to relax, visit our shut-ins, spend an extra afternoon or so with Chris. But then life happened, as it does. I had one funeral lined up before Jeanne Rogis died. So this past week brought me 2 funerals. One of those funerals was for a baby from Camanche. If I ever have to do that again it will be too soon. Then Jeanne’s funeral. Then a wedding rehearsal on Friday with the wedding last night (which was awesome, by the way) and service this morning. God and I have spent more time together this week than usual. On top of this, I wanted to prepare to leave for vacation, the house is chaotic with the siding and windows work, and I am worried about a dear family member dealing with some heart issues. And if I am going to be honest with all of you, which I totally believe in doing, I am exhausted. I have poured more out of myself than I have put in. I joked earlier that I felt like God was making me earn my vacation.  

Maybe you can understand, then, why the last thing I really wanted to do was to preach on the slaughter of the innocents (at this text from Matthew is often called). I read it over like 27 times trying to make it magically turn into rainbows and unicorns. No such luck. I should know by now that God doesn’t work like that. The more I tried not to think about this reading, the more I thought about it. I didn’t want to talk about the bloodshed, violence, and graphic nature of today’s reading. I especially didn’t want to talk about it because it is still Christmas, after all. Yes, despite what the retail stores are trying to sell you in regards to Valentine’s Day, it is still Christmas. I want to hear more about the infant Jesus. I want to hear about the manger, the animals, Joseph still in disbelief, and Mary a little unsure of her place now after giving birth to a savior. I want to hear about that.

But instead we get this terrible story about Herod killing innocent children. Herod, who was a supposed King of the Jews acted like anything but. For some reason he felt like his legacy, his work, maybe even his title and thrown, were at risk or under attack by an infant Jesus. I’m not an expert in infants, but I’ve never seen one overthrow a kingdom yet. Nonetheless, Herod was frightened. Of course, being a king he wasn’t going to admit that, but he was outright scared. This should start to give us a picture of the power of Jesus. If Herod wanted him dead even as an infant, Jesus’ powers and what he might accomplish in his lifetime we already putting fear into people.

In an act of what can only be called tyrannical rage, Herod demanded that all children under the age of 2 be killed. One has to wonder if our world leaders could be or would be set off so easily. Just let that set in for a moment. Herod felt so threatened by the infant Jesus that he demanded that all children be killed. That’s like setting your entire house on fire in order to cook a casserole. And in a great time of uncertainty, God protected Jesus. While the loss of the innocent lives was overwhelmingly cruel, God provided for and protected the messiah. Maybe then it’s not too much for us to believe that in uncertain circumstances God protects us too.

With the arrival of a new year, many of you might make resolutions or promises for a better 2017. Unfortunately, with the turning of the calendar, the dropping of the ball, and the start of a new day and month, our problems do not automatically disappear. Wouldn’t that be just wonderful if it worked that way? Some of you still struggle with health. Some of you still struggle financially. Some of you still struggle with your family or friends. All of us, in one way or another, struggle. That didn’t go away from 2016 to 2017. For some, the arrival of a new year may actually cue the anxiety to increase. With the election of Mr. Trump what happens to the affordable care act? How will the markets react with his presidency? What laws will a republican congress and senate pass that will affect me?

Maybe the arrival of 2017 causes your anxiety to increase for good reason. Maybe you’re expecting the addition of a little one to your family. Maybe you’re sending your “baby” off to college. Maybe you yourself are thinking about a job switch or even retirement. The life of the church and our future ahead is even a little uncertain (but in good way). We added 30 new members in 2016. What will this year bring? What and who will we need to make room for in our pews, hearts, and Sunday School rooms this next year? Through all these changes, God moves and acts to protect us.

And I understand that in some situations it can feel like God has just outright forgotten you. If you were to be told that God is acting for you and protecting you during a time of great struggle and stress, you have every right to doubt that. It usually isn’t until a time of great peril is over that we realize how and where God was acting and protecting us. And the beauty of this protection and love offered to us from God isn’t something we need to or even have to acknowledge in order to receive it. In the midst of crisis, it’s perfectly okay to doubt that God even knows you’re still alive. God’s faithfulness to us does not depend on our faithfulness to God. (say this again)

God created you. God created me. God created all of us. We are made in God’s image. God loves us and would never let us walk through the fire and abandon us. God protects us and would never go through waters and drown. Even in the times of great struggle, God protects us and is with us. In the times of great triumph, God protects us and is with us. In our every day lives, God protects us and is with us. I’m not advocating that you be happy 100% of the time no matter what. Brothers and sisters, what I am advocating is that you trust God’s presence in your life is very real, even if you can’t feel it. I am asking you to trust that God is protecting you, even if it feels like you are in the middle of a storm. God has not abandoned you yet and God certainly isn’t going to start now.

Sermon for 12/4/16 Matthew 3:1-12

Winter is probably my least favorite season. I am not made to survive temperatures below around 40 or so. I definitely am not made to withstand “blizzard” conditions, ice, and generally being cold. But, one of the things about winter that really gets to me is the amount (or lack thereof) of sunlight. Those of us who suffer from depression know that there is something called “seasonal affective disorder” (appropriately named SAD). This is usually triggered by a change in seasons, a lowering of the serotonin and melatonin in one’s body, and a predisposition to depression. While I don’t have SAD, it certainly would be easy for me to fit into many of the categories of the symptoms. So, this week as I was struggling with the change in weather, and continuing to struggle with the change in daylight hours, I also struggled with the news of the two missing hunters from our area: Keegan and Tyler. I didn’t know Keegan, and I only knew Tyler’s face because he worked for the vault company and was often at the cemetery when we would go for burials. But, I know many people that loved them, miss them, and spent time looking for them, only to come up empty handed. And then the news of the death of a young 17 year old girl, Hannah. This death was by choice, by her own hand, and obviously quite sudden. She also was a cousin to one of the missing hunters. Hannah was also known by many of our young people in this congregation.

With all of that, maybe you can understand that as I read and prayed about scripture then this week that the last thing I wanted to do was preach on a text with the line “You brood of vipers.” Because the last thing you need when you’re down is someone reading and preaching on scripture like that. As much as I love Advent, as much as I invite all of you to dwell in the waiting and anticipation of Advent, it’s times like this that I want all of the celebration, grandeur, and festivities that go along with Christmas. I want the lights, I want the merriment, I want the baby Jesus, I want the baking and present wrapping, I want it all! (Except eggnog. That stuff is disgusting.)

But sometimes, God has us wrestle with scripture for a reason. So, I continued to wrestle with this reading from Matthew today. And I kept coming back over and over again to the line that says “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” I know I’ve talked about repentance before. But, I want to expand on this idea a little bit more today. Often when we think about repentance, we think about confession, saying “I’m sorry” or even “man, I really screwed up and I am REALLY really sorry.” During Lent, we talk about repentance in the idea of turning around. So, we turn away from sin and turn towards God.

When it comes to change, any kind of change, we humans can be pretty stubborn. We don’t like change. And part of repentance is change. We need to, we must, change what we are doing. Often, repentance happens when we finally realize that whatever we are doing with our lives, whatever is going on in our lives, whatever our actions may be, are in direct opposition to God’s will for our lives. Repentance is that time when you realize that your words, actions, efforts, even your choices aren’t in line with what God wants.

If you are familiar with AA and their 12 step program, each individual step is about repentance. Admitting you are powerless, believe in something greater than yourself, turning yourself over to God, make lists of people you’ve wronged and attempt to make ammends, and on and on. Trust me when I tell you friends, sometimes people find more God at an AA meeting than they do at church on a Sunday morning. But the basis of the program is built on repentance. What does it mean, then to bear fruits worthy of repentance?

Normally when we talk about bearing fruit, it’s a good thing. But bearing fruits of repentance can sound kind of confusing. Repentance is more than just a heart and mind activity. It’s easy to say to your spouse or loved one “I feel really bad that I hurt that person’s feelings” but it’s completely different (and maybe even a little uncomfortable) to make confession to the person themselves. If we are serious about our repentance, then an entire change in our lives are needed. We need to reclaim our baptismal identity, confess to God and to one another, and make sure our actions show that we do indeed repent.

Repentance is more than shallow words. It certainly is more than shallow actions. Repentance means that you are committed to doing better, knowing better, and participating in better. And repentance is something that cannot happen on your own. You can pray to God for forgiveness, yes, but that confession without action may not lead fully to repentance. Repentance means that we have not been obeying the greatest commandment of love your neighbor as you love yourself. And this week, this week as I have observed so much hurt and pain in this community, I wonder if the people we need to repent against the most is ourselves. See, how do you love your neighbor as yourself if you cannot even love yourself?

In the quest for perfection, we set standards and goals no one can meet, let alone ourselves. This seems to be especially true during the holidays. No one will care if your napkins don’t match the tablecloth. We may chastise ourselves for our looks, our hair (or lack thereof), the number on the scale, the number in our bank accounts, the number of awards on our walls, even the success of our children. We all fight some kind of demons, and sometimes they are just louder than others. We get stuck in our own heads and into a no-win situation. And then we go “shoulding” ourselves. “I should have done more to help find Tyler and Keegan.” Or “I should have probed more when Hannah said nothing was wrong but I felt like there was.” I am sure many of you say more than one “should” statement to yourselves on a daily basis. And it is time to repent, brothers and sisters. It it time to repent against not loving yourself because this is not the kind of life God wants you to be living.

If we’re going to fully repent, fully forgive ourselves (because we have to do that before we can forgive others) then we have to act like, talk like, and think like we actually are remorseful and repentant for the way we treat ourselves. This means we look at ourselves as the amazing and beautiful creatures God created us to be. This means we let ourselves off the hook every once in awhile and choose being present over being perfect. This means that we take a compliment and not over analyze it. Active repentance to ourselves means loving ourselves, completely. This means loving yourself no matter the number on the scale, image in the mirror, number in the bank account, or if you even have one single award to your name. Loving yourself means not abusing yourself with drugs, alcohol, sex, or self-harm. Loving yourself means fully admitting and confessing to yourself that you are loved and then living like you believe that is true because it is true.

As we draw closer to Christmas by journeying through this time of waiting, watching, anticipating, and even wonder, we also participate in bearing fruits of repentance. Stop beating yourself up. There was only one Savior and you are not him. Start loving yourself, no matter what, because that is the life God desires for you. God wants you to think of you the way He does. Don’t be afraid to declare to yourself and to whomever will listen “yes! I am awesome because my God is awesome.” And then, start acting like it. I love you. You should too.

Advent reflection: dam(n)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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