Sermon for Ash Wednesday; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

In the fall of 2008, my beloved seminary entered into a time of financial retrenchment. It was hard. It meant the cut of programs, staff, faculty, and hours to certain services. But, it also was in the best interest of theological education. I remembered gathering in the chapel on campus to hear the news and you could have heard a pin drop as our seminary president laid out the plans step by painful step. We looked around at the faces of the professors that no longer were just positions to be cut on paper, but real flesh and blood. So, on Ash Wednesday, my church history professor, Beth Leeper, made the ascent into the high pulpit and wondered aloud how we live into Lent when we had already been living in a proverbial Lent for the last few months. She voiced what many of us already felt: we weren’t ready to let go of the alleluias. We weren’t ready for sackcloth and ashes. We weren’t ready for the reminder of death because it had surrounded us already for months. 

Professor Leeper’s words came to me again as I was preparing for this day because I, once again, am not ready to bury the alleluia. I am not ready to talk about our mortality. I don’t want to mark the cross on your foreheads knowing there is a real possibility that this time next year I won’t be able to do it again either because I won’t be here or you won’t. I have lived in a perpetual Good Friday for approximately 55 days. Trust me, I did the math. So forgive me if I am ready for a resurrection story already. I’ve done the 40 days and then some already, Jesus. But time is fickle. And so here we are again. And Jesus keeps calling to me. Jesus keeps calling for me to follow him, keeps calling me to serve him and his people. Jesus keeps showing up. There are days when that is really annoying, honestly. I know this valley narrative I keep sharing with you may be getting old. (It’s getting old to me.) But I keep sharing it because you need to know that even those that God has called into a life of service have doubts. So it’s okay for you to have doubts too. 

I wondered then, what is our response to Lent this year, church? You may have friends that practice giving something up or even making more time for something during Lent. I choose not to, but that’s just me. Scripture tells us we should show up. Lent isn’t a time for us to make us better, it’s a time for God and the Holy Spirit to move in us and move us just that much closer to God because it’s not about us. So, we should show up. What if our response to all of the noise, chaos, and fear in the world was that we showed up? For the next 6 weeks we made a promise to ourselves, one another, and to God that we would show up. We can’t control anything, at all. But we can show up here and let the Holy Spirit stir. What’s the worst that can happen? 

When we show up, we give alms, we pray, and we fast. Now, all of that may look different depending on who you are. Maybe you increase your giving. Maybe you pray more often. Maybe you fast from gossip. I don’t know. But we just keep showing up. We keep showing up because at the end of the day, we are alleluia people, we are resurrection people, and we don’t let death have the final word. And we do this all together because God created us to be in community. Do you want to know how I have survived the last 55 days? Because I know and have felt your prayers. When I wasn’t strong enough to pray for myself, I knew you were praying for me. And I pray for you too. Daily. I keep showing up because I know that God will keep surprising me. 

These actions we take tonight: confessing our sins, the imposition of ashes, communion, they’re not about proving how holy we are. It’s not even about feeling holy (I don’t even know what that feeling is). But it’s about the lifelong commitment that God has made with us and that we make to one another in baptismal promises that help us to cling to the “things that will sustain us” (Feasting on the Word, Anschutz 22). It might also be easy for the outside world, those who aren’t religious, to see the crosses on our foreheads and call us hypocrites. After all, aren’t we supposed to be doing all of this in private? Well, we’re all hypocrites sooner or later. And the cross on our foreheads doesn’t show or prove we’re better than anyone. It’s not an international bat signal for virtuosity. 

The ashen cross on our foreheads is a reminder of our mortality, of our sins, of our own shortcomings. It’s an outward sign that we are aware that death is very real. We don’t need that reminder around here. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t. “Ashes on our forehead are not displaying our piety before others; it is telling the truth to all that we are dying” (twitter “@jeffwfisher”). It is something we all have in common. And our response to this is Jesus. The one who names us, claims us, and saves us from ourselves, is Jesus. We are God’s and to God we shall return. We are made of God “stuff” and we will return to God. 

So maybe this Lent we just show up; we deny Satan the pleasure of tempting us into the valley and into the desert. We continue to carry the alleluia, even if it is just in our hearts. We show up because the world needs good news and maybe we are the ones to bring it. And maybe death doesn’t sound like good news, but our story never ends at death. We keep showing up because we know God is already here, doing amazing things and we’d hate to miss out on that. We keep showing up because the women at the empty tomb were right. We keep showing up because we need one another. This Lent I’m not giving up anything (which is usual) but I’m just going to keep showing up. It’s an act of resistance. I wondered what would really make Satan mad, and I think that’s it. I’m going to keep showing up. Maybe you’ll join me. 

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 4/21/19 Luke 24:1-12; Easter Sunday

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) The women were not to be believed. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, all of whom had never left Jesus’ side, by the way, weren’t to be believed. They had seen the empty tomb with their own eyes. They had seen the two men, assumed to be angels, in dazzling clothes. They had been terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They had gone to the tomb, prepared to care for the one they loved so dearly just one more time. The women were going to anoint Jesus’ body as was custom. But instead, they found that the stone had been rolled away and alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) And the women did the next logical thing: they went to tell the other disciples. All the men heard the story and did not believe the women. They said it was an idle tale. Even better, the original translation, the original Greek makes it more accurate to say that what the women were saying was garbage. The women were not to be believed.

Now, it’s a bit unfair to us because we know the end of the story. We know that the stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, and Jesus was who he said he was. But can you imagine that first Easter morning? It was early morning. The sun had just started to peak over the horizon. The women probably walked to the tomb in silence, still wrapped in grief. The only noise that might have been heard was the soft shuffle of footsteps and the birds waking up. The women were prepared for the task ahead of them. What they weren’t prepared for is what greeted them and they go from grief and mourning to shock, awe, disbelief, and maybe a little bit surprised in a matter of moments. What a way to be reminded that God’s ways are not the same as ours. God’s plans are not the same as ours.

The women went to the tomb prepared for death. They clung to the idea of death. I can’t blame them. I mean, who in their right mind would have approached that tomb thinking “I don’t think he’s gonna be there.” That’s not how death works, right? Death, up until this point, was the end of the story. The women had grief filled hearts, souls, even grief in the way they carried their bodies. So it seems a strange question from the angel. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The women were in shock and had no answer. But the logical answer might have been “because we’re not looking for the living…” How were they supposed to know? But then, they remembered. Then the women remembered everything that Jesus had told them. It was true! It was so true, right? Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Now, it’s quite possible that the angel could ask the same of us. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Much like the women, we want to tend to the dead things in our life. We may be so focused on the dead things in our lives that we miss the things that are living and are indeed worthy of praise. We are ready to anoint ideas and ideals that are long dead. We cling to what used to be, what could have been, what should have been, what might have been that we miss the angel staring directly at us ready to proclaim life to us and we’re just prepared to tend to death. The words of the messenger should propel us maybe even challenge us to stop hanging on to the dead and move into new life.

The angels, the messengers, the men at the tomb, whatever you want to call them are a reminder that the risen Lord dwells in new life. The risen Lord dwells in the “what if’s” of life. The risen Lord lives in the place where we leave behind what we think we know is true and sure and instead step into uncertainty and vulnerability. And all of this sounds great in theory, but we still tend to the dead. We tend to dead ideas, dead relationships, dead opportunities, and dead internal messages in the hopes that new life will spring forward. And new life always comes from death, but perhaps we’ve missed the messengers pointing the way. If you don’t believe that we hold on to death, then listen to me now. How many of you (maybe especially you ladies) have a range of 2-10 different sizes of clothing in your closet? Are you holding on to the idea one day… one day will come when you fit into those again. I am not shaming you or your body. But how freeing would it feel to live just as you are, right now? Just as God created you to be. A new life!

Or, how many rooms, storage closets, side cabinets or whatever could we go through in this church and find example after example of things we’re holding onto “just in case?” I guarantee you there are relics in this church that have not been used since before I was born and that was in 1978. Are we tending to the dead? Are we grasping onto death so tightly that new life doesn’t even have a chance to spring forward? Maybe you’re tending to a dead relationship? You keep praying and trying and changing and hoping but nothing changes in the relationship. And sometimes that happens. Some relationships are cyclical. But, new life comes from death. And the women knew. The women dropped the idea of preparing the dead quickly and moved on to proclaiming the risen Lord!

The women knew, they remembered, and they believed. They responded by being the disciples they had always been and went to tell all the others that Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) They left the idea of death in the dust and instead ran to life. They used their voices to speak truth, which is exactly what God asks of us. And they spoke the truth (even if it was scary or seemed a little absurd) and do you think that just because the men didn’t believed them that they stopped telling their story? No way! They took risks. They risked rejection. They made themselves vulnerable. They stopped at nothing to make sure that anyone and everyone knew that death wasn’t the end of the story.

How do I know? We’re here today, aren’t we? We weren’t there all those years ago but Mary and Joanna and all the others were. They saw an empty tomb. And thanks to them, thanks to those women, we no longer have to cling to our dead ideas and ideals. Because thanks to them, we too have seen the empty tomb. We get to pass along the story. Thanks to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, we are here this day, hearing the story from yet another woman (me) who is telling you that death does not, cannot, willnot, have the final word. Let the scales fall from  your eyes and your hearts and look into this empty tomb with me, my beloved. Stop preparing for death and start living for new life and resurrection and redemption, and love! Be amazed with me! This isn’t an idle tale, this is my testimony. I have seen the risen Lord! And now you have too! Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Sermon for 4/7/19 John 12:1-8

**nb: part of this sermon was visual. The congregation saw pictures of things that cost around $54,000. This included farm equipment, a boat, 5th wheel camper, jewelry, shoes, and a handbag. **

This is a gospel story about extravagant love. It’s hard for us to understand how much the perfume that Mary rubbed on Jesus’ feet was actually worth. After all, we don’t use denarii anymore. So, to say that she used 300 denarii doesn’t actually mean that much to us. So how about this? Mary rubbed approximately $54,000 on Jesus’ feet. That was extravagant love. Now, I don’t know about you, but even to say $54,000 doesn’t necessarily mean I understand it. I  don’t know what $54,000 looks like. So, I thought I would help us to understand this extravagant love. Let’s take a look at what I found you could get for around $54,000.

Now that we’ve seen examples of that, maybe we have a better idea of how extravagant and obnoxious (in the best way) this act of love really was. We don’t know how much of a sacrifice this was for Mary, financially. After all, we’re never told that Mary is poor. I think we often assume that the followers and disciples of Jesus were poor. And while that may have been the case for some, we aren’t told about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ financial situation. How did Mary manage to get such expensive perfume? We don’t know. But what we do know is that it was about a year’s worth of wages poured on Jesus feet in an act of anointing and love.

Jesus doesn’t say much during this very intricate and very intimate ritual. We don’t hear from him until he tries to quiet Judas. Mary didn’t say anything. Jesus didn’t say anything. But they both knew what was going on. Her actions spoke very loudly. Mary doesn’t talk about how much she loves Jesus. She doesn’t talk about how she is preparing him for death. Mary doesn’t talk about the significance of using pure nard, which, traditionally was used to prepare bodies in ritual cleansing after death. The fact that this nard probably came from India to Palestine made it even more valuable. Mary doesn’t know that in a few days following her washing Jesus’ feet with this perfume, Jesus will show his love to his disciples by kneeling and washing their feet. This was not a thank you gift to Jesus for raising Lazarus. But none of that was said. It was all action. Isn’t that how love is or at least should be?

How might you have reacted? After all, to receive a gift worth $54,000 isn’t something most of us have experienced. Can you even wrap your mind around that idea? And what if the person giving you this gift did it out of love and with no intentions of getting anything in return? I don’t know about you, but I certainly couldn’t have been as calm and quiet about a gift like that as Jesus was. But then again, that is what makes Jesus Jesus. I don’t know that a lot of us know what to do with that kind of abundance. At the beginning of the gospel of John, we are told that Jesus has come so that we may experience “grace upon grace” (1.16). An abundance of grace. An abundance of love. So much so that it may make us uncomfortable. So much so that we may not know how to react. So much love and grace that we may actually be rendered speechless. Jesus loves us in a way that cannot be reciprocated. It’s just not possible. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love Jesus and Jesus’ world and Jesus’ people. But Jesus loves us in such a way and with such an abundance that we can never love Jesus in the same way.

What happens in these short few little verses is actually quite huge. Mary is preparing Jesus for his death. That is an abundant sign of love. Mary recognizes the humanity of Jesus and recognizes his inherent need for love. It isn’t very often that people are able to see Jesus as the human he really is. Jesus is so often in his role as the divine that we can forget that he is human and has actual human needs. And one of those needs is love. We all need it. It is so powerful when we receive it without having to ask for it. It’s so powerful when we receive it without any expectations. Mary isn’t just loving Jesus for who he is but for who he will become. Mary is loving Jesus into his future. Mary is loving him towards his death.

Jesus knows what he has to do. He is turning his heart, mind, and physical body towards Jerusalem. He will enter the week with the waving of palms and then quickly tried and executed. But, it was Mary’s extravagant love that allowed Jesus to show extravagant love to us. Whether you know it or not, we have all been recipients of someone loving us into the next stage of our lives. This is what Mary did for Jesus. In her love, Mary was basically telling Jesus “yes you can do this. You can go to Jerusalem. And I love you.” But remember, none of that was said, it was all felt through action. Mary loved Jesus into his future. And there has been someone in your life who has loved you into yours. There is someone who has loved you $54,000 worth, or maybe even more.

We have all had a Mary in our lives. That person who loves us beyond what we can imagine. That person who loves us in such a way that the “what’s next” seems a bit more manageable. Maybe it was a parent, a spouse, or partner. Maybe it was a teacher. Maybe it was a friend. But I have no doubt that we have all had that person who has empowered us to believe that we are worthy of love and made us feel love. This is just a small taste of how Jesus loves us. Jesus always loves us into the “what’s next.” We may not know it’s Jesus. But it is. Sometimes, Jesus sends familiar people to love us into the “what’s next.” And when someone loves us into our “what’s next” we are actually empowered to be who God created us to be. Again, when someone comes alongside us to love us into the next part of our lives, it is more than just lip service.

Mary didn’t tell Jesus she loved him, she showed him. There is something really powerful about being shown love. Much like I said last week, when someone shows you love in a physical, healthy way, you are recognized. And there is power in recognition. There is power in being seen. There is power in gaining confidence to move boldly into our futures knowing that we are loved. Who is loving you into your “what’s next”? Are you loving someone into their “what’s next”? Jesus is always loving us into our next thing. Even when we don’t recognize it, Jesus is loving us with more than just lip service. Everything we have in our lives is proof of Jesus loving us into the disciples he knows we can be.

Jesus took all the love given to him by Mary and all of his other disciples with him as he went into Jerusalem. And in his final breaths, in his death on the cross, in his blood poured out, Jesus took that love and gave it back to us. The blood poured out was loved poured out. Jesus has been loving us into our what’s next since his death. And in the empty tomb he showed us once again that we are loved. Because the empty tomb couldn’t hold all of that love. Love ushered Jesus into the resurrection. And, some day, may it be the same for us. You are loved, my beloveds. You are loved with love greater than $54,000. You are loved beyond what you can even imagine. You are loved into your “what’s next” which means you are loved into the person God created you to be. That is some powerful love! Thanks be to God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sermon for 2/11/18 Mark 9:2-9 Transfiguration

In my experience, I don’t know that I have found a human emotion that more people try to avoid or that more people dislike as much as fear. I don’t know what it is about fear. Fear actually keeps us safe. But, I think we often run from fear because if people see us afraid, they might then see us as weak. And I also find that fear and pain go hand in hand. Fear and pain are two things that I find people want to avoid. And we often go through several hoops in order to avoid pain and fear. Society tells us that we need to be happy, successful, thin, rich, and on and on. In order to be what society tells us we need to be, we often run from pain and from fear. We look to mask whatever is imperfect with us in order to highlight the “believed” perfect and show that to the world.

Author Glennon Doyle Melton talks about living with fear and living with pain. She says that we often are looking for the easy button of life. Do you all remember the Staples commercial where they push that big red button and say “that was easy!” And for us, she says, we look for the easy button in order to escape or avoid fear or pain. And the easy button can be anything: food, booze, drugs, sex, the internet, gossip, and on and on. But, she proposes that instead of pushing our easy buttons that we need to be better at sitting in our pain and sitting with our fears. We try and outrun it all, but instead, we need to take up residence in pain and fear and see what they have to teach us.

And I mention this as Peter expresses a common human emotion of fear. And instead of expressing his fear (scripture says “they were terrified”) he proposes to Jesus that they just need to stay on that mountain. Peter even says let’s not only stay here, let’s live here. On this mountaintop. He was afraid and didn’t know what else to say. Instead of facing his fear, Peter wants an easy button. And the easy button, so to speak, comes in the form of God and God’s declaration. God says “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” What? That’s an easy button? Yes. Follow me here.

Fear is part of our lives. Pain is part of our lives. We cannot avoid it. We may try. But there is no human made “easy button.” The only easy button in our lives is the cross. And in order to fully experience the cross we must fully experience fear and pain. On this day, Transfiguration, my proposal beloveds, is that we allow ourselves to be transformed and transfigured by pain and fear. What do pain and fear have to teach us? Jesus wasn’t one to run from pain and fear. He could have stayed on the top of that mountain. But instead, he came down the mountain into a valley where he would be met, eventually, but the people who would arrest and crucify him.

And I know what you may be thinking “of course Jesus didn’t run from pain and fear….he’s Jesus.” Right. I get it. But part of our call to be disciples as I’ve been talking about week after week is to not only point to Jesus but follow him as well. It’s easy for us to talk about Jesus. It might even be easy to point to Jesus and the ways that he moves and acts throughout this world. But to literally follow Jesus is scary. Our fear takes hold and gets the best of us and then we go looking for those man-made easy buttons.

Jesus goes to places we don’t like to even think about going. Jesus goes to disease infested, war torn, s-hole countries (as President Trump would say) that we’d rather not think exist. But he goes there because the promise that God has made to all of humanity is that we will not be abandoned by God. And so God sends us Jesus. If Jesus descended into hell, you can bet that going places that other people would rather forget probably seems like a cakewalk. And I’m not proposing that we need to all pack our bags and go on a mission trip. I mean that following Jesus is something that can start small. Anytime you may find yourself thinking or expressing the feeling of “I can’t go there” or “I can’t talk to them because it would just break my heart” then that is exactly where you need to be. Because that is exactly where Jesus is. We may want to avoid pain and fear but that is exactly where Christ normally hangs out.

When God says “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” God is telling us that EVERYTHING that Jesus has told us and will tell us about his life, death, and resurrection is true. And if that is true, my beloveds, then the pain and fear we may feel not only is real, but we’re not alone. And the pain and fear we go through will vanish in death thanks to God’s saving action on the cross. Beautiful Miss Shelby is going to get baptized today. And in baptism we never promise a life without pain and fear. Of course, we don’t want that for her. But it will happen. But in baptism we are promised a life where Jesus is going to be with us every single step of the way. No matter what.

I hope that Shelby will learn and I pray that all of us can learn that instead of reaching for the “easy button,” instead of being tempted to do whatever it is we need to do to escape pain and fear, that we instead remember that in our pain and in our fear is where Christ tends to be. In our pain and in our fear is usually where we learn the most. In our pain and in our fear is where we find out who we are and whose we are. We too often are like Peter: desiring to be comfortable, set up shop, and avoid not only pain and fear, but those dark valleys. But if we somehow are able to avoid those, are we really living the life that God intended for us? We don’t go searching out fear and pain, but it is out there.

For some reason, we may also think that in order to be people of God that coming to church means coming “cleaned up.” When we come to God’s house we certainly cannot be filled with pain and fear. People don’t like to see that. We must come neat, put together, and with the appearance that all is fine and good. But if we believe that Christ truly is present in this place, and I really hope we believe that, then why would we not come as we are even if that means coming full of pain and fear? If Christ is going to meet us here, Christ will meet us in our pain and in our fear even if no one else does. Many of us work really hard to present masks of ourselves to the world, pretending to be perfect. But I am sure that Christ would prefer us to be present over perfect. Christ would prefer us to be flawed over fake.

Shelby’s transfiguration starts today. She will be transfigured into a child of God. And for you, my dearests, be reminded that your transfiguration started long ago at these waters as well. God met you here and continues to walk with you. It is okay to fear. It is okay to have pain. Our God is a God who suffered on a cross. There’s no pain that compares to that. That suffering erases ours. If you’re looking for an easy button, you’ll find it in the cross.

Sermon for 11/5/17 Revelation 7:9-17

My alarm went off on the cold morning of January 12, 2010 and I rolled over, turned it off, and started to read through the notifications that had come on my phone. I was living in Sumner at the time and doing my internship. Thanks to Facebook and twitter, I immediately learned the news of the devastating 7.0 earthquake that shook Haiti that day. One of my classmates was in Haiti with her internship congregation. Three other students were there doing a January term class, or J-term. The following day, I read the emails from our seminary president. Renee, Ben, and Jon were okay. They were figuratively shaken but they were okay. And then another email followed. It stated that Renee and Jon were well, but Ben’s status was unknown. Then a final email came confirming that Ben was one of hundreds of thousands killed in the earthquake. Ben was killed after being trapped in the building that the three were staying in. In his final minutes of life, as he was being crushed by concrete, rebar, and debris, Ben was heard singing the tune of “Where Charity and Love Prevail.” The last words he sang were “Lord Jesus you bear all the sins a world away. God’s peace to us we pray.” With the help of the Haitian people, mourning their own losses, and volunteers from the Lutheran World Federation, Ben was one of the first people actually recovered from the rubble. By then, of course, he was long gone.

I had known Ben Splichal Larson since before seminary. When Chris and I were touring seminaries, it was Ben and his cousin and best friend, Jon, that took us out for drinks at the Busted Lift in Dubuque. I think I knew then that I was in the presence of people who were special. Not just Ben, but Jon is pretty awesome as well. I thought of Ben as I read that Revelation reading. Ben was quoted as saying that when he dies he wants to go out singing. And that he did. It is a beautiful picture, at least to me, to picture all of our Saints singing the praises of God together.

The Revelation reading says there was a great multitude, so large that no one could actually count how large the crowd was. The multitude was from every nation, and spoke every language, and they were all colors, and abilities, and statuses. It continues saying “and all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” They are everybody. These saints that sing the praises of God look like us and at the same time, look nothing like us. And the most astounding thing is this: they sing.

My Chris has too many stories of students he has worked with that have been told somewhere along the way that they cannot sing. It usually happens when a person is young. A likely well-meaning choir teacher pulled the student aside and, for whatever reason, told them that they cannot or should not sing. It breaks his heart when he hears these stories and it breaks mine when he relays them to me. In fact, a lot of his doctoral research is going to focus on why people don’t sing…especially why men in church don’t sing. But in the midst of everything else, believers should and do sing. This isn’t a case of just knowing about salvation and God’s goodness, but knowing it so well and being filled with such joy that you simply must sing. “Revelation overcomes such trickery with the  music of the heavenly choir reminding the saints–living and dead–that the good news is heard, even overheard. The saints’ cry may not always come in four-part harmony, but it is always a joyful noise. So the saints listen while they join in the song.” (Tom Tate, Feasting on the Word p220)

This reminds me of that hymn “how can I keep from singing?” In the midst of good and evil, war and peace, feast and famine, wealth and poverty, in the midst of life, no matter what comes across the path of the saints, they just cannot help but to sing. And at the same time, the saints, living and deceased cannot help but listen. And so why do we listen? We listen because by listening we hear the good news. We can experience the good news. We can experience the empty tomb. We can see it with our eyes. We can smell the slight hint of death but we don’t see the body. We can taste the confusion of knowing a man was crucified and laid in a tomb, but now he is no longer there. We can feel the radiance of joy starting to creep into our bodies and shine on our faces through the light that is Christ. But, but! Not until we hear the triumphant cry of “Alleluia! He is risen!” (He is risen indeed, alleluia!) Do we actually dare to believe it.

We gather here, week in and week out, despite what is going on, because we need to hear the good news. It’s one thing to show up. It’s another to show up and hear “you are forgiven. You are loved. You are freed from your sins.” And as if that isn’t good news enough, we sing this good news. We sing it so we ourselves can hear that good news and we sing it so those around us can hear it. Sometimes we may not believe it for ourselves, so we need to hear it from someone else. So we sing. And we show up here, on the first day of the week, just like the women at the tomb, to show ourselves, to show others, to show the world that death, no matter what it may look like, never has the final word. To show up to worship is an act of courage. So much goes on in our weeks that can easily crush us. Life is hard, friends, I get that. Many of us experience highs and lows in our 6 days that follow Sunday. We show up on Sunday as a sign of defiance. We renounce the devil and all the forces that attempt to defy God. We renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God. We renounce the ways of sin that draw us from God. All of that defiance is tiring and can make us weary and weak spiritually speaking. So we show up in the hopes that even the smallest glimpse of hope will encourage us for the week ahead.

And we sing. We sing with our saints. We sing because of our saints. We sing in the hope of joining the saints. The Lamb is already on the throne, in charge of everything we are and everything we need. That Lamb, Jesus Christ, is our shepherd and we shall want for nothing. And our troubles won’t disappear. Evil will do everything it can to attempt to sway us away from God. But our tears, when they come, are wiped away by God. What a powerful image. In our suffering and joy, God is there. Our song is one of salvation. Our song is one of hope. Our song is one of love. Our song is one of peace. And our song has the power to transform us and the people around us. Our song is sung, with joy, in the face of death, knowing that death never has and never will have the final word. We sing, my beloveds. We sing with the saints, for the saints, and surrounded by the saints.

Sermon for 9/10/17 Matthew 18:15-20

I tried everything I could to come up with something to say this week. I thought about different stories from my life I could share. I read articles. I read blog posts. I listened to podcasts. I tried praying about this text. But, as my own self-imposed deadline drew closer and closer, I realized I had nothing. I wasn’t surprised by this, quite honestly. It’s been a week. This isn’t an excuse, it’s my reality. I think it’s important that you see me as human. What I mean by that is that I am not some kind of like rock-star super-species that can handle everything that life throws at me. I hurt. I cry. I experience joy and pain; laughter and sorrow; ups and downs, just like the rest of you. Sometimes I turn to God and lean on God so heavily that I think God might just tip over. Sometimes I ignore God altogether and then get angry with God. God can handle that, trust me. This was a week where a lot was poured out of me and not a lot went back in. We took care of Evelyn Mohr’s funeral on Thursday and then I had a double funeral yesterday of Cathy and Bill Winchester. In addition to that, we put our eldest dog, Bailey to sleep on Tuesday. All of this on top of the normal every day stresses of life. Like I said, it’s been a week.

And sometimes I have weeks like this and I put on my “happy worship” face and come here, lead worship, give you the body and blood of Christ, declare forgiveness of your sins, sing and rejoice, and then go home and collapse, still feeling bleh. In seminary we called that “fake it til’ you make it.” I imagine some of you do it to. Maybe you’re not having a great day, week, month, or even a great year. And yet, you show up here, week after week, faking it the whole time, waiting for something to happen. And what are we waiting for? I think at the root of all people, we desire genuine relationships, right? I hope all of you have a sweatpants friend. That’s what I call it. This is your friend that you can show up to their house in sweatpants, no make up, hair a mess, and they’re going to welcome you in, no questions asked because they look exactly the same.

We should have more sweatpants relationships in the church. But instead, we spend time and money prettying ourselves up to come to a place where we declare to love and worship a God who knows us, the real us, and yet we present the covered up us. We present the “us” that has everything together. We present the “us” that is “great! How are you?” We present the “us” that has perfect children, a perfect marriage, perfect teeth, clothes, hair, and an offering to boot! And what do we do as soon as we leave this place? We go home, take off our costumes, and get into sweatpants! So today, I am showing up. I am showing up, just as I am and with no apologies. This is how God made me. God loves me when I am dressed like this or if I am in sweatpants. But, most importantly, I wanted to show up. And I thank you today for showing up. I am sure many of you had other things you could be doing right now, including sleep if you wanted. But you showed up.

I showed up because of the promise given to us in verse 20 today “for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” So I came today to be with you because I knew that when we gathered, Jesus would be here. And Jesus is here. Not because of anything I have said or done, but because we are the people of God gathered AS the people of God. Therefore, Jesus is here. Sometimes, we just need that reminder. We show up, just as we are, broken sinners, yet at the same time, real people, with real problems, with no real solutions. The only solution that seems to make any sense whatsoever is to come together as the people of God and remind one another that Jesus is here, in our midst, in our presence.

And Jesus didn’t show up because we look good, or because we’ve got it all figured out, or because it’s 9:00am on a Sunday. Jesus showed up because that’s what he does. We serve a God who promises to show up through Jesus Christ and God will never let us down. Sometimes as Christians, I think we think that we can’t show up until we have all the answers. We don’t want to show up and not know what to say, what to do, or how to do whatever it is we’re supposed to do when we show up. I think that’s why when we do gather as the body of Christ during times of sorrow, we often just stick with the “script.” The script is “I’m very sorry to hear about your loss” and we bring a pan of bars or something. Then we offer this: “call me if you need anything.” And in times of crisis, we know we need stuff, we just don’t know what it is and at the same time, we’ll be damned if we’re going to ask for it.

What we need, my beloved, is to just show up. Show up even though we don’t know what to say, do, ask, or act. Show up. Because when we show up as people of God on behalf of the body of Christ, Christ is already there in the midst of that. It doesn’t matter if we show up in a church or in a bar. When we show up for one another, Christ is there. And what that looks like from a practical standpoint is this: showing up and making, creating, and holding space for others to experience Christ. We don’t have to have the answers, don’t you see? Christ is already here or wherever among us. So instead of showing up all shiny and pretty and promising that things will get better, what if we showed up as our real selves and said “I dunno. But I know Christ is here.” I think what God desires is for us to be real, to be genuine, and to show up. Can we trust that God is amazing enough to give us what we need when we need it when we show up to just show up? Or are we going to sit back and wait until the right time because we don’t know what to say or do and really the message that we are sending is “I don’t trust you, God.”

Can we just admit that the world has enough shiny fake people in it? Aren’t you tired of putting on an act? Don’t you get tired of pretending that everything is okay? Shouldn’t church be the one place that you can show up without apology and people are just glad you showed up? If we desire to be a place of welcome, which I think we do, then let’s be genuine about that. There’s a huge difference in “well…I guess you showed up” (while looking someone up and down) and “at least you showed up!” Now, please don’t get all up in arms with me thinking that I am suggesting that we become the sweatpants church. I don’t care what you wear, I am just glad you are here. The world needs more places where people feel comfortable and welcomed, just as they are, knowing that they will be listened to and loved. And we don’t have to have all the answers or resources. We just show up. And we keep showing up over and over and over again because we know that when 2 or 3 people are gathered in God’s name, God is already there in the midst of them, creating something holy. And God knows what the world needs more than anything right now is more places where people can just show up and be and experience the holy. Maybe this is our call, beloveds. Our call is to show up, point to Christ, and create space to experience holy hospitality. Thanks for showing up today. I’m glad I did.

Sermon for 8/13/17 Matthew 14:22-33

How many of you have ever heard the phrase don’t ask Jesus to guide your feet if you are not willing to move? So, for the record, Peter asked to get out of the boat. And sure, we could blame Peter for being a lot of things: tired, delusional, maybe hungry, whatever. But the fact is, he asked Jesus to call him out of the boat. Peter! If you are not willing to go with Jesus, don’t ask him to move you. And try as we might to shake are headed Peter, we are often guilty of doing the same thing. “Lord! Please, use me! But, on my own time, under my own circumstances, and when I am good and ready.” If you have ever try to negotiate with God, you know how well it turns out. Normally, it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted to. It turns out the way God wants it to. And, as it turns out, it usually is much better than what we had planned. With apologies to those of you who shudder at salty language, I think my sermon this week can be summed up best by one sentence: get out of the damn boat!

Why do we think that discipleship, evangelism, stewardship, and caring for the other is someone else’s job? We are quick to want our children, grandchildren, family members, and loved ones baptized. We often think it is a ticket out. We think it is a ticket out of hell. That is why you may find some grandparents worried about their grandchildren’s salvation. But I am here to tell you, baptism is not a ticket out, but it is a ticket in. In our baptism, our ticket stamped. It is our ticket in to evangelism, stewardship, and discipleship. Once we are baptized into the community of believers, we are then “in” to work for Christ.

And maybe we don’t realize that that is part of what happens of baptism. After all, most of us were baptized as children. We did not have much of a say as to what we were getting ourselves into. But, generations before us have been baptized and survived working for Christ, generations after us will be baptized and survive working for Christ. I think we can handle it as well.

But often, instead of looking at situations as continuing to validate our ticket in, we put up walls, come up with excuses, and sometimes even blatantly ignore Christ. It is a very dangerous thing to ignore God. I have said before that God is the master of hide and seek. You may try and hide from God, but God will find you. When God calls, we often let self doubt, fear, and the shame and stigma serving Christ get in our way. Forgive me for using a dumb example. But, when people were in trouble in the Superman movies, Superman never looked at them and said “you know, as it turns out, this is more of a job for Spiderman.” No, Superman saw a need, and figured out how to solve the situation.

Now, I understand that none of us are Superman, Wonder Woman, or Spiderman for that matter. We can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. We don’t own an invisible jet. We certainly are not able to swing from building to building with ease. But, what we do have is something even better. We have God calling us, the Holy Spirit on our side, and Christ already leading the way.  And maybe it is difficult for you to hear the good news in this gospel today. But here it is for you, my beloved’s. When we ask God to move us, and we step out of the boat, nothing is on us. God already has a plan, God already has a will and a way. And more importantly God has got us. Did you hear that? Jesus reached out to Peter and held onto Peter. God has got us. We need not be afraid of anything. God has got us. Are you hearing me? When we dare step out and take the risk, God has got us.

I often say that God prepares the called. God does not call the prepared. If God is calling you to something daring, or maybe even just something out of your norm, God will prepare you. God has got you. Or, maybe for those of you that are a little younger, maybe you understand this better: “God’s got yo’ back.”

As I prayed about the national events that have taken place in the last 48 hours, it occurred to me that we may not desire to get out of the boat because the boat is comfortable. The boat is where we are surrounded by people who think, act, talk, and look like us. Sure, we may ask Jesus to move us, but when we realize that Jesus is an undocumented man of color, we may start to question his abilities. Part of my call to serve this church, and not just the church local but the church global, is to name sin when I see it. It’s part of being what Luther called “a theologian of the cross.” What happened in the name of “justice” in Charlottesville, Virginia over the last few days is sin. It is white nationalism. It is domestic terrorism. Death occurred. These are people that want to hide behind their skin and long established positions of power. These are radicals. These people, marching with torches, yelling terribly racist things are the community soccer coaches, mail carriers, grocer, and maybe even worse yet, these are people that sit in church pews every Sunday. These are people who refuse to get out of the boat because the boat is comfortable. The boat is filled with people just like them. The boat is safe. Stepping out of the boat is scary, I totally get that. But the boat of white supremacy has been floating in rivers of blood spilled by our siblings of color for too long. I, for one, no longer refuse to be quiet and complacent. My silence has lead to death. I am getting out of the boat. Not because I want to, but because God has called me to wade into the waters. God has got me. I am going to mess up, and get my words wrong, and my actions may be sloppy. But, I can no longer stay silent. I’d rather sink in the rivers of justice than continue to float in my own little boat of white privilege.

As you may recall, last week I gave five of your fellow congregation members $40 a piece. They trusted in God and got out of the boat. They trusted that God had them and was already working through them to show them where those funds needed to go. I am so excited to hear the stories of how God moved this week I’m on the people of God. Who wants to start?

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.