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 2/2/20 Matthew 5:1-12

The challenge of preaching on something like the beatitudes, also known as the Sermon on the Mount is that for many, it is a very familiar text. What can Pastor possibly say about something so familiar? Second, how does a preacher preach on a sermon? I mean think about it. I am given the task of giving a sermon on a sermon; so that’s weird. It’s like giving a book report on a book report. So, every Gospel has a central focus. If you had to boil it down to one or two main points that each Gospel story goes back to you might be able to do it. In Matthew, Jesus is a teacher. Maybe it’s no surprise then that one of the first things he does with his newly called disciples isn’t perform miracles or heal people, but instead he starts to teach them. And for Jesus, these weren’t just words. These were identifiers, so to speak. Jesus had to teach the disciples about what blessings meant in order for them to understand what it meant to be a disciple. 

That all sound fine and good in theory. However, do we know what Jesus was talking about? After all, the word “blessing” seems to be thrown around a lot without much meaning behind it. How different might these beatitudes sound if instead you heard them as this “God’s favor and protection is with those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It sounds a little different to my ears,  maybe yours too. It makes me think about those who are poor in spirit a little differently as well. Maybe we shouldn’t forget that the disciples weren’t just the ones gathered on the mountain plateau. We are all called to be disciples. So, Jesus’ words are just as relevant to us now as they were to the disciples then. What are we to call a blessing, then my beloveds? 

So, first of all, this should never be heard as a to-do list or a guilt list. It is all too easy to hear this reading and think that we’re not holy enough or that we’re not measuring up to some kind of standard that God has for us. This is not the case at all. So forget that kind of thinking right away. After all, no one would actually choose to be poor in spirit; it’s a terrible place to be, I imagine. I think that Jesus is trying to retrain the disciple’s eyes (and ours) to see God at work on earth; to start seeing “on earth as it is in heaven.” I have said this before and I stand by this belief: if the good news (the “gospel”) of Jesus Christ is not good news for the poor and marginalized then it is not good news. (say that again) 

I think it’s also important for Jesus, our teacher, to do more than just tell us that we are blessed. What does it mean to actually feel blessed; to feel favored, remembered, and protected by God? And unlike people who use the word “blessed” when they really mean lucky or (I’m sorry) rich, to be blessed means to move and operate in this world knowing that you are loved and forgiven by God. And while that may not sound radical, it really is. Do I believe that I am blessed? On my good days, yes. But I have a lot of not so good days. I know I am not alone. But here’s the crazy thing. There are people in this world who would dare argue that I am not blessed. I am not loved or forgiven by God. And why? Because I, a female, dare preach in front of you. I, some would say, am going against the word of God. I didn’t realize that being blessed was a decision that anyone else besides God could make. 

But here’s the thing, from the moment God names us and claims us, we are blessed. We have all we need in our identities in God. God does love you and God forgives you. God wraps a blanket of mercy around you and bathes you in grace. When was the last time you really allowed yourself to accept that? When was the last time you allowed yourself to feel that without a fight? When was the last time you allowed yourself to sit long enough for the Holy Spirit to hug you in holy love and not fight it? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be loved without expectation? 

The last time I was asked that question, I cried. I cried out of anger. I cried out of sadness. I cried out of pity. I cried. I cried because I couldn’t remember when I had stopped long enough to allow myself to feel God’s love. I cried because I allowed myself to get too busy. I got angry with myself because I allowed my words to go out to you hollow: full of so much promise but with no intent of fulfilment. Because if I don’t believe it for myself how will you believe it’s true for you. I cried out of pity because I felt sorry for me. I knew I had missed out on something good. But I cried because I knew with God there is always another chance. And another. And another. And another. Because that’s how God works. That’s a blessing. 

So as I prayed about what you, my beloved people might need this day, God reminded me, guided me to teach just as Jesus did. The best thing I think I can do for you this day is to remind you that you are blessed. Just as you are. Because of whose you are. You have been blessed from the moment God knit you together. God claimed you in the waters of baptism and God continues to claim you day after day. God probably has a picture of you on the eternal fridge. We are going to be reminded of our blessings today by affirming our baptisms. I ask you, when was the last time you allowed yourself to be loved? Do it with me today as we turn to page 237 in the hymnal. 

Sermon for 1/12/20 Matthew 3:13-17

It probably won’t surprise many of you, but we’re big Disney fans in the Marple household. We got our subscription to Disney Plus as soon as it came out. We’ve been on a Disney Cruise as many of you know. As soon as the opportunity arose during Thanksgiving, we ventured out to see Frozen 2. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t have kids, go and see it. It’s a great movie (I even liked it better than the first one). One idea that runs through the movie (and don’t worry, this won’t ruin it for you) is that water has memory. Water remembers. And it makes sense. Water is a living creature. It is made up of oxygen and particles just like you and me. So water remembers being frozen, or disturbed, or dammed up, or polluted, or whatever the case may be. Considering that water has been around since the literal creation of the earth, water must have a very long memory. In a lot of ways, water helps us to remember too. 

In today’s story, we hear about Jesus’ baptism. The temptation, of course, is to think of our own baptisms. This is only natural. Perhaps we think of Casey’s baptism still to come. Also only natural. But the focus for scripture today is Jesus’ baptism. The baptism isn’t the end of his ministry but the beginning. In the waters he was named and claimed, just like we all are, and those waters helped to form his ministry. And as corny as this sounds, the fact that water has memory isn’t just a Disney idea. I really truly believe this. We also know that water is crucial to creation. It is part of life and necessary for life. At the same time, water is necessary for new life in Christ. In the waters of his baptism, Jesus gets an identity: Son of God, beloved, one with whom God is well pleased. That is Jesus’ identity in that moment. That will also shape his ministry that will begin at those waters and finish not at the cross, but with an empty tomb and resurrection. 

Like many of you, I’m sure, I followed the news closely this past week. I watched, I listened, I carefully followed tweets. And I worried. See, seminary didn’t teach me how to lead a congregation during wartime should such a time arise. This past week was full of disruption to what should have normally been a fairly mundane week of news as normal and most of us giving up on resolutions. When rituals get disrupted it can leave us feeling in a lurch and wondering what is next. When routines get disrupted it feels like everything gets thrown off. I don’t know about you, my beloved, but this past week felt like it lasted about a month. My mind, my body, and my spirit are not meant to live in crisis mode as much as it did this past week. 

I think that is why I am so grateful that this is part of our routine. That we gather here, week after week as the body of Christ, in community, to recenter ourselves in Christ. We gather around bread and wine to be fed by a humble feast and be reminded of what love really tastes like. And we are reminded of this while being told that this bread and wine is given for all for the forgiveness of sins. Even though we gather here at this physical location, this is being done all over the world in places of worship and this routine binds us together. 

Then we gather at the waters. The waters that remember. They remember Jesus and they certainly remember you. Baptism isn’t just water. This baptism was just water until the Holy Spirit showed up. The Holy Spirit, I like to think of her as the trouble making person of the Trinity, shows up and descends upon Jesus. And it is that Holy Spirit that sends Jesus out into the world and accompanies him as he starts doing ministry. But left behind are the waters that washed the son of God. The man who was fully human and yet fully divine. He entered into the waters as normal as you or I but rose transformed. I’d like to think the Holy Spirit does the same to us. In Jesus’ baptism, he was fully claimed. He was washed (although sinless) and the waters remembered. I wonder though, and scripture never tells us, do you think that Jesus ever forgot who he was?

Like did Jesus ever have a dark moment when he forgot that he was the Messiah? Or did he have moments where he doubted his divinity? Did he have moments where he forgot what was professed to him in those waters? I’d like to know if Jesus had those very human moments. I know I do. There are moments when the waters have to remind me of who I am. I don’t remember, but the waters of baptism remind me of who I am. But here’s what makes me super mad about the waters of baptism: they remind me of who my enemies are too. And my enemies, or the people I perceive to be my enemies, the people I don’t like, or the people I wish ill upon, they have been named and claimed too. The waters of baptism remember them too. God loves them too. 

See, there would be times (like this past week) when it would just flat out be easier to not be a baptized Christian. It would be easier to not be a pastor. It would be easier to forget about the waters and let the waters forget about me. But I can’t. Grace messed me up. And now I can’t get over the fact that the same God that named and claimed Jesus as beloved does the same to the guy I don’t even know but argue with in the comment section on the internet. The waters washed my eyes cleaned and I wished they hadn’t. Because I can’t view this world without it breaking my heart. I can’t view this world and not see it begging for justice and peace. Not only do the waters of baptism remember me, but they remind me of who I am and whose I am. And these waters aren’t exclusive to me. Jesus wasn’t the only person baptized in the Jordan. Jesus’ baptism was the start of his ministry. And our baptism is the start of ours. 

These waters remember you. There is nothing to prevent you from being baptized. In fact, just because we’re baptizing Casey today doesn’t mean we can’t baptize someone else too. When you forget who you are, allow the waters to remind you. You are claimed. You are beloved. These waters will transform you. That’s a fair warning. Like I said, grace messes me up all the time. There’s been a lot to fear this past week. Perfect love casts out fear. In these waters, we collide with perfect love: the love of God. You are God’s beloved and the waters remember. So should you. 

Sermon for 6/23/19 Luke 8:26-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 5/26/19 John 14:23-29

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) It seems a strange thing that we have had the Easter story in all of its glory and for a few weeks now we seem to have been going backwards. This week is no exception. We continue to hear from Jesus during what is known as his farewell discourse. It is 3 long chapters of almost continuous speech from Jesus preparing the disciples and us for his ultimate death. Despite all of that, the disciples (and us, honestly) still seem woefully unprepared when the time actually comes. Maybe the reason why we get these texts after Easter is a gift of hindsight. We can look at what God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit are doing and also remember what Jesus told us would happen before, during, and after his death.

At the same time, what Jesus leaves us with isn’t easy. I remember when I was old enough to start staying home by myself (also serving as a babysitter at times for my brother and sister) I was left with a list of to-dos (and some not to-dos). Don’t answer the door! Don’t use the oven or the stove. Remember to start the washer! I have no idea what I would have done if my parents said to me “keep our words… peace we leave with you.” I would have been left with a lot of questions. So perhaps it’s understandable that the disciples don’t fully understand. But, let us not kid one another, my beloved, we don’t always understand either.

Jesus doesn’t play around or sugar coat things. He says “those who love me will keep my word.” For Jesus, there isn’t an option. There’s no gray area. We either keep his words or we don’t. And here’s the thing, we are inundated with the rhetoric that everything we hear is nothing but lies. Our administration loves to use the words “fake news.” It’s also possible that every news source, no matter if it is television or print, does have a bit of a slant. It’s also possible that, at times, we may only read and hear what we desire to absorb. With all of that in mind, what does it mean to keep Jesus’ word? What does it mean to keep Jesus’ word especially in a world that (1) isn’t familiar with Jesus and (2) may not want to hear Jesus’ word? Maybe the better question is what in the world is Jesus’ word anyway? How can we keep Jesus’ word if we don’t even know what it is. After all, there is an entire New Testament full of Jesus’ words, which ones do we keep?

I believe that the basis of all of Jesus’ words and commandments can come down to one simple word; the same one I touched on last week: love. Love one another. If we love Jesus as we say we do then we will love one another, we will love the world, we will love ourselves. That last part can be especially hard and tricky. I don’t know about you, but it is difficult, if not impossible at times, to keep this word that Jesus demands. I believe in truth telling. I think Jesus calls me to do that as well. The truth-teller side of me wants to tell the truth that I don’t want to love everyone and even if I tried, it feels like an impossible task. What about those people who wish to do me harm or who have harmed me in the past? Do you think I want to love those people?

There’s a saying that goes “speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” I think about that a lot as I prepare to preach and as I pray about where God is leading me in this world. Keeping Jesus’ words means that we might have to say difficult things, encounter difficult people, step into difficult places, and, ultimately, find ourselves in the places we previously ignored. When your message is “God so loved the world” you’re not always the most popular person. God so loved the world? Fake news! This can feel especially true if you are the one that is experiencing some distance from God or you feel as if God has forgotten you. This can feel especially true if society tells you that you are unlovable. This can feel especially true if you just don’t believe that God’s love is for you too. It’s easier to chalk that up to fake news than to trust that God keeps God’s word and that the love God spoke of is for you. Perhaps, my beloved, the hardest part of keeping Jesus’ word is just keeping it (that is, believing it) for ourselves. After all, a hurting world isn’t going to believe our message of love if we don’t embrace it in its fullness for us.

While all of this love does seem an impossible task, Jesus assures us we will not be alone. Jesus is sending us a friend, a companion, an advocate: the Holy Spirit. And my goodness, is she tricky! That Holy Spirit will turn your life upside down in the most amazing ways. When your hearts are troubled or when you are afraid, there is the Holy Spirit to remind you of all the things Jesus said and did and to continue to teach us Jesus’ ways. The Holy Spirit, when we are open to her and willing to listen to her, will guide us in the ways that show the world that Jesus’ words are not fake news. Jesus’ words are not an idle tale. Jesus’ words are more than lip service. Jesus’ words are life giving, life changing, life enhancing words. And when the Holy Spirit stirs, and she will, and it takes us to places we couldn’t even dreamed of going, the message of love will be one that is so sorely needed.

If this message of love isn’t welcomed, which, if we’re honest, it probably won’t be, then there’s a chance we (and others who love Jesus) will be put out to the margins. We’ll be swept under the rug. We will be put in a corner until we can learn to behave and recite the company line that power and riches equal happiness. We will be kept out of populated places where our crazy ideas of love and mercy can’t taint the waters of discrimination, sexism, and classism. This message of love, my beloveds, has the chance of putting us in or at the margins. Lucky for us, we serve a God that does the best work on the margins.

We have story after story of God taking marginalized people, lifting them up, and then doing great things through them. Esther was a woman and should have never risen to power, yet there she was. Jonah avoided God and God sent him anyway. Peter was a fisherman and denied Jesus three times! John the Baptist was eccentric and ate locusts. Ruth was widowed. Elizabeth was said to be barren. Mary was an unwed teenager. God did amazing things through all of them. Even the psalmist today says that God’s ways will be “known upon the earth, your saving power among ALL nations” (emphasis mine). When we keep Jesus’ word, perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is “how big is our God?” Because “God will not be restricted to people who look like us. Anything less than the entire world is not worthy of the death, burial, resurrection [and ascension] of our Lord. God refused to be the private possession of one group of people in the New Testament, and God certainly cannot be contained or controlled by one group now. God is for all nations, then and now” (Feasting on the Word, p 483-485, Self).

We keep Jesus’ word not because it is easy, or even because it’s the right thing to do. We keep Jesus’ word because we love Jesus. Our love will never be enough for sacrifice Jesus paid. But we keep Jesus’ word because we love Jesus. We keep Jesus’ word because this world needs more than fake news. We keep Jesus’ word because the Holy Spirit continues to stir and we are co-instigators in the Holy uprising of love!

Sermon for 3/10/19 Luke 4:1-13

Did you know that we get this story every first Sunday in Lent? The story of the temptation of Jesus. So, it might be easy, maybe even tempting for us, to hear this reading and immediately think of our own temptations. After all, don’t some people give things up for Lent so that they can learn the power of temptations? At the risk of sounding cruel, this reading is not about us. We should not hear this and immediately apply it to our own lives. After all, the temptations that Jesus faces, are nowhere near or like the temptations we face. Now, I know what you might be wondering. If this is not a text about temptation, then what is this story about? Our reading today as a story about identity. It is a story about Christ and his identity to and in God. It has a story about Christ and his identity to us. And, it is a story about our identity to and in Christ. The story is all about how Jesus is going to live into his identity as the son of God, and how we might follow as children of God and followers of Christ.

We are told that this encounter is spirit driven literally the text says that Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit. He is full of the Holy Spirit. So, he is not alone while being tempted. As a side note, this makes me wonder how much of this is Jesus trusting in the Holy Spirit and how much of this encounter is him trusting in his identity. How strong might we be if we put more faith in our identity and the Holy Spirit? But I digress. The temptations from Satan all start out the same “if you are…” Believe it or not, this is actually better translated as “since you are.” “Since you are the son of God” and then the temptations follow. This is not a question of Jesus’ identity but more of a challenge of how he will live into that identity. Satan is not questioning whether or not he is the son of God. But because he is the son of God how will he move about in this world? Perhaps we could post the same question to ourselves. Because we are called, claimed, and beloved children of God, how will we move about and encounter and interact with this world?

Before this encounter, in scripture we actually heard about the baptism of Jesus. Therefore, we heard about his identity in God. After Jesus is baptized, a voice comes from the clouds declaring “you are my Son, the Beloved” (Lk 3:22b).  So, perhaps, for Satan this is less about temptation and more of a challenge. You are the son of God, you are the Messiah, you are surrounded, filled, driven by the Holy Spirit. So Jesus, what will that look like? Once again my beloved I wonder what happens when we ask the same of ourselves. We are children of God we are the beloved of the Messiah, we are surrounded by the Holy Spirit. What does the world look like when we take on that identity?

The first temptation that Satan gives Jesus is to turn rocks into loaves of bread. We know that Jesus is hungry. After all, he has been fasting for 40 days. You can imagine then, the hunger is real. I mean, I know how I feel when I have gone for hours without eating. Let alone, 40 days. Once again however, this is not about Jesus necessarily. This temptation is about how Jesus will interact with the world and claim his identity. Let us not forget that so much of Jesus’s ministry is feeding people literally. Jesus feed hungry people. Can you imagine how easy that might be if Jesus was able to turn any and all stones into bread with a snap of his fingers? But Jesus refuses this temptation. He tells the devil that one does not live by bread alone. And, if you think of the many feeding stories that we hear about Jesus, it is more than just feeding that Jesus gives people. When Jesus feeds people, he affirms their humanity. It is about community. It is about recognizing who they are and where they are in that moment. Being able to snap his fingers and turn stones into bread may not be able to deliver that same message.

The second temptation that Satan presents to Jesus is about power. Satan offers Jesus all the powers in the world if only Jesus would worship Satan. Once again, think about all the injustices that Jesus could make right if he were all powerful as Satan seems to promise. Think about all the prisoners he could free if he were the one in charge of all the kingdoms of the world. Think of all the people he would be able to help if only he were the one in charge instead of governments or rulers. Satan is speaking directly to the heart of Jesus’ ministry. What he is offering is an easy way out. But once again, Jesus remembers who he is and who he belongs to. He reminds Satan that he will worship God and God alone. Jesus, once again, is resting secure in his identity. This is not an easy thing to do for us humans. They easy way out is always tempting us.

The final temptation that Satan poses to Jesus is to jump off the highest point trusting that angels will catch him. Once again, our reading says “if you are the son of God,” but it is more accurately translated as “since you are the son of God.” Since you are the son of God, prove that an identity. Show me and the world that God will claim you and catch you when you fall. And Jesus, knowing the devil’s intent, states that you shall not put your God to the test. Jesus does not need to prove that God loves him and will protect him. He already knows this to be true in his identity. He knows that he is the son of God, the Messiah. It is not to him to prove this to anyone else.

So, my beloved, what can we learn from this today? I think are most important takeaway from these readings today is to be secure in our identity. No matter what else the world may call us, good or bad, our primary identity is that as child of God. There is no shortage of people either challenging us to prove who we are, or people challenging who we are. God created us in God’s image. We are beautifully and wonderfully made. However, there are many that will challenge the way we act, the way we look, even the way we move about in this world. That’s why it is so important to remember who we are and whose we are. We are reminded of this identity every time we gather at the baptismal waters and every time we gather around the table. We are fed and bathed in the promise of redemption and loving adoption from God. This is not to say that we will not cave to temptation. We know we will. We know we have. It is sin infiltrating our lives on an almost daily basis.

It is good for us to remember then, when we do fall to temptation and sin, we serve a God that is relentless in loving us. You saw that the devil gave up challenging Jesus after three tries. Good for him for trying. It was a no-win situation for the devil. But for Jesus, he never gives up on us. We do not live by a three strikes and you’re out rule. Of course, Jesus does not desire for us to succumb to temptation and sin, but when we do, God through Jesus Christ is there to remind us that we are loved and forgiven. The freedom of the cross promises us this on a daily basis. We will not be defined by our temptations or our sins. The love that God has for us is stronger and greater than either of those.

Satan may also tempt us with something else: the idea that we actually do not deserve God‘s love. We may be quick to reject it. We may think that our sins are too great or are unforgivable. I am here to tell you my beloved that simply is not true. So, perhaps, over the next 40 days, you give into the temptation to be loved. Give into the idea that God is going to love you even when you feel you are unlovable. Give into the idea that you are forgiven even if you cannot forgive yourself. Give into the fact that you are claimed by God as a child of God and nothing can come between that relationship. What a wonderful 40 days this might be if we gave into those kind of temptations. Give into the temptation to love your neighbor. Give into the temptation to see the best in one another. Give into the temptation to see Christ moving in the world towards making this world a better place. Give into the temptation of allowing yourself to be loved so wholly/holy and so fully that you can’t help but love one another and the world that God created. Temptation exists. Evil exists. Sin exists. And I am very confident that the devil exists. But none of that is stronger than the grip that God has on us as claimed children of God. Our identity in God is secure. The love that God has for us is the strongest weapon against any temptation. Rest secure in your identities my beloved. God has a strong hold on you!

 

Sermon for 2/24/19 Luke 6:27-38

Do you mean it? I mean seriously, do you mean it? Did you really just hear everything I read, everything that Jesus had to say and then respond “thanks be to God?” Really? Thanks be to God? If you really meant it, then, by all means, please come up here and preach for me. Because my first reaction to a reading like that is “the Gospel of the Lord” and me responding “nah. I don’t like it.” Now before you clutch your pearls and think “Pastor! You can’t talk like that! That’s the bible.” Yes I can. God invites us to wrestle with scripture. Scripture should make us joyous, and should make us think, and should make us uncomfortable. There are stories in our bibles that might make your skin crawl. If you don’t believe me, go home, open your bible to Judges, and read the story of Jael driving a tent stake through a man’s head, killing him instantly. There’s a story we don’t hear on an average Sunday. Thanks be to God?? Let’s be honest with ourselves friends, sometimes scripture is hard. Sometimes scripture is uncomfortable. And sometimes, we just may not like it.

What Jesus is proposing in this continued sermon on the plain is almost impossible. He once again is preaching. This is a continuation of last week’s readings when we heard the beatitudes. If there’s anything that Jesus does well, it’s not sugar coating things. We never hear Jesus say “well, if it’s okay with you” or “if you aren’t too busy” or even “if it will make you feel good.” Jesus is a pretty black and white kind of guy. The first sentence alone is enough to make me want to check out. “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Nope. I’m out. If this what it means to be a Christian, I’m not sure I want to participate any more. I want to pause here really quick to make sure that while the bible talks about abuse, it is never okay. If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, either mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, or otherwise, God does not desire for you to stay in that relationship. Additionally, if you need resources for yourself or someone you love, I am here to help.  

I think what makes this reading so incredibly difficult is that the idea of forgiveness is incredibly powerful and, at the same time, runs contradictory to everything we may feel or desire. Forgiveness, especially for those who wish to do us harm, curse us, abuse us, or takes from us (maybe, or especially) without asking, can feel impossible. Remember that we are still in the season of epiphany. God is still revealing to us, to the disciples, to all people who God is and will continue to be through Jesus Christ. This is a God who has come to turn the world upside down. This God, who became flesh, has come into our lives, and has changed the way we respond to other people. Or, at least it should.

The challenge, of course, comes from what our natural inclinations may be to what God is calling us to. I mean, if we’re honest, our natural instinct is to go blow for blow and cutting words to cutting words. But, how do we live our lives responding with grace and kindness instead of reacting with words or actions that may answer hurt with more hurt. And again, if we’re being honest, we may not always want to respond with grace and kindness. I mean, if you can think of (or picture) the person in your life that has caused you the most heartache and pain, do you really desire to respond to him or her with grace and kindness? Yet that is what God challenges us to do. I’ve read and heard more than once that hurt people hurt people, or that hurting people hurt people. Sometimes those hurts can only be healed by grace.

I know I talk about grace a lot. But when you have experienced the life changing power of grace, you can’t help yourself. God’s grace literally changed my life. Once I learned about God’s grace, my entire relationship with God changed. Here’s a strange thing about grace: I hate that you may have needed to experience it, but at the same time, I am so grateful if you have experienced the life-changing power of God’s grace. Grace is just unmerited love, forgiveness, and mercy. And maybe you have felt it from God. But, more likely, you have experienced grace in relationship with someone else. Even though that grace may have come from another human being, let us not kid ourselves, my beloved. Grace can only be accomplished with and through God. We can’t experience grace without God and really, isn’t that a great place to be?

When I say that grace has the power to change lives, I’m not over exaggerating. It really does. Grace transformed me and my life in such a way that my heart was healed and I felt redeemed. Grace is what called me into ministry. How have you experienced grace? Once you are able to recognize grace in your own life, you are then able to recognize the ways it changes your life and leaves you completely vulnerable. Believe it or not, this vulnerability is a good thing. You may not hear that idea very often. Society wants us to believe that being vulnerable is bad. Vulnerability and shame all too often go hand in hand. But, what if being vulnerable just meant leaving our hearts and minds open to what God can and will do?

When grace leaves us vulnerable, which it often does, then the Holy Spirit is allowed into our lives in such a way that we see and feel a new way of living and loving through Jesus Christ. What Jesus demands of us as disciples is a complete and total change; a repentance and leaving behind of our old selves and instead invites us into holy and wholly living. This holy/wholly living isn’t always neat and tidy. There will be times when we feel rejected. There will be times when we might wonder if this discipleship is all it is cracked up to be. And those times, my beloved, are when we must rely on God. The great reward that Jesus speaks of isn’t material items. We will not gain cars, wealth, or fame from following Christ. But what we will gain and what our reward will be is a better version of ourselves.

None of this happens by chance. We may do our best to live a Christian life daily but we will always fall short because of sin. The temptations of this life are far too great for us to resist. When Jesus commands us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and give to everyone who asks of you, there may be times that sin seems almost appealing. The life that Christ calls us to isn’t easy. But the life we are reformed into through that journey of discipleship and following Jesus has a great reward of a better self and a better, greater, deeper love for the world God made. None of this is possible, of course, without grace. Grace is stronger than our sin. Grace is stronger than even our best intentions. Grace is stronger than our hard work. Grace is stronger than our resistance. Which means, even in the moments when we resist God’s grace, it is changing and transforming us for the better. The path is difficult. Let’s not kid ourselves. It can feel lonely, and at times, insurmountable. But, the path is lit by grace. And it is a path that rewards us in ways that are almost unimaginable. Thanks be to God!  

Sermon for 1/13/19 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Baptism of Jesus

This Sunday we mark and remember Jesus’ baptism. In many ways, we mark and remember our own as well. We started the service with a remembrance of baptism. And the font will remain here, front and center, as we partake in communion. As you come forward, I invite you to receive two signs of God’s love and grace today: the meal and water. If you so choose, you can dip your hands into the font and trace the sign of the cross on your forehead as a reminder that you belong to God, you have been claimed by God, and you are loved by God. I am going to flip flop a bit this week going back and forth between the Luke reading and the text from Isaiah 43. I have said more than once that God’s timing is so much better than ours. I have also said that God’s ways are better than ours and God’s plans are better than ours. All of that sounds good in theory unless you are the one in the middle of a crisis or you are the one waiting on God’s timing, ways, or plans. Then it feels like God may need a GPS or something.

As most of us have traveled through this week, I am guessing that most, if not all, of us have been touched in some way by the tragedy at ADM. Maybe you don’t have a personal connection, but you are a member of this community and so it affects you too. And in times like this, sometimes it may feel like God is nowhere to be found. Or we may wonder what God can and will say to us at a time like this. And then, as if God knows what God is doing, we get these readings today. Isaiah reminds us that God says to the Israelites and to us “you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder daily. I need that reminder that I am precious in God’s sight, I am honored, and that God loves me. Do you hear this for you too, my beloved? God loves you. Take a moment, and just tell yourself that, whisper it to yourself or say it mentally. God loves me.

What happens during Jesus’ baptism isn’t unique to Jesus. God didn’t just claim Jesus in baptism. God claims all of us in our own baptisms. This is amazing. We don’t serve some far away God who sits on high, judging us and planning and plotting all the different ways to smite us. We serve a God who literally opens the heavens, descends upon every single one of us, and claims us as sons and daughters. In that moment of Spirit met with water met with God, we are claimed, we are redeemed, and we are called by name. Again, I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder!

God claiming us isn’t a sometimes thing. It doesn’t come with a caveat. At no time does God say “you are mine only if….” God never says “you will be mine once you are older.” Or “you will be mine once you make more money.” Or “you will be mine once you get your life together.” None of that! Are you hearing me yet? God says “I love you. Do not fear..I am with you. I have redeemed you. You are mine.” There are no caveats to God’s love. We think there are. We think we must act a certain way, be a certain way, live a certain way, or think  a certain way in order for God to love us. We think we have to earn God’s love. We think we have to work for God’s love. We desire maybe even to limit God’s love. “Well, I’m loved…but that person over there certainly isn’t.” If we were all created in God’s image (which we were) then why wouldn’t God love us? There is no catch. There are no “yeah…but’s.” There are no what if’s. God loves you, period. End of story.

We want to doubt this love because that’s what sin makes us do. Sin sneaks into the God parts of our hearts and brains and tries to convince us that God’s love doesn’t belong there. Sin tries to tell us “you don’t deserve that love.” Sin tries to tell us “you’re too screwed up for that love.” Sin tries to tell us “God has forgotten about you.” Sin tries to even tell us “you don’t need God…you’re fine on your own.” And we have seen and learned time and time again that sin is always wrong. Sin is just evil desiring to take over our lives. Sin is just like a jealous lover and won’t give up easily. This is why we need that reminder from God, who’s love is always greater and stronger than sin, that God has redeemed us. God loves us. And that we belong to God. I don’t know who needs to hear that, but I do.

In times of crisis especially, we need to be reminded. And it’s good to be reminded of God’s presence and love in the times of great crises like what our town is suffering now. But, we also need that reminder as we go through our own little crises. And I get it, not everything is a crisis. But, we’ve all had those days when we need to be reminded that God hasn’t forgotten us. We need that reminder that God has got us. And we need that reminder that we belong to something greater and bigger than ourselves. We’ve had those days when we’ve spilled coffee on our shirt just as we’re walking out the door. Then we get in the car only to discover we need to fill up the tank and we’re already running late. So, we hurry to fill up the tank and make it to work on time and we would have gotten there in time if we hadn’t gotten pulled over for speeding. All of these things (or situations like this) isn’t what we may call a crisis. It can just be a bad day. But, it’s in those moments especially that I need to be reminded of God’s grip on me and my life. Because, again, I don’t know about you, but if I am reminded to God’s love for me in the little moments and life’s challenges, then I might be more able to rest assured of God’s love and grip on me in the big challenges.

On top of receiving communion today, which is a tangible sign that God loves us. I have invited you to play in the waters a bit as well, another sign that God loves us. But, I want to equip you with one more tool to take with you. This is easy, everyone can do this. When you’re having a day. You know…a day. Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield kind of day…and you’re a bug? That kind of day. When you’re having a day and you want that reminder of God’s love here’s all you need to do. Remember your baptism. It’s simple. There are no fancy tools required. You can even do this at a red light instead of responding to a text. Just use a thumb or a finger and trace a cross on your forehead. As you go in one direction remind yourself “I belong to God.” And as you go in the other direction remind yourself “and God loves me.” Let’s try that now (finger goes vertically down forehead) “I belong to God” and (finger goes horizontally across forehead) “God loves me.”  Repeat as needed. As many times as you need. Do you need to do it on the hour every hour? So do it! Do it until you start to believe it. Do it until you believe that God really does love you and claim you and redeem you. Do it until you know and feel that God has not forgotten you or forsaken you. Do it until the day you die and then God will do it for you.

My beloved, I don’t know about you, but I need this in my life. I need this daily. I need God to have a hold on me and the promise of God’s love just like I need water, food, and oxygen. I need that reminder that I am not alone, that this world will not get the best of me, and that I am not defined by my sin. I need that reminder that when chaos swirls around me and it feels like I am drowning, God is most definitely there by my side. I need God daily to call me by name and remind me that I belong to God. I don’t belong to this world. I don’t belong to the chaos. I don’t belong to the storm or fire. I don’t belong to crisis. I don’t belong to sin. I belong to God. I need that reminder. But then again, that’s just me. I belong to God. God loves me. Now, your turn.

Sermon for 6/10/18 Mark 3:20-35

Content warning: this sermon speaks of brain health (or mental health) along with self harm and suicide. Proceed with caution as needed.

 

I know that I talk a lot about brain health, or mental health, as some of you may call it. And it may get old for some of you. Maybe you get tired of hearing me talk about it. Maybe you’d rather talk about something a little more uplifting. I understand that. But there are a few reasons I talk about brain health so much. I think I’ve probably said this before. My hope in being open and honest about my own brain health issues is that if you or a loved one struggle with these brain health issues that you will feel less alone. I also talk about brain health issues because they are not something to be ashamed of. Stigma may tell us that we should be quiet, but I don’t listen very well. I call it brain health because it is a health issue: something that should be addressed just like any other issues in the body. And, I think another reason why I don’t shy away from talking about brain health issues is because Christ calls us to be a light in the darkness. Maybe I hope that I can be even just a small light. In case you didn’t know, I suffer from depression and anxiety as well as adult ADHD. I take zoloft, adderall, and engage in weekly therapy. I am one of thousands who have stories like mine.

Two celebrities died this week. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Maybe you don’t know those names. Maybe you didn’t know them before this week and hearing them on the news. Kate Spade was a Kansas City girl, just like me. She started a handbag empire. Having a Kate Spade bag was a status symbol for a while. She branched out from bags to wallets, glasses cases, then to actual glasses, perfume, and on and on. Like I said, she had an empire. Anthony Bourdain was a well known chef. He had a great show called “Parts Unknown.” He could be gruff but he was honest. He also showed his viewers that there was something very holy about sitting down with someone, even in a very modest hut, and sharing a meal. Both of these very talented members of God’s creation completed suicide this week. Them and thousands of others we didn’t hear about. And in the days following, there was the expected outcry, shock, and sharing of hotline help numbers. There was also a lot of really really bad theology and really horrible hurtful theology.

And it hurts my heart and my spirit when things are said of people with brain health issues that tie these issues to their faith. “Well, if only your faith was stronger” some people say. Or “maybe if you just prayed more.” The worst is when people declare that those who complete suicide are automatically in hell. To that I say, Romans 8:38-39 “for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Bible speaks nothing of suicide and hell. The blaspheming of the Holy Spirit isn’t suicide. Some of you may have been taught that growing up. Scripture today says “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is this: doubting the divinity of God or Jesus Christ. Doubting that God is God. When we deny that Jesus’ work of healing and “releasing of captivity” is of God and from God  that is the unforgivable sin (Saliers 118). So hear me loud and clear right now, my beloved: if you have a friend or family member that has completed suicide, the promise of a place in God’s kingdom is just as real for them as it is for you or me. The hope that we will see them again is just as real as seeing those we lost to cancer or old age. The resurrection promise is real for them. Being face to face with Jesus or even learning at his feet is a very real possibility.

The scribes claim that Jesus is of Satan; that he himself is Satan. They are doubting Jesus’ actions in the world and during his ministry thus far. Jesus answers as only he can: in parables. This probably did nothing but confuse and anger the scribes. Jesus riddles them with this “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” But Jesus was talking about truly doing battle with Satan himself. Jesus had already done that. He had already spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan and it didn’t work. Jesus called Satan on his bluff. Because here’s what happened: Satan found out he had no power over Jesus. Jesus tied up the so-called “strong man” when rebuking and denying Satan. And in that, freed us. Jesus was stronger and greater than John the Baptist (remember, John just pointed to the one greater than him, which was Jesus). Jesus is stronger than Satan as well. And the good news in this, my beloved, is that Jesus is stronger than any demon you are fighting.

At the core of this story is Jesus’ win for the kingdom of God. When Jesus is stronger than Satan, and he always is, captives are freed. And we, my beloved, we are those captives. It doesn’t matter if you are captive to brain health issues, your body betraying you, broken relationships, or an old friend of self doubt, Jesus is stronger than all of those. And what may feel like binding will be loosed by Jesus himself. Jesus’ love is stronger than evil. Jesus’ love is stronger than the evil that may attempt to keep us hostage, yes. But, Jesus’ love is also stronger than the evil we may attempt to project onto others. Because when God made humankind, when God made man and woman, they were made in God’s image. Any attempt we may make to demonize another human being will be rejected by Jesus and has no place in God’s kingdom.

We cannot and will not be called siblings of Christ if we are not doing the will of God. Jesus himself says “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” So, what is the will of God? For me, it basically goes back to the greatest commandment. We shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and we should love our neighbors as ourselves. This means we love our neighbors when they are perfect and when they are imperfect. We love our neighbors when they are happy and laughing and we love our neighbors when they are barely keeping it altogether. We love our neighbors when they lead the cries of social justice and when they can’t even find their way out of a paper bag. And most importantly, when love our neighbors when they find the courage to say “I’m not okay.” Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Jesus came so that any demons and captors, internally or externally, may be removed.

It would be a mistake for me to end this sermon without saying this: if you have struggled with suicidal ideation, and you have been scared to even speak of it at church for fear of judgement, let me assure you that you are loved. You are loved by me, and you are loved by God. We need you on this side of the ground. I don’t have all the answers, but I am always here to listen and tell you that your demons are liars and Christ is stronger than them. You’re not alone.