Being “Embodied” with brain health issues

Nightly my routine includes 150mg of Sertraline, also known as Zoloft. I really wish it wasn’t part of my life, but it is. My brain health issues include depression, anxiety, and adult ADD. I take the SSRI along with regular exercise and time with a therapist. Some days are still better than others. I will never be someone without a brain health condition. 8 years ago when I was pregnant with our one and only, my fervent prayer was that these brain health issues would not be genetic. We welcomed our daughter into the world in June 2004. Postpartum depression robbed me of the first 6 months of her life. I was there, but I don’t remember anything. 

I prayed, a lot. I wondered if Mary ever went through PPD. I wondered if Mary cried when (or if) Jesus refused her breast. I wondered if Mary ever laid her hand on Jesus’ back, feeling him breathe. She certainly missed out on those amazing mesh undies they give you in the hospital! I thought a lot about her when I cried over drying out milk ducts and when I put my hand on my daughters back and when I cried over, well… anything. You don’t hear those stories in the Bible. Did Joseph get up with the infant Jesus in the middle of the night? 

Our daughter is now fiercely independent, incredibly smart, and hilarious. So sure, some of it was genetic. But when she starts to have trouble processing things, speaks to herself with such cruel words, and practically works herself into a panic attack, my worries sneak back. I usually pull my beloved girl in close and tell her the things I would want to hear in that moment, the things I long to hear on the days when my depression and anxiety are winning. I am trying to get better  listening to God when She whispers these things to me. “You are beloved. There is nothing wrong with you. You are safe. You are loved. Take a deep breath. You are not a failure. This is a bad moment, not a bad day or even a bad life.” As I cradle our gift from God, I like to picture God, pulling me closer to Her. My girl lays her head on my bosom and I rest assured that for today, God knows what it’s like to parent. I speak grace to my congregation on a regular basis. I speak grace to my daughter daily. Every day, I’m getting better at hearing it myself when Mothering God pulls me close and speaks grace to me until I believe it. 

This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Cokesbury

February newsletter

I sat down to write this article, it feels like the 74th day of January. In reality, it’s the end of the month. What is it about January that it seems to drag on forrrrreeeevvvvveeeerrrr?? And I don’t know if it’s January or the cold or what, but I really struggled with what to write to you this month. After a very challenging month, I’m feeling a bit dry, honestly. So I turned to my trusted confidant, our secretary Lynn, and asked her “what should I write about this month?” And in her infinite wisdom, she said “well, February is the month of love. Why don’t you write about love?” But here’s the thing, beloved, I’m in the mindspace that I’m more wanting to talk about grief. 

I don’t want to assume that all of you reading this know, but a young man in our congregation, Tristan Toppert, died on January 13. I confirmed Tristan. I took him to the Lutheran Youth Gathering in Houston (along with Kristi Lueders, Katelyn Howe, Paige Bauer, and Sam Lueders). Chris, Ellen and I have had the honor of spending many of the major holidays at the Stuedemann house. This means that I have spent many Thanksgivings, Christmases, and Easters with Tristan. The story of his death, while not private, is one familiar to too many families in this congregation. It comes with a different kind of grief. 

I have walked with many of you through grief. And if I have had the honor of doing that (and yes, for me it is an honor to be invited into such a sacred place) you have heard me say something like this. Grief never happens at a convenient time. It never happens when you’re home alone, with the lights turned down, and a kleenex box nearby. Grief happens at really dumb times, like when you’re at the grocery store and you pass by a woman who wears the same perfume as your grandmother and now you’re crying in the potato chip aisle. And yes, this really happened to me. And it happened to me more than once. I ran into someone at the meat counter at Hy-Vee less than 24 hours after Allen Petersen died. They asked me “how’s Allen doing?” and there I was, crying in front of the sirloins. Grief is terrible and awful and confusing. But, grief is the price we pay for loving one another so fiercely. Grief is the price we pay for having loved. 

And yes, sometimes love looks like chocolate, roses, even folding the laundry. Sometimes love looks like holding hands to steady one another. Love looks like rides to chemo, sitting in the silence waiting, rocking babies, and being comfortable with one another’s wrinkles and rolls. And sometimes love looks like picking out the perfect casket for a 17 year old who should still be here if it weren’t for bullies. I don’t think we often think about that grief and love are partners that go hand in hand. What love and grief have in common is that God is present in them both. 

I think about the first time I laid eyes on Ellen and my heart just about exploded out of love and I know God was in that moment. After years of infertility and our struggle to bring this little girl into the world, I knew without a doubt, God was there as we fell in love with this amazing creation of God who bears the image of her redeemer. At the same time we know and must lean into the idea that God is most certainly present in our grief. I don’t dare imagine how unbearable grief would be without God or without faith. If I need proof of God’s presence in grief, I think about the story of Lazarus. When Jesus arrived and heard his friend Lazarus had already died, his first reaction was one of tears. Sorrow. Pure grief. This was the very human Jesus having very human emotions. 

The only way we can avoid grief is to not love. Grief physically hurts (like that gut-wrenching hurt) because something or someone we love has been removed from our lives. I believe that loving is worth the hurt. At the same time, I also believe that life is too short and nothing is guaranteed. I am writing this just a few days after basketball great Kobe Bryant died in a tragic helicopter accident. So if you’ve been waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect words, the right opportunity or whatever to act on love, stop waiting. Stop waiting because I don’t want you left with grief and “what if’s.” Love and grief are both gifts from God. Yes, gifts. Love we can understand as a gift. Grief is a gift because it reminds us that we are capable of loving and being loved. When we read “for God so loved the world” (see John 3:16) that includes you, me, and everyone you love and everyone you may not even know. Love is not a precious commodity. Grief isn’t a precious commodity either. So don’t wait for Valentine’s day. Don’t wait another moment to love. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my short time thus far on this spinning ball of madness it’s that there’s always room for more love. 

Tristan Toppert–funeral

Kevin, Lisa and family; my beloved people of Elvira Zion, Steamer Nation, friends, I have a confession: I don’t want to be here today. It is only by God’s grace and your prayers that most of us who love Tristan have been sustained this past week. I keep waiting to be woken up. I keep waiting to be told there’s been some mistake. I keep waiting for my tears to stop. And it’s only by God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness that I know we will all be able to walk out of this gym, away from a grave, and know that this is not the end of Tristan’s story. See, this is our Good Friday moment. Death is final. But the three days are coming. The empty tomb is coming. The resurrection is coming. And Jesus, our Lord and Savior, defeated death. Death doesn’t get the final word. Not now, not here. The final word around here, around those who know the truth, is this: love. Love gets the final word. 

This death also isn’t Tristan’s story. We will not let one moment define his life. We refuse to do that. What we will do is share his story. We will share his story and we will share his contagious love for life in the hopes that just one person will know that love and forgiveness can go a long way. Even in death, Tristan was covered in God’s love and forgiveness, just as he was in life. He was claimed in the waters of baptism as a beloved child of God and was claimed once again last Monday. Tristan’s faith was central to who he was. Did you know that? He loved so fiercely because God loved him. For confirmation, I make all the students write a faith statement. This is a challenging task for adults, let alone, an 8th grade student. In his faith statement Tristan wrote this “Matthew 19:26- Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ This is my all-time favorite verse from the bible.  What I believe this quote is saying is that there are actions in life that seem as if ‘it is over,’ but with God ‘it is never over.’ The biggest asset in life is God. He is my father; I am his son.”

Tristan also loved his family. He was the “funcle” the fun uncle. His nephews worshiped him. He adored his brothers. He would do anything to help his grandparents. He would climb flagpoles to hide Easter eggs. Or make Carson do it. This past Christmas was filled with gifts handmade by Tristan and orders placed by many more family members for his future work. His talent was obnoxious. I was always so jealous of that. He would look at what I would normally call a pile of junk and see nothing but potential. Maybe there is something to learn there. When one too many concussions knocked him (literally) out of football, his first love, he found his passion in the building trades program. If it involved wood, welding, or doing anything with his hands, Tristan was in. Or if it involved eating, you could always find Tristan near. 

Tristan was a walking treasure chest of useless knowledge which he was more than happy to share with you at a moments notice whether you liked it or not. He loved a good debate. Not necessarily an argument, but a good debate. Despite any efforts by me or anyone else, he loved the 49ers. He loved football, period. For a while, he thought playing past high school might be his destiny. He enjoyed track and tried cheerleading for a short stint as well. Tristan wanted to give of himself in any way possible. He learned by watching his family give of themselves. He was a disciple in every sense of the word. Tristan had one of the most generous hearts of anyone I knew. He loved deep and he loved hard. He so desired to be loved in return. Tristan really did live his life according to the golden rule. He treated others how he desired to be treated. If you experienced Tristan’s kindness, which I’m sure most of you did, please know you were experiencing was pure, genuine, love. This is the love that God poured into him (obviously, in abundance) and then Tristan chose (CHOSE) not to keep to himself but to make the world a better place. The kindness that you experienced was nothing short of a gift from God. 

That Romans reading we heard says “what then are we to say about these things?” Yes indeed. Because God has heard me say a lot this past week. Some of it hasn’t been suitable for church. See, our God is big enough to handle all of these emotions. What then are we to say about these things? The truth. This sucks. But the reading continues. “If God is for us, who is against us?” And if we’re honest, again, in life it can feel like a lot of things are against us. It can feel like a lot of people are against us. I fear that is what our beloved Tristan felt on Monday. But, God tells us another story. God is for us. God is for you. God is for me. And God was most certainly for Tristan. God is for us. God’s love is the most powerful force imaginable. Scripture says that nothing comes between us and the love that God has for us. 

Do you hear me, my beloved? Nothing comes between you and the love God has for you, not even death. There are no words, no actions, no shortcomings, no sin that will ever get in the way of God loving you. There is nothing you can do or that Tristan ever did that will ever make God say “well….I’m done loving that one.” Because God’s love is patient, and kind, and never ever ends, not even in death. As I said earlier, this death isn’t the final word. How can we possibly live in a world where death has the final word? No. Not today Satan. We’re resurrection people. We’re empty tomb people. We’re third day people. We’re love conquers death people. Because the alternative is too damn dark. We don’t want to live in darkness. We don’t want to live in a world where death and darkness wins. God’s love tells us, promises us, all of us, including Tristan, that we don’t have to. God promises us a kingdom that God prepares for us where forgiveness and mercy reigns. And if we take seriously that prayer that we all know so well, “on earth as it is in heaven” then may it be so, beloved. May we live and act like we are forgiven and are surrounded by mercy and treat one another the same. That is God’s kingdom on earth. 

We will see Tristan again. We will see that mischievous smile, those amazing eyes (full of knowledge), and we will once again be in the presence of his soul so full of love it’s almost overwhelming. I believe this because I believe in a God of the resurrection, and my God has not led me astray yet. I also refuse to believe the lies that the demons in my head tell me and so I want to believe that Tristan has been assured by God that whatever was chasing him was nothing but a lie and he was only running to God’s love and not running from anything. My beloved siblings in Christ, I hope you know this: Tristan so deeply loved God. And God loved Tristan. And God loves you. No matter what you have done or not done, no matter what you may call God, no matter if you set foot in church or not, God created you and thinks you are wonderfully and beautifully made because God doesn’t make junk. I look out and can see the image of God in all of you. Wear it proudly. But if you struggle to believe that. If you battle demons that are too dark to mention or you think you are alone, let me assure you, you are not. There is a number on the back of your bulletin if you want help. 

Finally, Steamer Nation, I want to leave you with this. And I am talking specifically to Steamer Nation. If it is in your power, and it is within your power, never ever allow this gym to be turned into a sanctuary for this purpose again. Do not allow another family to weep and mourn the way I have witnessed this past week. Choose kindness. Choose love. Choose forgiveness. Choose mercy. Choose grace. It’s what Tristan wanted. It’s what God calls us to do.

Sermon for 12/15/19 Matthew 11:2-11; Advent 3

When I was at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s churchwide assembly (our annual business meeting) in August, I got a wonderful gift. It is “Hear My Voice: A Prison Prayer Book.” I have found it full of resources for many situations, not just for those in prison or jail. When I found this prayer I wondered if John the Baptist might have related to it. It says “O God, you promised that you are with us wherever we go and that there is no place where we can flee from your presence. I claim that promise right here and now. Help me to feel you with me here in solitary. Help me to know that as long as I am yours, there is no place where I am beyond your reach. Remind me that you will never leave me or forsake me. Give me the strength and courage to face this time and to use the quiet to calm my spirit and focus my attention on your grace and care. I pray this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.” (107)

I really like that last part of the prayer. “Give me the strength and courage to face this time and to use the quiet to calm my spirit and focus my attention on your grace and care.” We meet our friend, John the Baptist once again this week. But his story is much different this time. He is, as you might have assumed or heard, in prison. Placed there by a very overzealous Herod. I hate to ruin the end of the story for you, but John the Baptist will end up with his head on a platter, literally. He was a threat to the empire, much like Jesus and it cost him. And he wants to know, was it all worth it. He asks a very simple question “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” The thing about John’s question is that it’s not one of curiosity, it’s one of desperation. 

Are you the one, Jesus, or are we waiting on someone else? Was what I’ve been through for the sake of spreading your word worth it and for you or is someone else still yet to come and it was all for nothing? In this season of tidings of comfort and joy, I believe that John was looking a little less for joy and more for comfort. He was in prison, after all. John wants to know if Jesus is the real deal. He wants to know if Jesus is the messiah. And, as Jesus is ought to do, he doesn’t give him a straight answer. Because it’s never yes or no with Jesus. Jesus instead tells John that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Mt 11:5). If I were John, I’d be a little frustrated. Because even though these amazing things are happening John is still in prison. He still waits. 

I know that sometimes the holidays can be challenging. They may not always be merry and bright. “Give me the strength and courage to face this time and to use the quiet to calm my spirit and to focus my attention on your grace and care.” We talk a lot about waiting during Advent. And some of that waiting and anticipation can be good; like Christmas morning kind of good. Like grandma’s special cinnamon rolls kind of good. But then there’s the waiting that turns our focus and attention to God’s grace and care. This is the kind of waiting that requires more comfort than joy.What if you’re waiting to see how Christmas feels without a loved one that has passed on in the last year?  What if you’re waiting for a cure for whatever ails you. What if you’re waiting for the return of a deployed family member? What if you’re waiting for someone who is whole in body to become fuller in mind or spirit? What if you’re waiting for someone to die only because you know it will bring peace? Waiting is not always jolly or full of gleeful anticipation. Sometimes our waiting can leave us in metaphorical prisons. 

We know that Jesus was the one that John was waiting for. Jesus, instead of giving him a straight yes or no answer instead sent proof that he was indeed the one. Part of my call, my beloved, is to help you and me, all of us, remember why we show up here week after week. Part of my call is to be like John the Baptist and point to Christ. This is work we do together. When I am weak, you serve as John the Baptist for me, reminding me of my own baptism, pointing out the ways Christ is moving in my life. We do this together because this is discipleship work. I can’t do this alone. So I ask you this week, when can you remember seeing or feeling, knowing deep in your heart, that sinking down into your bones feeling that you encountered the risen Christ? 

When was it that you were brought comfort? Maybe you were also brought joy, but for sure comfort. When did you know the answer to the question John keeps asking “are you the one?” We need those moments, my beloved. And we need to share them with one another. Because I’ll be honest, it’s hard out there. So many of us are stuck in metaphorical prisons and we need someone from the outside that will come and tell us the good news that it is worth it. That Jesus is the real thing. You are all called to be disciples and that means telling your story of when you encountered Jesus and you had no doubts it was him. Maybe it was a still small moment or maybe it was a bright shining star kind of moment. Maybe you’ve had more than one moment. I encourage you to share this with someone, maybe over coffee or the car ride home. 

It’s been a rough few weeks for me. The details of which I’ll spare you. But the challenges of my mental illness get especially tricky this time of year. What you may not know is that people with brain health issues aren’t sad when we’re depressed, we mainly feel nothing. And who showed up to my prison but my beloved Christopher. He whispered the words of my baptismal promise to me that I am loved and that God loves me and that I am worthy. The abyss seemed less looming in that moment. I knew that Jesus is real because Jesus showed up through Chris. What story will you tell to help free someone from their prison? 

Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, has come into the world and crushed the prison walls around us with his love, grace, and saving actions on the cross.  He didn’t save us with sword or stone but with love unending. This is why Jesus matters: because we cannot save ourselves. Why does Jesus matter? Because without him, we would be incapable of loving ourselves, let alone anyone else.  Why does Jesus matter? Because without him, really, nothing else matters.  

Your prison can no longer keep you.  The one for whom we wait is here in bread and wine.  Taste and see for yourself. Taste and see why Jesus matters. Taste and see that Jesus is the one for whom we wait.   

 

Sermon for 9/15/19 Luke 15:1-10

Going after one lost sheep out of the 99 you already have or one lost coin out of the 9 you already have doesn’t make a lot of sense; that is, until you are the one lost sheep or one lost coin. I want to let that sit for just a moment. Looking for a lost anything may not make much sense until you are the thing that is lost and would love nothing more than to be found. The desperation that comes with the desire to be found is great. I’m not necessarily talking about being physically lost. These days with the advancements in technology and the fact that practically everyone carries a GPS in their pockets, being physically lost isn’t as common as it once was. No, I’m talking about a metaphorical sense of lost. This is the kind of loss that usually accompanies spiritual, emotional, and mental health struggles. This is the kind of loss that dares to ask spiritually draining questions like “doesn’t God know I’m suffering” and “doesn’t anyone care.” Deep stuff for today and we’re only a paragraph in! 

Going after one lost sheep out of the 99 you already have or one lost coin out of the 9 you already have doesn’t make that much sense; that is, until you are the lost sheep or lost coin. What might be lost that you would stop at nothing to find? I posed this question to council this past week at our monthly meeting. Universally, the answer was the same: people. The answers varied, but it was always people: a spouse, a child, or even just family overall. No one could think of a material item that would be worth searching to the ends of the earth to find. I loved the answers. We would stop at nothing to find those most precious to us. But, what if you were the one that was lost. Would you want people to put up a fight, search the very last corners of the earth, turn over ever last shadow to find you, or would you rather just not cause any trouble?

Going after one lost sheep out of the 99 you already have or one lost coin out of the 9 you already have doesn’t make that much sense; that is, until you are the lost sheep or lost coin. Let’s talk about these lost sheep and lost coin, shall we? My colleague, Rev. Emmy Kegler has written a book called “One Coin Found” which, of course, references this scripture a lot. She says “You know what’s funny about sheep? They wander. That’s what they do. That’s why, when humans domesticated animals, there arose a new role: the shepherd. Someone’s got to keep the herd together. It isn’t some rebellion against intrinsic sheep-ness’ it’s not malicious or sinful or particularly stubborn, really. Sheep wander. It’s what they do. They wander because they’re hungry. The shepherd didn’t bring them to a fertile enough field. Or they are sick, or injured, or old. And sometimes sheep run. A hundred sheep are a hundred potential meals for the wolves that wander the same wilderness. If you don’t have a shepherd watching for the wolves, the sheep can end up missing– or a meal. We’ve all known shepherds like that. Shepherds unable to see that we’re hungry or hurting or hounded by wolves that seek to tear us apart. Leaders and friends who, through passive or active indifference, see our hunger and our hurts and write them off as inconsequential. And so, we go wandering. We try to find fields that will feed us, a place safe to rest, protection from a world that wants to devour us. Calling wanderers from the faith ‘lost sheep’ fundamentally misses what a sheep is: a herd animal, gently wandering hillsides with its family in search of food and shelter. They don’t just run off. There would need to be a a cause: a rockslide, a wolf, bad grass, no water. If someone is a ‘lost sheep’ drawn away from the ‘fold’ of the church, perhaps Christians should wonder what they aren’t tending to in that sheep. Did you notice they were hungry? Did you see when the other sheep shut them out? Did you let them fall behind when they got hurt? This is additionally highlighted for me in the story of the lost coin, because coins can’t lose themselves. They are inanimate. Someone else had to be careless with a coin, if it is lost. Seeing Jesus’ parables as only about repentant sinners neglects how ⅔ of the ‘lost’ things aren’t intentionally sinning against their owners. Sheep get hungry if untended and coins stay where they’re put until someone else loses them. 

Is it possible that [this scripture] is as much about the failure of those in leadership and authority? Is God’s rejoicing just as much for the ‘lost’ who find their way despite institutional neglect?” It can be a dangerous thing to sit in this place week after week. You may leave feeling angry at God (why must Jesus challenge us so). You may leave mad at me (doesn’t she know I’m going through a difficult time. Why didn’t she call?). Or you may just leave and not come back. The church is a difficult place to be when your unbelief is greater than your belief. We don’t always leave place for doubt. We don’t leave place for anger, grief, or disappointment. This is because the church universal seems to be built on a model that encourages the church to be a place only for people that have it all together. The church is built on a model that celebrates the nuclear heterosexual family with 2.5 children, working father, stay at home mom, and Spot the dog. 

The church isn’t necessarily built for lost coins and lost sheep. Well, as Christians we may not be built for that. We can’t celebrate the grace given for all because we don’t believe that God gives grace to sinners like us. We can’t celebrate the love given by God through Jesus to all because we don’t believe that God loves sinners like us. We don’t want to come to the table every single day given the opportunity because then it wouldn’t be special. But for hungry sinners, I promise you that the body and blood of Jesus is special and a life line we so desperately desire. Instead of admitting that we are the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost disciple, we put on our church clothes, slap on a smile, and sit with empty platitudes and hungry souls. 

Going after the one lost sheep when you already have 99 or one lost coin when you already have 9 doesn’t make a lot of sense, that is, unless you are the lost sheep or lost coin. Hear me now, my beloved, God will stop at nothing to find you. Nothing. There is nothing that separates us from the love of God, not even death. Let’s stop pretending. If you have felt abandoned by the church, I’m sorry. If you’ve felt abandoned by me, I’m sorry. Neither the church nor I am perfect. But thanks be to God, we serve a shepherd that is. We serve a servant that will stop at nothing to find us. God stops at nothing to find us because we are worth finding. No matter how lost you might feel, you are worth finding. You are worth finding and you are worth celebrating. Going after the one lost sheep when you already have 99 or one lost coin when you already have 9 doesn’t make a lot of sense, that is, until you are the lost sheep or lost coin. 

 

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 6/10/18 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.

Sermon for 1/28/18 Mark 1:21-28

I have not shied away in sharing with all of you my struggles with mental health or “brain health” as I like to call it. I don’t do this because I am hoping you will care for me, although I always welcome your prayers. I share my struggles with brain health in the hopes that if you struggle with your brain health, you will feel a little less alone. Whenever any of us battle anything, whether it’s the common cold, cancer, brain health issues, loneliness, or even financial troubles, there is something wonderful in knowing we are not alone. The wilderness is a lonely, scary place to be. To know that we are not there alone can help to keep us going. I have no doubt that we all have some kind of struggle. Some of you have shared your struggles with me or even the majority of the congregation. You know the power of prayer and the power of community. But, I also have no doubt that some of you in the pews this morning are struggling and you pray no one finds out. Maybe you are having marital issues. Maybe you justify that one more drink you take every night. Maybe you too are struggling with brain health issues. Whatever it may be, you’ve kept quiet.

Usually we have a lot of excuses for keeping quiet. We don’t want to bother people; we don’t want to be a burden on anyone. We don’t like the idea of people worrying about us. Maybe we’re just private people and prefer to keep struggles to ourselves. But, often, way too often in fact, we keep quiet because of one major issue: shame. Even though common sense will tell us otherwise, when you are the one in the middle of a struggle storm, the brain has the power to lie to you. You will hear lies like “no one will understand.” Or “you’re gonna lose friends over this one.” My brain through my depression and anxiety lies to me all the time. It tells me things like “you’re a terrible mother” or “that’s a dumb idea.” Let us not kid ourselves, friends. These voices are real for many of us and they are nothing but Satan trying to win us over.

The story that we hear in today’s Gospel reading is the first act of public ministry performed by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. Yes, he called the disciples (we heard that last week). But this is Jesus actually doing the things Jesus is known for while in the company of other people. This act is basically an exorcism. Jesus’ first act of public ministry is to engage with an unclean man. Jesus’ first act of public ministry is to go someplace where no one else will. I don’t know if you have ever thought about this, but our society, Americans especially, spend a lot of time and money trying to keep up the perception that we are clean. We have entire aisles filled with various kinds of soap. We have soap for our hair, bodies, clothes, dishes, floors, pets, furniture, cars, and on and on. To be called “dirty” is still considered an insult. We are obsessed with being clean. Many in our society still don’t want to engage with those that are “dirty.”

We may look at the homeless, the drug addicted, the prostitutes, the undocumented, or the working poor and only see their dirtiness. As if touching these people would cause us to catch homelessness or being poor or whatever. They are dirty and we’d rather ignore or brush them off. But Jesus saw the man who was in a synagogue with unclean spirits and instead of brushing him off, Jesus rebuked those spirits to leave the man. Let me review really quickly here: the man was in a synagogue, a church, and we hear of no one before Jesus attempting to help him. This wasn’t just an issue in Jesus’ time. People who we might classify as “dirty” often come to church and we as the church turn them away. We may not actually turn them away, but we turn them away with our actions (or inactions), unkind words, or judgemental looks. We don’t want “them” in our pews.

But, in his first act of public ministry, Jesus crosses boundaries. Jesus starts his ministry by showing us exactly who he is and exactly what he is willing to do. Christ goes to the places where no one else wants to go. In his ministry, Christ is going to encounter many battlefields. He is going to be challenged on the road, in synagogues, in Rome, in front of crowds, in front of Pharisees, and on and on. It is interesting to me that the first battlefield Christ engages in is the human body. Because no place is off limits to Christ. Before Christ takes on various kingdoms, God, through Jesus Christ, enters the body to go to battle for us. I don’t know about you, my beloved, but this is good news for me.

I need that word of hope desperately. I need that promise that Christ will save me from myself. I need to hear that Christ thinks I am worthy of going to battle for. Our salvation is nothing but a relationship with God. And it’s nothing we can do. It’s an ongoing relationship where we trust that God is already active in our lives and trust that God is working in our favor. It’s acknowledging that there are parts of us that are unclean, but that those parts have no hope against Jesus Christ. I need to hear that I am not alone, and maybe you do too. And by knowing that Christ will go to the ends of the earth for me and for you, that promise of accompaniment is real. Because, as far as Christ is concerned, there is no one that is unclean. There is no one that is lost that can’t be found. There is no one that is fighting something alone.

God starts fighting for you from the moment you are splashed. In her baptism today, Zara will receive a promise that no matter what she goes through, Jesus is going to fight for her. We all have received that promise in our own baptisms, but maybe we just need to hear it again. Maybe we need to hear that promise again for ourselves. So hear this, my beloved. You are not alone. There is nothing that you are enduring that you are enduring alone. No matter what terrible lies and evil thoughts Satan tries to whisper in your ear, you are not alone. You are never alone. Your battles are being fought by more than just you. And if you fight the evils of this world and it brings death, Christ still has won. I know that there are some whose demons make this earth feel more like hell. In death, Christ wins. In death, we are freed from anything anything that may have held us hostage on earth. The demons in this story today are the same many of us still fight today. And here’s the thing: the demons recognize Jesus. They know who he is, but they don’t worship him, trust him, obey him, or love him like we do. And our love for Christ has no bearing on whether or not he will go to battle for us because he always will.

Christ will cross any barrier, any border, any obstacle that comes between us and the ability to love Christ fully. And Christ does this because you’re worth fighting for. Do you hear me, my beloved? You are worth fighting for. No matter what demons you are fighting today, no matter what demons you may fight tomorrow, Christ is with you. Christ is with you through water and the Holy Spirit. Christ is with you through bread and wine. And Christ is with you no matter how strong the demons may try to be. Christ is with you because you are worth fighting for. If you were worth dying for, which you are, then you’re most definitely worth fighting for.

Sermon for 12/17/17 John 1:6-8, 19-28; Advent 3

One of the ways that I choose to engage my brain cells is by listening to a variety of podcasts. It also helps to pass the time driving. One of my favorite podcasts is called “The Hilarious World of Depression.” It’s hosted by John Moe and he interviews comedians as they talk about their issues with brain health. I am going to pause right here and say that if I use the phrase “brain health” I mean it the same way I would use “mental health.” Anyway, week after week there is a different comedian and they talk about meds, in hospital stays, and on and on. All the cheery stuff that those of us with brain health issues deal with. This week’s topic was on how to handle the holidays when you have brain health issues. For many in this boat with me, the holidays aren’t always so cheery and bright.

And, as usual, the podcast got me to thinking about this week’s gospel reading. If you were here last week, it may sound very similar. And, quite honestly, you may hear some of the same themes that you heard last week. But, it’s still a good message, so don’t tune out. Anyway, as I listened to the podcast this week, I realized that so much of what we do in the name of “holiday celebrations” does anything but “make straight the way of the Lord” (1:23b). There is a lot of crying out that we need to “keep Christ in Christmas” but perhaps we should start by keeping Christ in Christian.

John, the character in our Gospel, self identifies as the “voice of the one crying out in the wilderness” (1:23a). He is not, unlike last week, identified as John the Baptist. But, we can assume by the way he is described and by his actions, that he indeed is John the Baptist. It’s just that in the Gospel of John, he is not identified that way. Are you confused yet? Don’t be. Same dude as last week, J-Bap, the ultimate hype man; different name. What is so interesting to me in his testimony, so early on in the Gospel, nonetheless, is that he confesses, makes proclamation, declares, who he is NOT. He says that he is not the Messiah. He says that he is not Elijah. He says that he is not the prophet. And the priests and Levites have the next logical question (which isn’t directly asked, by the way) of “so then….who are you?” And I started to wonder what it might look like for us to say “I am not” and how that might actually give us life, bring us life, and help us to make straight the way of the Lord.

I don’t know about all of you, but I am nowhere near ready for Christmas. The parsonage is a mess. I haven’t wrapped a single gift. I have no idea if we’re going some place on Christmas day or if we’re going to stay home. And, for many reasons, I am just having trouble getting into the spirit of it all. And maybe you’re like me. Maybe we need to declare some “I am not” statements that is going to actually end up freeing us from societal expectations. I am not going to go overboard decorating. You are not going to see us on television winning Christmas light competitions any time soon. 1-2 Christmas trees is enough! I am not going to go into debt. There is no reason for me to attempt to buy someone’s happiness. If someone isn’t happy now, me going into debt to buy them what I think is the perfect gift isn’t going to fix that. Those of you that have young children know the value is in the cardboard box, not the box the toy came in.

I am not going to go to parties where the temptation exists to self abuse with food and/or alcohol. If you struggle with food or alcohol, why put yourself in a situation where you’re going to be miserable. Additionally, if you’re a text book classic introvert, why go to a party where small talk is just going to drain you? I am not going to go to “celebrations” to have a meal with people I either (1) don’t like, (2) I only go to the celebration because I’m related to them, or (3) I’m not going to the celebration to be with people who may be abusive to me. Lastly, I am not going to make a ton of food. And before you let your family guilt you into doing something you don’t want to do (“but grandma, it’s not Christmas without your 19 step, 5 day process lasagna”) just hand over the recipe and say “then you do it!”

On the same note, if Christmas brings you life, energizes you, and makes you happier than any other time of year, perhaps your “I am not” statements can be something like this. I am not going to be “holiday shamed.” You want to go all out? You want to bake until you are blue in the face? You want your house to be seen from space? Do it. And don’t let anyone tell you that you are wrong. I am not going to let the grinches get me down. Additionally, and maybe most importantly, your last statement can be I am not going to get sucked into the Christmas wars. If you really love Christmas because it brings you life, then it shouldn’t matter if someone bought a better present than you, if someone’s cookies are cuter than yours, of if someone’s light display is better than yours. What freedom comes from these I am not statements! And I suggest all of these because no matter what, there is a lot (especially this time of year) that distracts us from making straight the way of the Lord.

But the most powerful thing we can remember is that we are not because Jesus is. Ya hear me? Let me say that again: we are not because Jesus is. Furthermore, here’s the good news, my beloveds, because Jesus is, then we don’t have to be! Because Jesus is who he is, then that means we don’t have to be Jesus. Sure, we can strive to be like Jesus. We can love like Jesus, serve like Jesus, heal like Jesus, visit the imprisoned like Jesus, protest like Jesus, and on and on. But because Jesus is Jesus then that means we don’t have to be Jesus, nor do we need to be Jesus.

Our job, once again, like John’s, is to point to Jesus. And if that means you need to incorporate some “I am not” statements into your daily life, but especially into your holiday celebrations, then please do it. I am giving you full permission to set your boundaries and tell people I am not. When the holidays get to be just too much, you can focus on just doing one thing: pointing to Christ. I joked earlier about keeping Christ in Christmas. But, how selfish are we that we think we can actually keep Christ out of anything? And in a season of fancy banquets and country club gatherings, the church needs to be the damn church, and not a social club. This needs to be the place where the broken and bruised can come and say “I am not, but Jesus is, and that’s enough for me.” Because Jesus is, this means we don’t have to be, we can’t be, and we won’t ever be Christ. But everything we do in life should instead point to the one who is greater than we, the one who is coming after us, Jesus. He is coming and we aren’t even worthy to sit at his feet, let alone untie his shoes. The most amazing thing is though that because he is Jesus, and we aren’t, we get to sit there anyway, at the foot of the master. We get to stand in the doorway of a barn, as he suckles on Mary’s breast, the savior of the world, still a baby. We get to stand in the shadow of the cross, as he forgives sins. And we get to do all this because we are not, but Jesus is, and that’s enough for us.

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.