Sermon for 12/24/17 Luke 1:26-38; Advent 4

This is one of my secrets but is also not a secret: I love Broadway showtunes. I can be found often rocking out to Rogers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and most recently: Lin Manuel Miranda. So, there’s a popular little musical on Broadway right now, you may have heard of it. It’s called “Hamilton.” And yes, it’s the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of this country’s founding fathers and the guy on the $10. And of course, as I was listening to the soundtrack this week for the 1000th time, I heard something that made me think of today’s text. So, I want to share this with you. The song is called “History Has Its Eyes on You.” George Washington needs some help, finally after some convincing, he callson Alexander Hamilton. What follows is this song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDeWJ0SiFCA)

I thought about Mary. Did she know? Did she know that history would have its eyes on her? Did she know that we would discuss her for years to come? She had no control, as the song said, of who would tell her story. And so, here we are, telling her story. Thousands of years later, we tell Mary’s story. And history still has its eyes on her. Did she have any idea? From the first time the angel greeted her with “greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” her life changed. Because really, up until then, she probably wasn’t considered a favored one. She was female. She was young. She wasn’t rich. She wasn’t extraordinary. She was ordinary. But in her ordinariness, she was found to be favored. She was like us: sinner and saint at the same time. And yet somehow, she was part of the work of God. And so are we.

While Mary is the mother of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, she was also a nobody. I don’t say that to be disrespectful. But until the angel Gabriel came to her, she was a nobody. And believe it or not, this is good news for us. Because if God can look upon Mary, who society would have looked at as a nobody, then God can look upon us. God chose Mary because she had nothing. God is going to become the incarnate Lord; Jesus will be fully human and fully divine. And out of all the people in the world, God chose Mary. Mary was, in her own words, poor and lowly. God’s coming reign which will consist of justice and mercy is embodied in Mary. The salvation of the whole world will be born by a nobody. And despite her confusion and a little bit of fear, Mary says “here I am….let it be.”

If we think that God is not going to find us, call us, come for us, or have expectations of us just because we try to keep a quiet lifestyle, we live in a quiet place, and try and live boring, unassuming lives, then we are terribly wrong. History has its eyes on us too. It’s exactly in the unexpected that God shows up. God shows up in the unexpected places. God shows up to unexpected people. God shows up at unexpected times. God shows up with unexpected reason. And every time God shows up, it takes us by surprise and we can’t but not respond. We may go through the same emotions as Mary: perplexed, confused, thoughtful, and/or afraid. But how amazing will our lives be after all those feelings, we finally settle into the incarnation promise and respond to God with “here I am….let it be.” We can try and fight God’s call on our lives, but remember, we have no control who tells our story.

We have every right to question God. Mary did. But there’s a difference in questioning God and doubting God. We have all had those but “how can this be” moments. But nothing is impossible with God. And yes, we try to get in God’s way and our own way time after time. We  put up our own blocks. We fight the call on our lives that God has for each and every single one of us. “Not me, God…you must mean someone else.” But no! Greatness lies in you. God is calling on each and every one of us for a purpose, for a time, and for a place. We can either remain scared and afraid, or listen and respond to God. But, what kind of a life do we end up living if we walk through life completely scared and afraid? God’s way is to call on a nobody and make their life a something and make them a somebody. We may have no control over who tells our stories, but God does. God already has our story written. God had Mary’s story written. When Gabriel came calling, Mary’s story took an unexpected turn and she rose to greatness. History still has their eyes on her.

God had a very large job and expectation of Mary. For her, it might have seemed unachievable. But, we’ve all been there. God might have called on us to do something, walk with someone, serve God’s people in some form and we may have said “ain’t no way.” But we are reminded, just as Mary was, that the Holy Spirit, who later is scripture is called “the advocate” is with us. God’s power will overshadow us. This should be a comfort to Mary and to us that when we encounter overwhelming expectations, God is already there to encourage us. And yes, you have no control who lives, who dies, or who tells your story. But, you do have control over you. You have the ability to say yes to God. You have the ability to respond to God’s call that may seem impossible to anyone else, but with God nothing is impossible. You have the power of the Holy Spirit behind you. You have Jesus Christ, God incarnate born into this world and crucified on the cross as proof of God’s love. Maybe the miracle we all need this Christmas, this fourth Sunday of Advent, my beloveds, is to be brave enough, bold enough, and courageous enough to say “here I am … let it be” and watch the Holy Spirit attain miracles through us. History has its eyes on us.

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Sermon for 10/29/17 John 8:31-36 Confirmation

Today is a day that is 500 years in the making. Now, I say that not because Ciera, Emma, and Tristan feel like they participated in confirmation for what probably felt like 500 years. I say that because we finally are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A then Catholic monk by the name of Martin Luther had diligently studied scripture and observed that what he read and how the church acted seemed to be in contradiction with one another. During Luther’s time, to go against the church was looked at like going against God directly. The church was more than the church. It served as local government, tax collector, sometimes a clothing or food source, and even a place to receive health care. To argue with the church was like arguing with the president, every member of congress, and your doctor all at the same time. And I’ve said this before, but Luther didn’t set out to start the reformation. He was trying to be true to who and what God called him to be. Through his prolific readings of the Bible he thought that what the word of God said was true, no questions asked. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

As the students prepared to write their faith statements, what was essentially asked of them was for them to answer the question “what do you know to be truth about God?” So I ask you, my beloveds, what do you know to be the truth about God? I feel like I say this all the time, but what these three confirmands did by writing these statements of faith isn’t something that is remotely easy. It’s not something many of us could do. To sit down and literally write about what you know to be true about God is hard. But once you know what you believe to be true, that truth can set you free. Once you know your truth of God you are freed from expectations, freed from disappointment, and freed from the temptation to chase false gods.

And much like what we mark today, it is okay for your truth to be reformed. After all, we are creatures that benefit from experience, education, and our contexts. What you believed about God as a young child may not be what you believe now. God constantly reforms us. What you believe to be true about God doesn’t have to be complex. It doesn’t have to be a novel. It doesn’t even have to be 95 things you believe to be true about God. All it needs to be is the truth. The thing about your truth is it is just that: your truth. So, if I say “I believe that God is a sassy African-American female with rainbow colored hair” can you really point me to a verse in the Bible that would prove me wrong?

Here are some of the truths our students shared with us in their faith statements. “Without God nothing is possible…God’s love is always with me no matter what. … God must have a plan for me.” Another said [God] “will always love me, forgive me, and always be with me … God also helps me remember what is important in life … [God] is good and [God] has the power to help me. … God gives me hope to believe in myself.” This is good stuff, right? Our final faith statement shared what they believe to be true about God by saying “every day God’s love is with me. … I always have God’s love and forgiveness to look forward to. … I feel God’s love … God’s has a different plan than I may have expected … I know God will light the way … The biggest asset in life is God.” These truths for our three confirmands have done something amazing. It has set them free.

I find that many people want to deal in certainty. We enjoy knowing that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. We know that come April, the Cubs will start playing baseball again. We know for sure that on Christmas eve we will sing “Silent Night.” There is something comforting about certainty. So to know for certain what you believe is the truth about God can be comforting and it can set you free. As I said before, this truth doesn’t have to be rocket science. I often call it my “elevator speech” or my “tweet speech.” What I believe about God to be true can be said in an elevator ride or 1-2 tweets. I believe that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God promises God’s love to all people. End of story. That is what I believe to be true. And oh my goodness, what I believe to be true about God has reformed over the years. For the longest time, I didn’t believe that God did or could love me. I didn’t know about grace. I thought that God was angry and vengeful and that I would somehow pay dearly for every single sin, no matter how large or small.

But the truth, my truth about God, has led to freedom that only comes from God and comes from believing God to be loving and full of mercy. What will your truth about God do for you? What kind of truths will reform your thinking? What kind of truth might even reform your relationship with God? What kinds of truth will set you free? And even after we come to know the truth about God will we still mess it up? Absolutely! We will continue to put our trust in things and people that are not life giving. We will invest in time that will be wasted. We may even attempt to accomplish our goals and aspirations all by ourselves. And we will fail. Sin is tricky like that.

These young people today are making an affirmation of their faith and their baptismal promises. Their faith may be reformed over the next few years, but they are bold enough to stand in front of all of us today and declare what they know to be the truth about God. And their lives are changed for it. Ciera, Emma, and Tristan, I want to thank you. Thank you for trusting me with your questions and curiosities. Thank you for your amusing snap chat sermon notes. Thank you for being willing to try new things. Thank you for loving yourselves and God enough to go through this process. I pray that the truth you now know and believe about God has set you free.

Sermon for 10/8/17 Matthew 21:33-46

I’ve thought a lot about fences this week. Weird, I know. I keep thinking about the Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall.” In it, he wrote “good fences make good neighbors.” I’ve also been thinking about borders and walls, all types of barriers we construct or that are constructed for us. This week has brought us some horrific violence once again. Much like the news reporters, I get so tired of addressing issues like this from the pulpit. And sure, it’d be easy to say “then don’t do it, Pastor.” Well, the fact is, the kingdom of God has been disrupted and hurt. I cannot simply ignore real, tangible pain in the world. For me, that would be like ignoring Christ himself. And it is during times like this that we may be tempted to build fences, either real or metaphorical, to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. We build fences out of fear, love, knowledge, anger, distrust, and reality among many other things.

So why all this talk about fences? Well, our gospel of course. Among many other things, the gospel story mentions a fence. And here’s the thing. When Jesus tells parables, he’s very specific and the details are for a reason, a purpose. Why did it matter that the vineyard had a fence around it? Why did Jesus include this really important detail? Maybe those hearing this parable wouldn’t have thought anything of it at the time. Maybe to have a fence during Jesus’ time was code for something else. But, as always, there was a method to Jesus’ madness. So let’s talk a little more about this, shall we?

I know many of you have fences on your property. Please hear me from the beginning here, I am not saying that actual fences are a bad thing. Many of you have fences for practical purposes: they keep your livestock where they belong. Without fences there might be more car versus cow accidents. Or maybe you have a fence to keep the critters out of your garden. Perhaps you have a fence to keep the dogs or kids in the yard where you can see them. Or maybe you’re lucky enough to have a pool and you need to have a fence for safety reasons. With the cost of a fence these days, the decision to put one up isn’t one that is willy-nilly. People usually think hard about it and do research before just putting up a fence. I know that a fence is also rarely maintenance free.

But, we also put up metaphorical fences and walls in our lives. We may not realize that is what we are doing because it often gets done in the name of safety and protection. These types of fences are more to keep people out than to keep things in. Maybe this looks like avoiding a certain area of town after dark. Maybe this looks like crossing the street when you see someone on the same sidewalk in the distance that you don’t like the looks of. Maybe this looks like double checking to make sure you still have your wallet or purse when you’re in the company of certain people. These are all metaphorical fences and when we do things like this in the name of safety and protection, the message that we send to other children of God is “I’m safe and okay… you however, need to be judged and vetted before I let you in.”

And the vineyard owner in today’s parable had a fence for whatever reason. But, in the end, the vineyard owner lost some of his slaves because they were murdered. He lost his own son to murder. In addition to that, he lost profit. He originally sent the slaves to collect some of the produce. This was very customary for that time. But the tenants weren’t having any of it. The vineyard owner had lost everything that was possible to lose. A fence didn’t make the difference. All the time and money to keep his investment safe did no good. Much like previous parables, we may want to see ourselves in the role of the landowner, or the slaves, maybe even the landowner’s son. We certainly don’t see ourselves like the tenants.

If we dive a little deeper into this parable, we may discover that this is more allegorical than a parable. The landowner is God. The slaves are the prophets. The landowner’s son is Jesus. The tenants is the established government. The vineyard is the kingdom of God. God trusts us to tend to the kingdom of God. And with the best intentions in our hearts, we build fences. We build fences by just flat out not being church. We build fences when we question someone’s ability to serve God based on gender alone (I get this a lot because I’m female). We build fences when we deny the validity of relationships because they are between two people of the same gender. We build fences when we give each other the “up and down” observing what one another is wearing. We build fences when we turn people away from this table for whatever reason. We build fences in the name of kingdom-keeping when really building fences destroys the kingdom of God.

I mean, if there is any place that should be without barriers, it would be the kingdom of God. We know, or at least I hope we know, that we serve a God who is all about breaking down barriers. And we build them up anyway. What do we think we’re protecting when we build walls in the kingdom of God? Who do we think we’re protecting? Do we really think that we know the kingdom better than God and so we build walls? How self centered are we? Our sin causes us to build walls and barriers in the name of safety, trust, and protection. But here’s the thing. The kingdom of God is open to all. Who are we protecting? God doesn’t need protecting. Which leads me to believe that the only people we’re protecting is ourselves. And when we start to build walls and barriers in the name of religion, we can quickly diminish from religion into cult.

I understand that the world is a scary place. 59 souls are no longer with us after that was confirmed once again this past week in Vegas. It’s tempting, and almost too easy to hold your loved ones close, lock the doors, build walls, keep to yourselves, all in the name of safety, protection, and privacy. But what ultimately keeps us safe is God. Sometimes the people we need protection from is ourselves; only God can do that. When we need the walls around our hearts broken so that we are able to fully experience the love and joy of this world, only God can do that. When we need the courage to break down the barriers that stop us from loving our neighbors and serving the world around us, only God can do that. And when we get weary from breaking down the barriers in this world that God has called us to break down and we need rest, only God can provide that.

Do “good fences make good neighbors?” Maybe. But, I’ve never been able to call on a fence for a cup of sugar or to watch my dog or water my flowers. God designed us to live and be in community. The more we fence ourselves in, the more we rob ourselves of those opportunities. There is a lot of evil in the world. That evil tempts us daily to block out everyone else, even those who wish to love us and help us. And yes, it’s smart to be on guard and be aware. But don’t do it at the cost of making yourself an island. We are called to be keepers of the kingdom, not build a fence around it. What I am proposing this day is what God has called us to do all along: take the risk of opening yourself up to love. Take the risk of loving someone else. Get to know other children of God. Break down walls of suspicion and build bridges of hope instead. Destroy walls of injustice, and help build systems of equality instead. Defeat fences made out of the “isms” of life and build life lines of love instead. This isn’t necessarily hard work, we just keep putting up walls. God will tear those down and show us our next steps.

Sermon for 9/17/17 John 10:22-30

**nb: This was the 125th anniversary of the congregation I pastor**

A lot of you have noticed that I like to keep my fingernails long. I have had long nails for as long as I can remember. One of the things I do to spoil and treat myself is regular manicures. I recently changed the method of manicure and that has caused a lot of my nails to break. Meh. They’ll grow back. But, it wasn’t until I broke one all the way down to the quick did I realize how much I use my hands on a daily basis. I type, hold Ellen’s hand, pet Sasha, unload the dishwasher, open the mail, hold Chris’ hand…the list could go on and on. Then I thought about what some of you might do with your hands on a daily basis: rock babies, help an elderly parent take their medication, feed your animals, drive a load to ADM, quilt, bake, comfort others, and that list could go on and on as well.

And then I thought about what hands have done in this place through God’s people over the last 125 years. There was the literal moving of this church from over by the cemetery to where we sit now. Then the digging to build the narthex was done by so many of your ancestors. Renovations were done by people with the last names of Petersen and Mommsen to name a few. Many of you have brought your babies to this font to be baptized and held in the hands of pastors who now are part of our communion of saints. So many of you have shaken hands as you greet people gathered for your family confirmation, wedding, or funeral. And of course, so many of your hands helped to renovate the house I am proud to call our home. It’s really amazing to think about how the people of God, acting as God’s hands and feet in this world, have made a difference just in this place.

This passage from John is often used on what is known as “good shepherd” Sunday. This comes from the quote from Jesus in 10:27 “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” I love that idea. It’s comforting to me, and to you, I hope, to think of Jesus as a shepherd. Jesus, the one who guides us, shelters us, and takes care of us. But, what really inspired my thinking this week was the sentence that followed. “I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” Part of me wants to say “do you hear the good news in this? Okay great. Sermon over. Amen…” But I won’t.

Over the last 125 years one thing has remained the same: we have always been in God’s grip. God has a hold of us so very tightly and nothing has ever or will ever change that. It has been God’s hand all along hold us, nudging us, maybe even pushing us towards God’s will for us. God’s hands have been in and among us all along. Through times of great joy and in times of great sorrow, God has had us in the palm of God’s hand. Nothing has ever gotten in the way of that. And if you’ve been around these parts long enough, or have had family members that have been here for a while, you might be able to recall a time when you can say clearly and without a doubt “God’s hands were all over that!” And maybe, yes, there are times when you can recall wondering if God had a clue what was happening in this place.

Perhaps part of the good news for us is that feeling God and being held by God is never on us. What I mean is that God holds on to us, not the other way around. It is never us holding onto God. So, often I picture God holding my hand like a tender parent would but other times, I picture God picking me up by the back of my neck like a disobedient kitten. Even in the times of our disbelief, God still has a hold of us. During the times when we wonder if God is even listening, I think that is when God tightens the grip. And when Jesus says that no one will snatch us out of God’s hand what that really means is that not one person and not one thing can ever take us away from God.

Evil forces have a way of finding us, don’t they. Sometimes we call these evil forces “good intentions” and sometimes they are more appropriately called “sin.” We may not trust that God has a hold of us. We intervene in our human ways that ultimately lead to human error. We may think that we know better than God so even though God is pointing us one way, we look and say “this way seems easier, better, or way more fun!” And we stray. God offers us life and protection and love but instead we turn to power, money, and self interests to comfort us. All of those things ultimately let us down. But no matter what, nothing removes us from God’s hand, not even death. Not an actual death or a metaphorical death can remove us from God’s hand. And remember, from death comes a resurrection and new life and whose hand do you think is doing all of that?

There was a time when every Sunday School room in this church was filled with children and there were months when keeping the lights on was in question. God has been with us every single step of the way. It is only by the grace of God that we have been a cornerstone of this community for 125 years and only by the grace of God that we will continue to do ministry in this area for another 125. What has been the same since the doors of this church opened will continue to be the same until Christ comes again: we gather as the people of God, to hear the Word of God, to feast on the body and blood of God, and then we are sent out to be and show Christ to other people in a hurting world. Nothing has changed that and nothing will. What is comforting about church is that some things never change. What is maddening about church is that some things never change. But through it all, God’s hands have been in, among, and around all of us. What gives me hope and joy this day, my beloved, is that God will continue to move in this place. Long after you and I are gone. Long after stories of us are gone. God’s hands will be guiding this place and God’s people to usher in God’s kingdom to this world.

Sermon for 9/10/17 Matthew 18:15-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 8/20/17 Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28

“Senator Warren was given a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” This is a quote from Senator Mitch McConnell about Senator Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren was speaking against the appointment of now Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Now, before you get too anxious in thinking I am going to get political today and talk about our current state of affairs in regards to politicians, then relax. I’m not going to preach about that. Unless you think that Jesus can get a little political, which he can, then I’m totally going to preach about politics today. Here’s something you may not normally hear me say: Jesus is nothing short of a jerk in this Gospel today. I know what you’re thinking (gasp) “Pastor! You can’t call Jesus a ‘jerk.’” Yes I can, if he had it coming; and he had it coming!

Jesus goes from one moment talking about what defiles. And he wants the disciples and everyone around him to understand that it is not what we eat and what goes into our mouths, but what comes out of our mouths that defile. Jesus reminds us that our words matter. Our actions are important, yes, but our words often carry more weight than we imagine. Sure, it’s pretty awesome to hug people. But, it means more (at least in my opinion) to hug someone while saying “I love you!” On a deeper level, communion is a powerful ritual that reminds us of God’s grace. There is an action. Bread and wine exchange hands. There is a moment of pure intimacy that cannot be replicated anywhere else. But what is more powerful? Is it powerful when I just hand you the body of Christ? Sure. But to be handed the body of Christ while hearing the words “the body of Christ given for you” is even better. Our words matter. And in a era where it seems everyone has various platforms from which they can be heard, it is important to remember that words matter. And sometimes we need to be persistent in having our words heard.

The Canaanite woman was everything that she shouldn’t have been. She was a Canaanite, meaning she wasn’t Jewish. She wasn’t chosen. She wasn’t originally part of Jesus’ posse. She was a woman. She was thought of and treated like she was less than. Women weren’t even considered a full person without a husband and some children (preferably male). She has a daughter at home who is very ill. What if she has it too? She speaks first. She doesn’t even wait for Jesus to speak first. She sees him coming and instead of being polite, demure, and waiting to be spoken to, she starts shouting. Did you notice that? She is shouting. She is aware of the borders and barriers that society has placed on her and runs right through them. She is persistent.

The disciples, using words, not actions, ask Jesus to send her away. Why? Because (as they say) “she keeps shouting after us.” Send her away. Yes, like she’s some pesky fly or door-to-door sales-person. She is using her words, at first, not actions. And yes, she’s yelling. Wouldn’t you be yelling as well if your child was sick, possessed by a demon?? And the disciples want her cast off, sent away, and basically brushed under the rug. The disciples long for her to obey the borders and limits both physical and imposed that society and life have placed on her. But instead of letting those limits stop her, she persisted.

And when she persisted, she did so with reverence. She threw herself onto her knees. She was in a position of respect towards Jesus. Once again, she ignored all of the borders, barriers, and obstacles in her way and persisted. “Lord, help me” she cried. If you’ve ever had a loved one in pain, you can probably understand her desperation. Despite his long explanation before this encounter, what comes out of Jesus’ mouth is what defiles. He calls her a dog. He calls her a female dog. And yes, in Jesus’ time it stings as much as it does now. Despite the continued hurdles placed in front of her, the Canaanite woman persisted. She responds to Jesus that even dogs manage to get crumbs from under the table. It’s amazing that all this woman wanted was the theological equivalent of crumbs. She wanted, and was demanding a literal place at the table.

I wonder how often we let borders, obstacles, and barriers get in our way of either going to God or advancing God’s kingdom. How often do we let the barriers that get saddled upon us by society or ourselves stop us? These are barriers seen and not seen. These are barriers that sound a lot like prejudice. They are phrases like “you can’t do that, you’re almost 80 years old!” Or “do you really think it would be proper to have a woman involved in such things?” Maybe it’s something like “perhaps we should find someone not in a wheelchair to do that job.” Sometimes these phrases are used by well meaning people. After all, Jesus was a well meaning person when he said that he was only sent to the people of Israel. I am sure he wasn’t expecting push back. I am sure he wasn’t expecting a woman (of all people) to be persistent. And yet, she was.

It is getting more and more crucial with each passing day that we are persistent, my beloved. See, if you are willing to take a bold stand against racism, white supremacy, and start educating yourself on white privilege, you’re going to get some push back. Trust me, I have. But we must meet every naysayer, every protestor, every well meaning person, with persistence. This includes Jesus. And what a powerful statement, right? Jesus, a pretty awesome leader in his own right, was willing to learn. He was challenged and learned from the challenge. Perhaps we can follow in his footsteps. When you are challenged, are you going to put up your own walls, borders, and barriers, or are you going to persist through to either righting that challenge or learning from it?

If you’ve been challenged to check your privilege, have you really wrestled with that and persisted to see where that challenge comes from? Or have you responded with “why can’t I be proud to be white?” When someone says “I don’t know why I should care about events in Virginia. It didn’t happen here.” Persist. Because it could and it does, every day, on a small scale over and over. If someone says “I don’t know if you realize this, but when you said [this] it was received this way….” persist in listening. Then persist in learning the ways your words hurt and harm. But at the same time, persist in using your words to help heal. You can be the one that challenges the system, just like the Canaanite woman. Here’s a perfect example: men, next time you notice a woman talking and a man interrupts her, call his attention to it. “She was talking” and then create the silent space for her to continue. Women: the experiences of women of color in this country are vastly different than ours. Just because we are women doesn’t mean we’ve experienced the same things. When they say it’s different, trust them. And, if appropriate, invite them to share so that you can persist in learning, not so you can fix it.

Persistence is important, now more than ever. Persist in your prayer life. Persist in the reading of the Bible. Persist in receiving the sacraments. Persist in your desire to learn, listen, and change. Persist in resistance. Most of all, keep persisting until not only Jesus gets heard, but until Jesus listens as well.

Sermon for 8/6/17 Matthew 14:13-21

Chris and I have been blessed to do some traveling overseas in our time of marriage. Before we were even engaged, we took a trip with our alma mater to Europe. We were going to experience 6 countries in 18 days: Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. We traveled during the time when mad cow disease was a very real concern. And for some reason, people overseas must think that Americans favorite thing to eat is fried chicken (like chicken fingers), french fries, and ice cream with fruit cocktail on top. We were pretty far into the trip. We were all tired and ready to have something other than chicken and we wanted comfortable beds. We had been traveling the hilly, winding roads of Switzerland when we passed a cute little hotel that looked like something out of the movie “Heidi.” Our friend Megan wondered aloud “why can’t we stay at a place like that??” And our bus came to a halt. This was going to be our hotel!

Once we got settled into the Hotel Alphenhof in Melchtal Switzerland, we ventured downstairs to the dining room, expecting the normal meal of sad chicken, soggy fries, and more saccharine covered ice cream. I sat down thinking “well, at least my room is nice and comfy.” Then, out came platters of food. Amazing pork schnitzel, mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, amazing butterscotch pudding. And then, just when we thought we were full and someone said “I wish we had more, like seconds or something” out came more platters. To this day, Chris and I agree that it was one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten. And was it really that good? Who knows. But, we were hungry, we got fed, and we ate until we were satisfied and filled.

We hear Matthew’s Gospel telling of the feeding of the five thousand today. This is a story so powerful, it is the only one to grace all four of our gospels. And it is a miraculous story, really. It is powerful to think about 5000 people (and then some) being fed with what started as five loaves of bread and two fish. But we don’t get a lot of details about how it happened. Did baskets appear out of nowhere? Did it start literally raining loaves and fish? Did it appear slowly or all at once? But, we don’t need the mechanics of the miracle. Sure, we may want it or even be curious about it, but that’s not what makes this story so amazing. The miracle of this story is we get to witness God’s love through Jesus Christ to all of us.

Jesus’ MO was compassion. His modus operandi, or his method for his ministry was compassion. The story that comes right before our gospel today is the death of John the Baptist. John the Baptist whose head was cut off and served on a platter to Herodias’ daughter for her birthday. John the Baptist who had baptized Jesus in the Jordan is now dead. Jesus wanted to get away, be by himself, maybe mourn for a moment or two. But, the crowd followed him. They knew what Jesus was capable of and now longed to be in his presence. And Jesus, instead of turning them away, instead of begging for a moment alone, he looked at the crowd with compassion and started healing the sick.

What is always interesting to me about this story is that it is the disciples who speak up and alert Jesus to the time (“the hour is now late”) and the crowd’s hunger (“send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”) Not one person (that we know of) stepped up and said “gee, Jesus, this following you stuff is great, but you don’t happen to have a sandwich or anything, do you?” And, like so many other times, it is also the disciples who miss the point. It is late and the disciples want the crowd to return to the villages to buy food. Let’s look at the facts: first of all, it’s late. To travel this time of the evening would have been dangerous. Theives and bandidts were known to travel the desert just waiting to prey on the innocent. Second, (or maybe additionally) it’s late! By the time they get back to the villages is there actually going to be anything open? It’s not like there were 24 hour McDonald’s with a drive thru during Jesus’ time. The other thing is that this crowd had been following Jesus for a while. If they were doing that then they probably weren’t working. How were they supposed to buy food? It’s as if the disciples took the attitude that a lot of us take all too often “not my problem.”

And Jesus takes that attitude and gives it right back to the disciples, “you give them something to eat” he says. It is actually the disciples that pass out all of the food. Yes, it is Jesus who prayed, and it is God who multiplied the goods, but the disciples fed the multitudes. I wonder what the crowd does when all is said and done? They have just been given something they didn’t expect. They have been fed. Not only have they been fed, they are fed until they are filled. The only thing we know is what the Bible tells us. We are told (in next week’s gospel) that Jesus sends them away. But, I hope the disciples did what any of the rest of us would do once they received something they weren’t expecting and they received it in abundance: they shared.

What do we do when we get something in abundance? We hoard! We keep it all to ourselves. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring…so we keep it all. And if we do have the slightest inclination to share, we have a list of excuses: I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, I don’t have resources, I don’t know how to get started, etc…. We serve a God of abundance, a God who will always give us more than we expect or need, and so many times our response is to keep God’s goodness all to ourselves. We forget that everything we have and everything we are comes from God. Yet, we treat our abundance as if WE earned it, as if WE just magically had the ability to work for it, as if WE actually deserve it, when in reality, we don’t.

So, what I want to do today is a little challenge. Before I ask for volunteers, here are some rules set in place for what I am about to do: you have to have this assignment done in a week and you have to be able to be in church next week. Now, not knowing what the assignment is exactly, can I have 5 people who would be willing to help? Now, in each of these envelopes is $40 cash. This is God’s money. I got it from my bank account. I say this so you don’t think I’m pilfering the church or anything. Your assignment for this week is to spend this money in a way that makes the world a better place. Here is the caveat: you cannot spend it on this congregation. So, you cannot buy food for the food pantry or school supplies for our Lutheran World Relief school kits. I don’t care how you spend it, but I would like documentation. Maybe that means receipts, maybe that means pictures, whatever. And then, come back next Sunday and we will hear about how God worked through you to make the world a better place. Spend the $40 on one person or help 40 people, I don’t care, but you now have an abundance and the world is waiting.

When the people on the hillside were hungry, Jesus said to the disciples “you feed them.” If we are to take our call to discipleship seriously, we take the abundance given to us and we share. God always provides and God always provides more than enough. I have taken away all of your excuses this week, so how will you share this abundance that is not yours with people you may not know? Won’t it be fun to watch God move?