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

Sermon for 3/29/20 John 11:1-45

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary’s lament seems a little too familiar these days, doesn’t it? In these times, we may look at what is happening in our state, in our country, and in our world and be filled with grief. We may be weary, I know I certainly am. We may even, dare I say, be lacking hope. That can be a scary place to be. As we hear news stories, read articles, hear from family members or friends in other places, or even as the reality that our first case of Coronavirus in Clinton County was confirmed earlier this week, it may feel like we are looking out over a valley of dry bones. “Mortal, can these bones live?” I don’t know, Lord. These bones are kind of tired, how about yours? 

The story of the raising of Lazarus is a good one for the time we find ourselves in. Combined with the reading from Ezekiel, and, well, we’ve got ourselves a doozy today. I am not going to beat around the bush here, my beloved. This illness is serious. I think we all know this. It is responsible for grinding a lot of things to a halt and requiring of us to really think about every movement we make. That door handle, do we know who last touched it? Chris sanitized our groceries after I brought them home the other day, which was a new experience. At the funeral for Anna Paarmann I couldn’t pass the peace or comfort the family with anything but words. But the starkest and harshest reality is this: people are dying from this. People will continue to die from this. One of my greatest fears is that I will have to bury one of you because of this dreadful virus. “Lord if you had been here….” 

I think it’s good for us to listen and feel the lament of Mary and Martha. After all, I know so many of you are faithful in your prayer life. I have no doubt that many of you have beeseached God to stop this virus, to heal people, to cure this illness, to turn this all around. And every day the numbers go up. And every day more people die. And every day the market is a roller coaster. As the psalmist says “out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” This isn’t just a passing prayer, but a guttural lament. This comes from our souls. This is a prayer of desperation. This is the prayer of weary, dry bones. This is the prayer of Mary and Martha. This is the prayer of all of us who don’t know when or if we will go back to work or school. This is the prayer for all who stand outside nursing home windows waving at loved ones. This is the prayer of those waiting to hear test results. This is the prayer of tired, overworked health care personnel on the front line. How long, O Lord? If you had been here! 

Mary and Martha are not like so many of you: faithful. They knew what Jesus was capable of. This is why they lamented that he had not been there to save Lazarus from his death. And, as we’re told, by the time Jesus does show up to express his own grief, Lazarus has already been dead for 4 days. Martha and Mary expected healing. They didn’t immediately get one. Yet, they remain faithful. It is perfectly acceptable to be faithful and disappointed at the same time. The two do not negate one another. Did you hear? Almost immediately after Mary’s lament of “if you had been here” she says “but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” She remains faithful despite her lament and disappointment. 

Is it possible then, my beloved, that God is calling us to such discipleship at this time? It is perfectly acceptable to lament. It is perfectly acceptable to be angry. It is very normal to be overwhelmed. In the midst of that, however, is God’s faithfulness in the midst of death and destruction. Where are the signs of God’s faithfulness that will restore life in the midst of death? Where can we point to the dry bones that have life in them once again? Remember, Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Even in times of agony and death, illness and destruction, God wants for us abundant life. 

And just like Lazarus, in the middle of uncertainty, Jesus calls our name. Jesus knows us by name. Every single one of us. Jesus knows you whether you know it or not. Jesus calls you by name. And when the call comes, we are all brought back into community, back into healing, back into wholeness. Lazarus had air in his lungs and his bones were no longer dry. These times may last for a while, my beloved. It’s important that we name that reality and the fear that accompanies it. This may last for a while. We don’t know when we will see one another again. But one day, the rock covering our tombs will be rolled away and Jesus will call our names. We need not fear death. Because in Jesus there is life. Life abundant and life eternal. In this time of confusion, death, destruction, hypocrisy, and too many questions to name, don’t be afraid to roll all those stones away and listen to the only thing that can give life and defeat death. Jesus. He calls your name. He calls my name. He calls and claims each one of us. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 11/3/19 Luke 6:20-31; All Saints Sunday

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) I wanted to start my sermon out that way for a few reasons today. First of all, the resurrection of Jesus is core to what we believe, so it’s never a bad thing to remember that. But on this day, when we remember the saints,when we bring to mind, heart, and voice those who are no longer with us, we voice this promise of Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) as a reminder that death doesn’t have the final word. For so many of us that have lost a loved one death feels very final. I know this well myself. But as Christians, death isn’t the end of our story. 

I don’t know about you, my beloved, but I need this promise. I need this promise that is completely contradictory to everything that the world would have me believe. If you have had a loved one die, you know that there is paperwork. There is so much paperwork. Like really, it’s huge pain for your friends and family for you to die. And nothing about the paperwork makes sense. If you want to close your loved one’s bank account, you may think you need a death certificate, proof of purchase, a blood sample, the last three paychecks, and one live chicken. But many times, it’s just a visit to your local friendly banker and it’s taken care of. But, if you want to cancel that Sam’s Club membership, you’re going to need an act of congress. Nothing about death makes sense. So, honestly, the fact that it’s not the final word doesn’t make sense either somehow, weirdly, makes sense. 

This past year, this congregation lost three of its saints: Joan Burkert (sister of Shirley Howe and Arlene Thompson), Rosella Robinson (just a few short weeks ago), and Neil Nord. And death is weird at times. As I pick out hymns that are challenging, I’ll forget for a brief moment that Neil isn’t here. I’ll think to myself “we’ll be okay singing this, between myself, Neil, and Chris leading this, we’ll be okay” and then I remember. Or I’ll look up and out while I’m preaching and I’ll see the space next to you, Bev, and think “Neil must be protecting the casino today” and then remember. But the truth is, it isn’t just Neil we miss. We all have saints in our lives that remind us that death is very real but not the final word. 

As Lutherans, we think of saints in a very different way than our friends with other beliefs. We don’t venerate people into sainthood, like Saint Francis for instance. Sainthood instead, is a call to a particular kind of living. Take a brief moment and bring to mind the saints I’ve either already mentioned or the saints in your own life. Think about their best qualities. Think about their best gifts. This is what makes them a saint. Our loved ones who have died weren’t perfect. I don’t say this to be disrespectful. I say this because it’s the truth. None of us are perfect. This is why we need Jesus. Being perfect doesn’t make us a saint. Our best qualities, our best gifts, and the ways we use them to serve God and neighbor is what makes us and our loved ones saints. 

I think about Elaine Hofer’s organ playing skills (even though I never heard them, I knew they were a gift). I think about Al Galbraith and his giving heart. I think about John Howe and his love for the land. I think about Marlene Lilly and her care for family. I think about Irene Fink and her care and love for Lyle and her deep faith. I think about Alec Horst who always knew the true definition of home. I think about Allen Petersen and his willingness to do anything that needs to be done. I think about Augie Petersen and his very special Augie way of doing things the way only Augie could. I could go on and on. 

At the same time, sainthood is about how we live our lives. It is about why we are remembering, yes. It is about who we are remembering, yes. At the same time, it is also about how we live out God’s call of justice in human flesh. So on this day, we celebrate that death never has the final word. However, we can also celebrate the living saints around us. That is part of what this scripture talks about in versus 27 to the end. How do we live a saintly life? We have living saints around us. Every Sunday I look out and I see living saints. We aren’t perfect. We don’t claim to be perfect. This is why many of us show up here week after week after week. We, well at least, I need to hear the words of forgiveness. I need to receive the body of Christ. I need to be in community and be refreshed so I can continue to do what Christ has called me to do. 

What I know for sure on this day, my beloved, is that we have all had our share of blessings, that’s for sure. I am also acutely aware that we have all had our share of woes. Death has touched all of us in various ways. For some, death has been a cruel visitor. For others, death has come after a long illness and it is a relief. But death is usually wrapped in complex emotions. Society wants us to hurry past all of those emotions and then close the door. As if an occurrence like that is just a box to be checked. “Well, that happened, we’re done with that, and now we move on.” But for all the saints in our lives, living and dead, we owe it to each other, to celebrate what it means to live fully into who God created us to be, who God called us to be, and who God redeemed us to be. We also celebrate that death never has the final word. We have the saints around us that are living that remind us of God’s call to justice in all our lives. We also have the saints that now reside in God’s heavenly kingdom that remind us of God’s eternal love. Death never has the final word. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) 

Sermon for 7/28/19 Luke 11:1-13

As most of you know, Chris and I recently took a vacation to Las Vegas. Some of you had a familiar question: did you gamble? And we did. And we didn’t win anything. I played a complicated slot machine that I can’t begin to describe how it works or how I won when I actually did win (a few cents here and there). Most of the slot machines that you may be familiar with are almost phased out. These would be the traditional 3 window slot machines with one “win” line in the middle. Usually it’s filled with symbols like cherries or seven’s or something similar. You put the coin in, you pull the arm, and you know immediately if you win. First of all, rarely do people put coins in anymore. And while the lever is still there, most people push a button that says “spin reels.” A more traditional slot machine is easy to understand. I wonder if we think about prayer the same way sometime. We say the right words, we make the right gestures, we put the right amount in the offering plate, and JACKPOT! God answers our prayers. It’s not that easy. Thankfully, it’s not that complicated either. 

Before you feel yourself tense up, I want you to know that this will not be a sermon about how you should be praying more and that praying is good for you. We all know this already. It isn’t my job to stand up here and guilt you into doing anything, especially something I know I need help with. I would love to understand prayer and how it works. But, the thing is, I don’t. I don’t know why God answers certain prayers and leaves others unanswered. I don’t know why God feels like answering prayers for someone else but not me. What I know for sure is that I am still learning about prayer. I also know that God wants us to pray. God desires for us to be bold and persistent in our prayer. In fact, in the text today we hear the story of the man waking his neighbor for bread and he is persistent. The translation would more accurately state that he is shameless. I’ve never thought about being shameless in prayer. And I believe that God listens to our prayers. Please understand though, my beloved, listening to our prayers and answering our prayers are two very different things. 

The words of today’s text are familiar because we pray them every Sunday. Maybe you pray them every day. In the Gospel of Luke, prayer is central to who Jesus is and what Jesus does. “According to Luke 11, through prayer believers participate in God’s commitment to bring forth God’s reign.” When the disciples come to Jesus and say “Lord, teach us to pray” they are asking the right person. Notice Jesus doesn’t tell them how to pray, as in, “close your eyes” or “bow your head.” Instead, he tells them what to say. And the entire prayer is built around a relationship with God. A loving and shameless relationship with God. 

The prayer does not assume that we need to be something that we are not. We are not expected to become greater than we are. We are not asked to transform ourselves into some kind of super human. It is a “deeply human kind of prayer. It is a prayer for … creatures in need.” What do we need? Well, the prayer breaks it down quite simply. We need relationship. When we address God as father, we speak to that relationship. And yes, it is okay to address God as mother. If you’ve had a difficult relationship with your father or father figure, thinking of God as a loving father may prove to be challenging. After that, it is simple human needs that we pray for: “give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.” We cannot do this on our own and as crazy as it may sound, we need God’s help. 

Prayer is a lifetime practice. I want to emphasize that word: practice. Prayer evolves as our life does. If you’ve ever listened to a child pray, they are some of the most thoughtful and thought provoking prayers. But they may also not reflect your life at this moment. But what remains constant in our prayers is our reliance on God. You hear me say this almost every Sunday and you hear the disciples speak it in the text “teach us to pray.” We will never advance to “Lord, remember us in your kingdom and you taught us to pray…” The idea is that it is ongoing. Again, I don’t know how prayer works. It’s not a Holy Spirit slot machine. But, I know that God desires a relationship with us and that is accomplished through prayer. 

What keeps you from praying? I can’t very well ask that question of you if I don’t ask it of myself first. What keeps me from praying? I thought about that for a while and every answer I came up with really boiled down to one main answer: fear. It’s easy for me to say I don’t pray because I just don’t have the time. But maybe it’s not that I don’t have the time but I don’t make the time. Because if I pray, God might actually respond. I don’t pray because I don’t have the right words (whatever those are). Well, Jesus gave me the words right here. My desire to be a perfectionist keep me from praying because I am afraid I will screw it up. So, every excuse I came up with really was just fear. And with a loving, grace-filled, mercy-filled God, why do I fear? God wants you and I to be shameless in our prayer. Shameless in how we pray, when we pray, what we pray and to whom we pray. 

God wants us to pray and God wants us to ask for anything. “Prayer is praise; prayer is thanksgiving; prayer is conversation; prayer is questioning; prayer is arguing; prayer is lamenting. Prayer is all these things and more. But prayer is also — and perhaps fundamentally — asking God for what we most need and desire…shamelessly” (Lose, Working Preacher). And I understand that we may have a deep desire to know how prayer works. Because then if we know how prayer works then we can pray just the *right* way and our prayers will be answered. And then cancer would be gone, and hungry people would be fed, and people wouldn’t die of curable disease, and on and on. But we don’t know how prayer works and I know how frustrating that is. While we don’t know the “how” of prayer, we do know the “who” and that is Jesus. 

We pray to the God that answers, no matter the time of day. We pray to the God that gives us more than we expect or needed and loves us like a parent, but even better and even stronger. We pray to the God that gives us, feeds, us, forgives us, and leads us. There is no such thing as a small prayer. There is no prayer to big for God. You can scream at God or sing to God, there is no wrong way to pray. There is no wrong way to pray. Because every time we pray, we once again admit to God, and maybe, more appropriately, to ourselves, that we can’t do this alone and that our lives are dependent on the one who generously gives us our daily bread. Our lives are dependent on the one who forgives our sins and encourages us to do likewise. Our lives are dependent on the one who will not allow us to be tried beyond our limits. Our lives are dependent on the one who loves us beyond our comprehension. Be shameless in your prayers. Be bold in your prayers. Be daring in your prayers. God is always listening. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 5/20/18 John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 Pentecost

Trying to explain what the Holy Spirit is can be like trying to explain how the color pink sounds. Or maybe it would be like trying to explain how lightning tastes. Explaining to someone what the Holy Spirit is can be like describing what a hummingbird looks like when it is sleeping. I think just when we have the Holy Spirit figured out, or think we have her figured out, she surprises us. Instead of trying to explain what the Holy Spirit does, or how the Holy Spirit operates with God the Father and God the Son, I want you to think about how the Holy Spirit feels. Maybe some of you would rather go back and try to describe the taste of the color pink. I’ve been thinking about this off and on and I doubt my definition is any better than yours. But here is what I got. I don’t know what the Holy Spirit is, or how she does what she does. But I do know that once the Holy Spirit enters any facet of my life, I am changed. And some may ask “changed how? Changed good? Changed bad?” And I say “neither. Just changed.”

There are a few things I know for sure about the Holy Spirit (other than it has the ability to turn my world upside down). The Greek word in the Bible for Holy Spirit is “paraclete.” Now, that can be translated a number of ways. And perhaps the way we interact with the Holy Spirit will color the way we translate this. But, some options are: to walk alongside, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage, request, implore, entreat, cheer up, comfort, mediator, intercessor, or helper. Did you have any idea that the Holy Spirit could do all that? And what I’ve been thinking about this week is the idea that I can’t tell you what the Holy Spirit does in your life. I can only tell you what the Holy Spirit does in mine. I can’t tell you the way the Holy Spirit feels to you. I can’t describe the way the Holy Spirit sounds to you. I can only tell you the way I interact with the Holy Spirit. I think the Holy Spirit acts, sounds, and feels the way that we personally need it to act, sound, and feel. Because when God wants our attention, God will do it in ways that will make us pay attention.

So here is the Holy Spirit to me: God’s most aggravating component. I say this lovingly of course. I just know that when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of me, nothing in my life stays the same. And this is aggravating. Doesn’t God know I have plans? Doesn’t God know that I’ve got things to do? Doesn’t God know I’m stubborn? Oh. Perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit has to shake me up every once in a while. What I know about the Holy Spirit in my life is this: as soon as I make some sort of bold proclamation in regards to my life, it’s as if the Holy Spirit steps in, lets me finish, and then says “that’s cute. You’re going to be doing this instead.”  

There are so many times in my life that I can look back and know that the Holy Spirit was at work in my life and for the better. I had sworn off dating altogether. Chris walked into my life. I had plans to go to graduate school for higher education. The Holy Spirit sent me to seminary (which, to this day has been her trickiest plan accomplished). I had just about given up hope that I would actually be called to a church as a Pastor. The Holy Spirit told me about an awesome congregation in the country that was a perfect fit. So yes, the Holy Spirit for me has been aggravating, soothing, exciting, encouraging, a cheerleader, a helper, and, much to my chagrin, 100% right every single time she pushed me. For me, the biggest problem with even acknowledging the Holy Spirit in my life comes down to one issue: trust.

The idea of trusting the Holy Spirit is one I don’t like. That is difficult for me (personally) because what happens is a shame spiral. I realize I’m not trusting the Holy Spirit or that I don’t trust her. Then I wonder what that means for my own faith if I’m not trusting the Holy Spirit. Then I shame spiral because I think that I, of all people, a woman of faith, should trust in God and all the persons of God (including the Holy Spirit) but yet I don’t. And that’s not a reflection of God or God’s love for me, but it’s a reflection of my own humanity. And once I realize that my faith isn’t as strong as I want it to be then I fear that people are going to realize that I am not perfect. (Shocker) Then once people realize I’m not perfect, are they even going to believe a single word I say from the pulpit? And if they don’t believe what I say from the pulpit then am I even doing what God has called me to do? Shame spiral. Maybe something like that happens to you.

Yet, at the same time, I think that our all knowing-all loving God knows exactly how we were created. So our all knowing, all loving God knows that when the Holy Spirit stirs that we may resist. Perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit is often described as fire or a mighty wind. God knows we need something that is going to get our attention. And it is totally and completely possible that the Holy Spirit may need to shove us, stir us, shake us, whatever it may take a few times to get us to pay attention. A few things happen when the Holy Spirit starts to take hold (or at least in my experience). The first step is doubting. “That wasn’t God, was it?” Or “certainly God doesn’t want me.” Then comes bargaining with God (which never goes well). Usually that sounds something like “fine God! I’ll go! But, if you do then X, Y, and Z!” Or we make deals with God. “Hey Holy Spirit! I’ll do that thing you’ve been encouraging me to do but only if you do this for me first.” Again, this usually never goes in our favor. Lastly, we succumb to the will of the Holy Spirit and our lives are much better for it.

The Holy Spirit is always and will always be part of our lives. Illa and Lars are about to experience the Holy Spirit for the first time. An all powerful, all knowing, all loving God will inhabit these waters, claim them both as beloved children of God, and then proceed to turn their world upside down in the best possible way. The Holy Spirit is the most uncertain and unpredictable person of God. That may make it seem scary. But the Holy Spirit is nothing to fear. Let us let the Spirit be the Spirit. Let us wait in anxiousness. Let us wait in our fear. Let us wait in our joy. Let us wait in our grief. Let us wait on a Sunday in May or a Tuesday in November. The Holy Spirit will show up and in her own time. In her own time. Not ours. Not always in the way we may want her to show up. But she will make herself known in our lives. And the only thing we know for sure is that our lives will never be the same.

Sermon for 5/13/18 John 17:6-19

Alleulia! Christ is risen! Not too long ago, I was visiting with Arlene Thompson. We were just about to wrap up our visit when I offered to pray for her. This is a very normal part of our visits. In fact, I usually offer to pray with everyone I visit. So, we joined hands and I prayed for her. Almost as soon as I said the word “amen,” something happened: Arlene started praying for me. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to do. I am not used to people praying for me. I pray for people all the time. But, when someone does it for me, I don’t know what to do. I kind of got mad at myself in that moment. Because instead of appreciating this prayer that someone was saying for me, I immediately felt full of guilt and didn’t know how to respond. Prayer is such an intimate thing that when it is done for you, your vulnerability is on display.

In the Gospel for today, Jesus is praying. This, of course, isn’t strange. It’s what Jesus does. But, he is praying for the disciples and the disciples can hear him. And the prayer is intimate and personal. I often wonder how the disciples felt upon hearing this prayer. The way this story is placed, right after Jesus finished this prayer, he and the disciples head towards the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. Despite all of that, Jesus prays for the disciples anyway. He knows that he will be betrayed and abandoned by those closest to him and yet prays for them anyway.

And when Jesus prays for the disciples he uses language of belonging, protection, joy, holiness, and truth. This is not a relationship that is surface only. Jesus truly know his disciples and, I believe, they truly know him. As Jesus prepares to become powerless, he does the most powerful thing possible: he uses the platform of prayer to show his love, concern, and devotion. And on top of that, the disciples get to hear Jesus pray for them. It’s one thing for Jesus to pray for the disciples, it’s another for him to do it out loud. I think to pray for someone already insinuates that there is a level of intimacy happening. But, to do it vocally with the other person listening could be a risk. The risk is two fold: the person doing the praying is vulnerable to judgment and thus shame. The person receiving the prayer is vulnerable to judgment and thus shame.

When we ask someone to pray for us, we are putting ourselves out there. We are admitting to the places we have fallen short. To do that requires us to be vulnerable and admit that we are not perfect. In a world that demands perfection, to admit to imperfection is a risk. When the person doing the praying actually prays, they may not be “in the moment” and instead focusing too much on the words. Are we saying the right thing? Is this what the person needs or wants? Instead, we should just say what is in our hearts and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. There are times that I have prayed “God, I don’t even have the words or know how to begin…” and then pray.

Like I said, praying is an intimate act. I think that alone can make it feel uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable in a bad way, but uncomfortable like fidgety. That intimacy is humbling. For people to share holy moments with one another is humbling and also awe inspiring. You might think it is easy for someone like me, who practically prays for a living, to pray out loud. And, you’d be wrong. Well, kind of. There are times when it’s very easy for me to pray out loud. Before a meal? Sure! Every Sunday up here? Yep! But, when it’s a personal relationship, it can be difficult. As you all know, Chris has been having a lot of back pain and will now have surgery on Tuesday. Earlier last week he was in a lot of pain, couldn’t get comfortable, and was just generally miserable. We laid in bed, quiet. I heard him breathing and also holding his breath. I grabbed his hand and said “I’m going to pray for you.” I took a big breath and remained silent. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to say. There was a lot riding on this prayer. I wanted my words to mean something. I wanted my words to bring relief. I wanted my words to deliver a message of love. When I finally relaxed after about 30 seconds (which actually felt more like 5 minutes) I remembered that it’s not about me. A prayer is simply a conversation with our best friend, our loving parent, our most trusted confidant. Words don’t matter in this case. What matters is that we trust in God enough to speak our most personal thoughts.

Jesus prayed. Just saying that is amazing. Jesus prayed. Even Jesus himself called on God in hope, in joy, in pain, in suffering, in confusion, in all circumstances of life. Jesus prayed. And so often when Jesus prayed, he did so out loud. Jesus gives us an example of what it looks like to be vulnerable, to be exposed, to be needy (so to speak). And yes, we aren’t Jesus. But, in following Jesus’ ways, we may be bold enough and brave enough to not only pray, but to pray out loud. Praying for someone is a gift. Being prayed for is a gift. Prayer is one of the ways that we can be in communion with God. How is your life different in knowing that God prays for you, God is protecting you, God is guiding you? When someone else prays for us, it is almost like a love letter from God.

The thing about praying out loud is that we’ll never have the “right” words (whatever the right words are). It may always feel vulnerable. We may have problems getting out of our own head. But all that matters to God is that we do it. We are made and created to be the community of God together. Part of being in community with one another is speaking when others don’t have the words. To pray for one another not only is a gift, but sometimes it is a requirement. If you have ever been in a situation where your emotions or the situation is just too much that you don’t have the words to express your status, to have someone pray for you is a gift. Prayer is powerful. Prayer can change lives. Prayer can bring peace and comfort. Prayer is a gift. I would encourage you to give the gift of prayer to others. And if that idea is still to overwhelming, give the gift of prayer to yourself. Pray out loud for yourself. God is always listening.

Sermon for 2/18/18 Mark 1:9-15 Lent 1

Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness isn’t exactly an unfamiliar story to many. You may have heard variations of it over the years. But it is in Mark’s telling of the Gospel that we get today that has the least amount of details. Here’s what we know: Jesus had been baptized and immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Here’s what you need to know about the wilderness. This isn’t wilderness like Denali National Park or someplace in the Colorado Rockies. This is wilderness like a desert. Like the area between Lincoln, Nebraska and the Colorado border (if you’ve made that drive). The wilderness in this story is stark, barren, full of uncertainty, and temptations. We don’t get a lot of details in this story. We know Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, he was tempted by Satan, he was with wild beasts, and angels waited on him. That’s it. That’s all we know. We don’t know the ways that Jesus handled Satan. We can assume he did handle Satan because we hear more of the Gospel story.

But, often when we are in the wilderness, we may not know how to handle it. We may not know what to do or say. When Satan tempts us in the wilderness, we may cave to those temptations. And the wilderness looks like a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And when you’re in the midst of your own wilderness, directions seem few and far between. Christ has called me this moment and this time to speak truth. I am called to speak truth even if it isn’t popular and even if my voice shakes. My beloved, we are in a time of wilderness. And Satan has taken on the form of the powers in this country refusing to do anything about gun control.

Before you turn off your ears, I am begging you to hear me. I am not anti-gun. I know many of you in these pews own guns. I fully support your right to do that. I have made the decision that I will never own one. But, that doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t. I am not anti-gun. However, it is time for us to get serious about how someone can own a gun and who can own a gun. How many of our children must die before we get serious about this? We will be in a wilderness until we repent. We will be in the wilderness until we can turn our hearts from worshipping guns to worshipping God.

We don’t know how Jesus handled the wilderness in Mark’s Gospel. But we know that Satan was nothing to be messed with. After all, when Peter attempted to rebuke Jesus when Jesus spoke of his own death, Jesus looked at his disciple and said “get behind me Satan!” (Mk 8:33) The trouble with not knowing the details of how Jesus handled the wilderness is that we are left to our own devices to fill in the blanks. And the temptation may be to give ourselves more credit and abilities when it comes to fighting Satan or the wilderness. We now find ourselves in the wilderness. We’ve been in this wilderness since April 20, 1999 when we first heard of a place called “Columbine High School.” And it seems no matter what we do, nothing changes and we stay in the wilderness.

We certainly aren’t Jesus, we know that. But, and I don’t know about you, I know I don’t want to stay in the wilderness for the rest of my life. Jesus didn’t even stay in the wilderness. The wilderness is not a life-giving place. Part of what can help us start to escape the wilderness is what we talk about a lot during Lent: repentance. But, repentance cannot happen without confession. We can’t hurry this process. Sometimes confession is less about us speaking of the ways we failed and more about listening to the ways we failed through the words from other people. Confession is about being honest. Confession is about exposing our failures not only to other people but to God as well.

Too often when tragedies like this happen, we talk around one another. We talk over one another. But we rarely engage in conversation with one another. Instead of having difficult conversations, we just hop online and try to one up one another with articles, statistics, and engage in “I’m right, let me tell you why you’re wrong” conversations. And instead of throwing our hands up in the air, what might it look like for us, for the church to model hard conversations? We can model these conversations because Jesus in the midst of these conversations promising that relationship built on accompaniment. What would it look like to have a cup of coffee with one another and talk about those difficult topics and find the places where we can agree. Talking together and trying to find a solution has to be much more productive than “thoughts and prayers.”

What might change if we engaged in these conversations looking to learn from one another rather than prove one another wrong? I want to hear your story, what you’re passionate about, and why you believe what you believe. And, in exchange, I want you to hear my story, what I’m passionate about, and why I believe what I believe. And then, together, we can confess the ways we have failed to see one another as full and amazing creations of God. And together we can repent from our previous ways and work towards finding common ground centered in Christ. We don’t have to stay in the wilderness. Christ is our key out of the wilderness. Worship centered on Christ, living surrounded and centered on Christ, and conversations centered on Christ are our keys. Thoughts and prayers will not help us escape the wilderness. Looking Satan and all of his lies right in the eyes and repenting, turning to Christ is the only thing that can help us escape.

We may think we can’t change anything. The government seems so big and we are just but one person. But we have something that seems to be forgotten about at times: we’ve got Jesus. Jesus’ baptism shows us things can change. Jesus’ temptation shows us things can change. Jesus’ ministry shows us things can change. And most importantly, the resurrection shows us that things can and do change. If we truly believe that God’s kingdom is also God’s kin-dom, then yes, things can change. Thoughts and prayers are fantastic. Prayer and action is what we’re called to as disciples. Yes, these acts of violence are terrible and seem almost too big to take on. Let’s show that big problem our big God. Satan will tempt us not to leave the wilderness. Well, get behind me, Satan. I’m ready to answer the call God has on my life, the call God has had on all our lives since baptism. Let’s start these hard conversations here and now. Conversations are much easier to have than prayer vigils. It starts today.

Ash Wednesday 2018; Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

We come fully prepared, or so we think

Privately prepared for this public outing

Fasting on our mind, alms prepared, personal piety on lockdown

Oil is on our heads, our faces are washed. We are ready.

And then you meet us here, Lord

All of the preparations in the world can’t

Measure up to that face to face moment.

You see us. You see the real us, the real me.

The me you’ve loved from first splash to now.

You see what we’re trying to hide with all of these

Preparations

You see our secrets

You see our shame

We knew we couldn’t hide. But we tried.

You find us. You seek us out

Have mercy on us

We tremble in fear and are knocked to our knees

Humbled, but not humiliated

Thankful. Prayerful. Remorseful.

We thought we were prepared.

But in prayer, you find us.

In the meal, you find us.

In the darkness, you find us.

You always find us, Lord.

Sin is a disruption to our daily lives.

We can’t escape it by ourselves.

You are the only thing to set us free with your cross shaped key

We have failed in the ways you have called us.

We were silent in the face of injustice.

We were complacent in times of persecution

We were frozen when the moment needed movement.

We weren’t who you created us to be.

We desire to do good and fail.

We desire to love and instead judge.

We desire to serve and instead become self serving.

Forgive us. We beg of you, forgive us Lord.

We follow you from death to life

And our life now has meaning.

The only bags we need are the ones you fill with mercy

Grace

And love

The next 40 days we will hear of your travels,

Of your healing

Of your teaching, preaching, and learning.

And we will hear of your entry into Jerusalem

Shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!”

Will quickly escalate into

“Crucify him”

Our voices carry, but we’ll deny like Peter

We’ll say it wasn’t us but then the cock will crow

And yet

Yet

You meet us here.

In all of our brokenness

In all of our lost promises

In all of our failed attempts at love.

You meet us here.

And somehow. Some way

We are reminded

That we are yours.

That we’ve always been yours

That we will always be yours

You rescue us from ourselves

You save us from our sin

You remind us that we belong to you

You have marked us with the cross

And sealed us with the Holy Spirit

We are dust

And to dust we shall return