Sermon for 3/22/20 Psalm 23

Everyone take a deep breath with me. It is so good to see you and to be together in this virtual community of Christ. Please know I miss gathering in person but I am thankful to all of you that set aside the time to join us this morning. I saw a joke going around Facebook earlier this week that said “my 90 day subscription to 2020 is almost up, how do I cancel?” I don’t know about you beloved, but I have alternated between fits of laughter and fits of tears this past week. Decisions have been made and then changed within a matter of hours. Sleep has eluded me quite a bit; it’s a heck of a time to try and heal an ulcer, I’ll tell you that. So, while that John reading is beautiful and has some lessons for us even for today, I cannot help myself but to preach on Psalm 23. Last week if you were in church or watched you may recall that I talked about the different wells we may drink from over the upcoming weeks. Psalm 23 is a deep deep well for so many of us full of life giving waters. It’s exactly what we need in a time such as this. 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. What a bold statement! Not just now when we are facing uncertainties, but for everyday life. Now, as I’m sure all of you know, there is a very big difference between wants and needs. God supplies us with all we could ever need. But with the Lord as our shepherd, we shall not want. That seems to be taking on a different tone these days, doesn’t it? Do we want to see one another or do we need to see one another? Do we want to spend time apart or do we need to spend time apart? Do we want 96 rolls of toilet paper or do we need 96 rolls of toilet paper? It’s interesting how something like this pandemic suddenly brings a lot of things into focus, isn’t it? The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

I thought about that phrase a lot this past week and how we also balance it with our proclamation of “give us this day our daily bread.” God provides us with all we may need, daily. It’s been so tempting to give into the idea of worrying about next week, next month, or even 6 months from now. Believe me, I’ve given into this thinking more once. Then I wondered if God is calling us to really live into the promise of daily bread. God may be calling us to just live in today. After all, after that first phrase, after declaring that God is our shepherd and we shall not want, what does the Lord provide for us? Rest. And God not only provides us rest, but a rest that will restore our soul. 

I wondered what a soul restoring rest looked like. I don’t think this is a nap on a Sunday afternoon while NASCAR is on (sorry, Leon). This is the kind of rest that really fills you in body, mind, and soul. So for me, it is actual rest, time with family, and time to engage in activities I normally don’t have time for: reading, knitting, and catching up on correspondence. As I said, rest has been eluding me this week, but I have had a lot of time with family and I have been spending more time reading. Perhaps God is providing us with opportunities to recharge and rest our souls. 

Now, do I think that this catastrophe was created by God? Absolutely not. I think God is in the midst of all of this suffering. There are people who are dying. There are loved ones who are separated. There are people wondering how they will pay bills. There are people who are putting their lives on the line every single day just to earn money or provide for their families. And the psalmist reminds us “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff–they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) This is most definitely a dark valley kind of time. And God is with me. God is with you. God is with all of us. 

In the dark valley we shall fear no evil. Uncertainty brings a lot of fear, doesn’t it? We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t even know what this afternoon will bring. Fear itself can be evil. If we let it, fear can control our lives. Fear can quickly become our god (with a lowercase g). I think we can all think of examples that we may have seen of fear ruling lives this past week. And I’ll admit, I’m quick to say “faith over fear.” I think that faith is important in these times. We should be praying for one another and for the world God made. But I wondered if instead of faith our response to fear should be love. The way that God loves us is the way we can attempt to love the world. The world certainly needs it now, don’t you think, my beloved? After all, we serve a God who overfills our cups. Goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. All the days. We will never run out of goodness and mercy. It seems in short supply right now. Our response to fear maybe isn’t faith as much as it’s love. 

In these anxious times, God our shepherd is calling you to rest. And if all you do is rest, that is enough. God will restore you. God will fill your cup so that it is overflowing. God will anoint you. God is with you. God the shepherd is with you. God the provider is with you. God our keeper is with you. God our protector is with you. Repeat after me: God is with me. God is with me. God is with me. Indeed, God is with you. May God our shepherd who calls you to rest keep you safe and healthy. Amen. 

Sermon for 9/15/19 Luke 15:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sermon for 5/12/19 John 10:22-30

I love that this text falls on this Sunday of all Sundays. The Sunday when we celebrate our graduates. The Sunday that reminds parents that soon you will send your own sheep out into the world, trusting that the shepherd will guide them. This is also the Sunday when the sheep (perhaps) are excited about the next step and can’t wait for the shepherd to fall asleep because there’s a ragin’ party happening in the next field over. Now I am sure parents of new or soon to be graduates won’t like what I’m about to share. When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t real sure what I wanted to do. Same with college. When I graduated from high school, I thought I wanted to be a dentist. No joke. One semester in and a review of all the math and science classes required quickly talked me out of that. When I graduated from college, I knew I was bound for further education, like a Masters degree, but I had no idea what I was going to do in the meantime. But, God knew. God always knows. Because God knew me, called me by name, and I followed. Maybe God had to repeat my name several times and point me in the right direction, but eventually, I followed.

Sometimes I feel like I say the same thing over and over again, but, to be honest, some things are worth repeating. Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, and if so, it’s good to hear it again. If not, this will come as good news, I hope. God knows you. And I don’t mean that in a “that’s cute…are we Facebook friends?” kind of way. I mean that God knows you. God knows all your highs, everything you brag about even when you’re trying to be humble. God knows all of your lows; the darkness, the secrets you try and even hide from yourself. God knows it all. And God calls you by name. This is a relationship, my beloved. This is a relationship of love and caring, and yes, abundance. There isn’t anything at all, not even death, that can come in between you and your relationship with God.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus has been in a mission since early on. We hear from the very beginning that God so loved the world (see John 3:16). Not only does God love the world, but God sends us Jesus so that we may have life and have it ABUNDANTLY! Not only that (!) but God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn us, but save us and grant us eternal life. That is Jesus’ mission: to love the world. And the world includes us. The call to discipleship also includes us. We are part of Jesus’ flock, we are Jesus’ sheep. So, how will we respond to the mission to love the world?

Unlike actual shepherds, Jesus always has room for more in his flock. There is always more room for the lost and forsaken to be in his care. And should we be the ones to wander off, should we be the ones to become a lost sheep, Jesus’ voice will always be louder than anything else. No one and no thing can ever keep us from being in the care of Jesus. I think this needs to be heard loud and clear, my beloved. No one and no thing or event will ever snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. And my goodness, we have no shortage of things or forces in the world that desire to snatch us out of Jesus’ hand.

If we just take a cursory look at everything society tells us should keep us from church. Heck, sometimes the church tells us that these things should keep us from church. Divorced? I’m sure you’ve been told some things by the church. I have a mental illness. There are some who might believe that maybe I just haven’t prayed hard enough. That’s a nice thought but have you tried Zoloft or Prozac? Financial difficulties? Well, just pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Society (and at times, church) is so concerned that we only display and show our best selves that anything other than our best selves is considered a failure. If you think I’m wrong, consider this. Instagram (a photo-sharing social media website/platform) has 24 different filters. This does not include the additional abilities to edit, lighten/darken, or change the coloring on each picture. Snapchat (another social media tool) has 24 different filters that can turn your face into a dog or add a halo or whatever and an additional 21 different filters that change the look of your picture (without turning you into a dog or whatever). We always have to show our best selves, don’t we?

That feeling may exist with church too. We have to show our best selves. It’s like cleaning before the housekeeper shows up. It’s the same theory with the people who think they need to get in shape before they go to the gym. We feel like we must do something to ourselves before we are worthy to be in God’s company. “I can’t go to church, I’ve been divorced.” Or “I can’t go to church, I haven’t been clean long enough.” Maybe “I can’t go to church, they don’t know I’m out.” I think the one that breaks my heart the most is “I can’t go to church, the walls might fall down and I doubt God even knows who I am anymore.” Oh my beloved, none of this is true. God knows you. God knows you intimately. God knows you like you know your own children. God knows you like you know your most beloved loved one. God knows you in such a way that you will never be let go. The barriers we attempt to put between us and God are nothing but excuses for Christ to demolish. Jesus stood at a tomb, the stench of Lazarus’ dead body filling the air, and stood there and called. And Lazarus, knowing Jesus’ voice, rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb. Do you think Jesus is going to allow our excuses to stop him from searching us out, calling our name, claiming us, tightening his grip on us, and reminding us who we are and whose we are? No. Nothing will keep us from Jesus. And nothing will keep Jesus from us.

Parents, I’m talking to you now, parent to parent. It’s okay to worry. It’s okay to be concerned. Your child will never go where God is not. Your best defense against anything is prayer. And graduates, I’m talking to you now. This is a time when many wrestle with their faith. I know I did. I tried to do away with God for a while. It didn’t work out well. No matter how much wrestling you do, no matter how much space you try to put between God and yourself, God will never abandon you. God will never lead you astray. God will always love you no matter what.

Fellow sheep, listen up: we are in the grasp of God. We have a shepherd that calls us by name and we follow. There is room in this flock for many many more. So, if you see a stray sheep, wrangle that one in. There is enough love for all. God is our shepherd and provides. There is enough love for all.

Sermon for 12/24/18 Luke 2:1-20; Christmas Eve

The two sermons I struggle with the most are Christmas Eve and Easter morning. The pressure is on to say something amazing, magnificent, outstanding, and yet keep it short, maybe a funny or two thrown in, and also, not too political but yet make it applicable to what is going on in the world, in our nation, and also your own lives. But it must also be profound! And if I am judged by only 2 of the sermons I give throughout the year (out of 60 or so) then I really feel the pressure. Then I read the scripture, listen carefully to what it has to say, and I want to stand up and say “did you hear that?? Great. Sermon ended.” I know some of you may not mind.

This text can be so familiar to many of us. It’s easy to tune out and miss some of the finer details. At the core of this story is God becoming human. God, taking on human form and living, working, breathing like any other human. But, first, that human was a baby. This was a baby brought into this world by someone who was forgotten; even worse, she was most likely cast out from society. Were there really no rooms available or had word spread and no one wanted to be associated with an unwed pregnant teenager? And if this baby was to be so important, shouldn’t the word of his birth first be told to those in power? To Quirinius, Emperor Augustus, or others in the houses of power?

But the first to know about this birth (other than Mary and Joseph) were any animals finding refuge in the barn. And they can’t necessarily spread the good news. So logically, the next to be told were the shepherds. Now, despite any pictures you may have in your head about these shepherds, they actually were pretty low in society. They were frowned upon and shamed a lot. Because being a shepherd required you to be with your flock almost 24/7, the shepherds were not afforded time to go to worship. They also could not keep the sabbath. So, they were considered unclean. Society often stereotyped shepherds as being thieves, liars, and just a general drain on society. Had they told the news of this birth, they most likely wouldn’t have been listened to anyway.

I would have to imagine that being a shepherd was a lonely life. Long working hours, often in deserted places, shunned by society, your friends, and potentially your family, living life as an outsider; all of that would make me wonder about God. It might be enough for me to give up on God. Then, in a flash of light (literally, brilliant light) and angel of the Lord comes. An angel brings good news to the most unlikely of people. This is the second time in this story that God has shown up to and through the most unlikely of people; the most forgotten of people; the most shamed and marginalized group of people. Just when the shepherds might have given up on God, just when Joseph thought he had been abandoned by God, God shows up. And God has continued to do that ever since.

Jesus’ birth was a hint of what was to come in Jesus’ life. God makes Jesus known in the most unlikely of places to the most unlikely of people. Jesus showed up to people who had been forgotten. Jesus showed up to people who were kicked out, downtrodden, and maybe even spat upon. Jesus showed up to the unclean, the unkept, the unwelcomed, and the unchurched and did nothing but love. Jesus didn’t come and say “I’ve come for you but only on these conditions.” Nope. Jesus did exactly what Jesus does, he met the people right where they were. And Jesus continues to do that today. He meets us right where we are.

Of course it feels like God really is Emmanuel tonight, God with us. I mean, we’ve got the carols, we’ll have candles later, we’ll taste God in bread and wine, and you’re probably sitting near or around some of your favorite people. It’s easy to feel like God is in this place tonight. But what happens after tonight? What happens when you reflect back on your year as we so often tend to do during this season? For many people, maybe even some of you gathered here tonight, God may feel very far away. You may start to relate more to the shepherds than you thought. Maybe you’ve been wondering all about this God stuff. Maybe you’ve even begged God to show up in your life only to be left in the silence.

This time of year can be challenging anyway. The nights are longer, the days are colder. We see the sun less. You start to pass that same cold around to your family and friends only to get it back 3 weeks later. Maybe this is your first Christmas without a loved one that has passed since last Christmas. Or maybe it’s your 15th Christmas without them. Either way, grief seems to be felt deeper around this time. And while I love being reminded of love incarnate in the form of a newborn baby Jesus, I’m also not naive enough to think that all of your problems (or mine for that matter) magically disappeared when you walked through these doors. I’m also not going to assume that your problems will stay gone until after the new year.

But the birth we celebrate tonight is more than just a birth. It is an inclusion of those who have long been left behind by us, by the church, by society, for far too long. Tonight while we are in here celebrating, rejoicing, and generally being merry, God is showing up for and to the people who have all but given up on God. And for me, my beloved, this is good news. Because I have no doubt all of us have been through a time when we just about or actually did give up on God. Maybe you’ve had problems in your marriage. Maybe your kids are struggling. Perhaps you’re without a job or without meaningful employment. I know several of you watch the market reports daily and wonder if this is the last year you will tend to your fields. Or maybe you just observe the state of the world and genuinely ask and wonder “where is God?” So many of us have maybe several reasons to feel like God isn’t going to show up, isn’t real, and most certainly doesn’t listen to us.

In those first cries, in that report from the angels, in the hurriedness of the shepherds, we see once again that God came, did come, and will continue to come to those who need it the most. If you’re just not feeling merry this year for whatever reason, then hear this good news: you are not forgotten. God will and does show up first and foremost to you. If you’re feeling like a phoney sitting in these pews tonight, you’re a shepherd. God will show up to you. If you’re feeling like God hasn’t shown up in your life all year, you’re a shepherd. God is showing up to you. If you’re feeling like shame, regret, remorse, grief, anger, or general apathy rules in your life instead of God, you’re a shepherd. God is showing up to you. And when you come forward tonight to receive body and blood, please hear the words “for you.” There is nothing you have to do for God to come to you. God will always come to and for you. And God does not expect you to check your baggage at the door.

So come in your anger. Come in your joy. Come in your faith and come in your questioning. Come with your doubts and fears. For some of you being here is an act of courage. Thank you for being so brave. God is here. God is with you. God will go with you. And God will continue to love you beyond your wildest imaginations. Especially (and maybe essentially) on the days when you can’t feel it, don’t want to feel it, or can’t even love yourself. Christ the babe was born for you!

Sermon for 7/29/18 John 6:1-21

This Sunday starts the first of five Sundays that we will spend in John, chapter six. The first of five Sundays that will talk about bread. Or, as I like to think of it, carb loading. I am telling you this now because if you start to think that the scriptures are sounding a lot alike its because they do. But, I am hoping to run a few themes through my sermons over the next five weeks. I want to invite us all into thinking about and conversation surrounding what it means to be fed so that we can feed. I also want us to have the refrain of John 3:16-17 in the back of our heads as we discuss these readings each week. Just in case you forgot, let’s refresh our memories on the verses of John 3:16-17, which I believe to be the heart of the Gospel of John. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” I am going to be referencing this a lot over the next few weeks.

This feeding of the 5000 is probably one of the best known Biblical stories, in my opinion. It is one of the only stories that appears in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, AND John. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus tells the disciples “you give them something to eat.” And then Jesus does the greatest party trick ever since turning water into wine: he takes 5 loaves and 2 fish and makes them a feast. There was more than enough for everyone. There was so much in fact, there were how many baskets left over? (12). An abundance of bread and fish. More than those gathered could even eat. In fact we are told that Jesus told the disciples to gather up the fragments left over after everyone was satisfied. Jesus didn’t let everyone have just a few bites and then declare the party to be over. Nope. Those 5000 gathered were satisfied. Can you imagine 5000 people being satisfied with something? I find it hard to please one tiny person…let alone 5000.

Another interesting detail in this story is the setting. In all of the other gospels, we are told that those gathered are in a grassy area. In the Gospel of Luke we’re told that they are gathered in a desolate area (Luke 9:12). But, as we look at verse 10 in this reading we are told that there is a “great deal of grass.” Once again, this is an abundance. Remember last week’s psalm reading? Psalm 23. He makes me lie down in what? Green pastures. Additionally, if Jesus is the good shepherd and we are his sheep, the abundance of grass provides for plenty to eat in a very literal sense, right? Because what do sheep eat? Grass! (Thanks to Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis for inspiring this line of thinking.)

But now I want to turn to the piece of this scripture that I think really makes it different. It’s a small detail and it can easily be missed, but it is crucial, so I don’t want you to miss it. Look at verse 11. Let’s read it again. “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when HE [emphasis mine] had given thanks, HE [emphasis mine] distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Who fed those gathered? Jesus! This is the only version of this story where Jesus himself feeds those gathered. The other gospels have the disciples doing the feeding. The crowd is receiving the bread of life from the bread of life himself. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son….”

Before we get too wrapped up in additional details, maybe we just need to step back and call a thing what it is. This is called being a theologian of the cross. Luther said that sometimes we just need to call a thing what it is. And while it’s all too easy for us to say “look! This reading talks about communion. This reading is like what happens at the last supper. This reading is about this or that or whatever. What if this reading is as simple this: people were hungry and Jesus fed them. That’s it. Sometimes we make mountains out of molehills (as my dad would say). Sometimes a reading really is just about something as basic as feeding people. And is there anything more Jesus like than this? People were hungry and he fed them. Not only did he feed them, but he fed them until they were satisfied and fed them with abundant amounts left over. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world…”

This was not a one time deal. In our lives, Jesus is the one who feeds us with abundance. And we are fed so that we ourselves can feed. That’s what grace does. Maybe you don’t realize it, or maybe you don’t call it that. But, God, through Jesus Christ, fills us up with grace. And there is always an abundance of it. More than we could ever need. Jesus is always feeding us. It’s not always food, either. We are fed with mercy, love, grace, forgiveness. We are fed with opportunities, time, relationships, and second chances. We are fed with words, music, cards, emails, and phone calls. We are fed by visits, casseroles, and shared tears. We are fed. We are fed. We are fed. And what do we do with the abundance that Jesus gives us? We are fed to feed.

We feed others, literally. We feed others through our food pantry and our backpack program. We feed others with our generosity of finances. Our current level of mission support is 15%. This helps programs like Lutheran camps, colleges, seminaries, missionaries, Lutheran Services in Iowa, Lutheran World Relief, and on and on. We feed others with prayers. We feed in hospitality. I pray that part of the reason why people keep finding us and keep coming back here is because they feel welcome. That is Jesus Christ just spilling out of us. When we take seriously “for God so loved the world” then we can’t help ourselves. We do the same. And do we always get it right? No. Sometimes we are fed and then keep to ourselves versus fed to feed. The idea of scarcity of abundance enters our hearts and minds and we want to keep all we have for ourselves. So thank God the scripture is “for God so loved the world” instead of “for we so loved the world.” It is God through Christ alone that feeds the world. And feeds us.

I know that today may have felt a bit more like a Bible study verses a sermon. But, I wanted to lay the groundwork for the next 5 weeks. We are going to hear more about the bread of life. We are going to hear more about abundance. We are going to hear more about being fed. I hope your takeaways for today are that Jesus is the one who feeds us and feeds us with abundance. And that we are fed in order to feed. I challenge you, my beloved, to keep your eyes open for the ways that God, through Jesus Christ is feeding you. Be prepared, even expect to be fed to an abundance. Then, keep your eyes open for the ways we feed others through the power of God. “For God so loved the world” and the world is so hungry.

Sermon for 7/22/18 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

I have a complicated relationship with food. I know I am not alone in this. I enjoy food when I am happy. I enjoy food when I am sad. I use food in celebration. I use food in sorrow. I also know that food is a resource that many don’t have the luxury of enjoying to the extent that maybe they would like. I don’t know if any of you have done this. But, it’s not uncommon for me to open our fridge or pantry, see it full of food, and yet declare “we have nothing to eat.” If you have kids in your house or remember having kids in your house, I am sure that this idea is nothing new. But, what do I want? Hmmm… good question. A friend of mine used to joke that he wanted to open a restaurant called “I don’t know. What do you want?” I often forget that my hunger cannot always be fixed by food. Sometimes my body is physically hungry, yes. But, there are times when I am hungering for something else. Something I don’t always know how to get or something I don’t always know how to label.

You may not have heard it on first read, but eating and being fed is mentioned a few times in today’s reading. We are told of the disciples ministry. They have been healing, teaching, feeding, preaching. They have been giving a lot of themselves. They have been so busy, we’ve been told, that they haven’t even had time to eat. Jesus invites them, even encourages them to go off to a deserted place and rest. Jesus knows, and it’s a good lesson for us to learn as well, that we cannot pour from empty pitchers.

Even though they attempt to go get some rest, the disciples, along with Jesus were literally running to catch up with them. I kind of pictured those scenes that I have seen on documentaries of people (mainly young girls) trying to run and catch up with the Beatles tour bus. People trying their hardest to run and catch up with John, Paul, … Jesus. (Did you think I was going to say George and Ringo?) And Jesus saw the crowd. Do you remember what he compares the crowd to? A sheep without a shepherd.

Let’s think about this for a moment. A sheep without a shepherd. Now, let’s think in the actual sense, not the metaphorical sense. Do sheep without a shepherd necessarily know where they are going? So, do they know where to find places to sleep, eat, or drink? No. Sheep without a shepherd could literally die. Of course, Jesus felt compassion for them. This is Jesus after all. Now, let’s think in a metaphorical sense about what Jesus is doing for those people, what the shepherd is doing for those sheep. In turn, what Jesus is doing for us.

All we need to do is look at that familiar psalm from today to remind us of what the shepherd does for his sheep. He provides for all of our needs. He leads us to still waters, where we may rest and get nourishment. He calls us to rest in green pastures. A sabbath of sorts. The shepherd offers us protection, comfort, and peace. He prepares a table, which harkens images of a feast. He feeds us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The shepherd provides the sheep with more than they could ever possibly need. And, maybe most importantly, the shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, offers us a life long relationship. “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” is the promise of accompaniment and a relationship where Christ will never let go of us.

So, when the crowd gathers around Jesus and he looks at them like they are lost sheep, he yearns to be their shepherd, offering them all they could ever need and want and more. Obnoxious abundance, really. The sheep may not know what they want, but they know they are hungry. They are physically hungry and perhaps hungry for more than what the world can give them. They are hungry for spiritual food that only Christ can provide. Maybe you can relate.

Is your soul feeling unsettled? Maybe it’s been feeling that way for a while. Do you feel like you’ve been running, trying to catch up with Christ? Are you longing for a rest but the demands of this world keep finding you? Do you feel like you are hungry but have no idea for what you hunger or even how to be fed? Do tears, anger, frustration, or just general unsettledness come a little too easy these days? Perhaps it’s time for us to go off to a deserted place. A place where all of the distractions of this life disappear and we are left to rely only on God because that is all there is. Perhaps we’re being called to a deserted place where there will be green pastures, still waters, and cups that overflow. Perhaps we’re being called to a place where rest isn’t a suggestion, but a requirement. Maybe we’re being called to a place where we will finally be fed whatever it is that we are hungering.

And while all this sounds great in theory, life still happens. We all still have things that demand our attention. Work, the field, our kids, the laundry, dishes, groceries, our health, and on and on. I am sure there are many who would either love a spiritual retreat if it weren’t for the time away, the cost, and the logistics. Others may think the idea of a spiritual retreat actually sounds like torture. Whatever the case may be, we actually engage in a spiritual retreat each time we gather here. You are able to be fed every time you come to this table. You are fed physically, yes, but spiritually as well. And while Kiersten will be splashed in the promises of a lifelong relationship with Christ today, we can all do this on our own. After all, Luther believes that we should all participate in a daily remembrance of baptism. Perhaps that is the food for which your soul hungers. Maybe you just need to be reminded that you belong to someone. You are loved. You are beloved. You are worthy of being fed, being nourished, and you are most certainly worthy of rest.

This is what I am going to do for you today, my beloveds. I am going to leave the cover off the font here. As you leave today, maybe you will want to dip your hands in and splash yourself. Maybe you will play with the joy of a child. Maybe you will drink like a thirsty athlete. Maybe you will just be satisfied with one drip. Maybe you will stay at the font and linger for a while or maybe you will just dip and run. While what is in this font looks like water, it is food for a thirsty soul. God gives us all that we may need. Maybe what you need today is to remember who you are. Who you are is a child of God. Maybe what you need today is to remember whose you are. You are a child of God who belongs to God. So come and drink, come and splash, come and rest my fellow sheep. The shepherd is calling.

 

Sermon for 4/22/18 John 10:11-18

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! My best friend and I have been friends since second grade. So, about since we were 7 or so. That would be about 32 years. I’ve talked about her before. I call her one of my 3am gals. Meaning I could call her at 3am and she’d pick up the phone, no questions asked. Most everyone calls her Kristin except for me and a few others. I get to call her Krissi. One of the things that I appreciate the most about Kristin is that she knows me. She knows my deepest darkest secrets and loves me anyway. Kristin has the ability to see me as I truly am. She doesn’t see me as a Pastor, or a sister, or a daughter, or a wife. She sees me as me. And, I think at the core of all of us we all desire that: to truly be known. To truly be seen.

Sometimes I feel like I say the same thing to you multiple times. But there’s a reason for that. I need to hear it multiple times. Therefore, you get to hear it multiple times. We were created to be in relationship; to be in relationship with one another and to be in relationship with Christ. There is no part of you that Christ does not love. Maybe you haven’t heard me say that before. But, Jesus and thus God, loves every single part of you: mind, body, and soul. If Jesus is the good shepherd, which he says he is, and he wants to care for the sheep, which we are, then Jesus desires to and actually does care for us. It is a nurturing and intimate relationship. The shepherd and the sheep know one another.

We trust in the shepherd, and in a weird way, we trust in the other sheep. Think about this from the standpoint of actual sheep. Sheep prefer to be led from the front. You cannot lead sheep from the back as you do with cattle. So, the sheep follow the shepherd. If a sheep cannot see the shepherd, the follow the sheep in front of them. A community is built. The sheep trust one another and we trust one another as well. Sometimes I think that trust is what makes it hard to enter into a worshipping community like this one. We have built trust with one another and we know one another’s stories. We have that intimacy. When someone new comes into the flock we can be guarded. After all, not everyone knows our history. That has been one of the biggest challenges as your pastor. There are a lot of assumptions. People say “well the reason why we haven’t seen the so and so family at church was because of that fight they had. Remember?” No. That fight happened in 1986 when I was still in the third grade. It takes time to build up trust, I understand that. In seminary, we were taught that it takes almost 7 years before a congregation fully trusts the pastor.

Jesus is the good shepherd. He knows his own and his own know him. And the thing is this: being disciples together is really hard work. I’m not one to pretend it isn’t. If being the church was easy, everyone would do it. But we all know people that, for whatever reason, stay home Sunday after Sunday. We are anything but perfect. So, when you try and put a bunch of imperfect people together, it can get messy. But what makes us different than any other social or civic organization is Jesus. We gather around the one thing that makes us equal and that is Christ. It is difficult work. But, the work is worth it. If you have gone through a time of personal crisis and you have seen the way the church gathers around a fellow sheep, you understand why the work to be disciples together is hard and yet so rewarding.

At the root of the desire to be known as only Christ knows us is a longing for comfort and security. When we are truly known, we can let our guard down, put away our masks, and settle into who God really created us to be. When we are truly known, life feels easy. There isn’t the pressure to perform or the exhaustion that comes with being someone we aren’t. I think too often we assume that we must present Christ with a masked version of ourselves. We think that our true, genuine selves isn’t good enough for Christ. Instead, we have to pretend to be someone or something we most definitely aren’t. Of course, this makes no sense at all. If there is any place we can truly be ourselves, it should be and is at the foot of the cross. If there is any time we can truly be ourselves, it should be and is when we are in the presence of the risen Lord. In the waters of baptism, we are claimed as God’s own, just as we are. In the breaking of the bread, we are fed with the body and blood of Christ, just as we are. Christ offers us security that nothing else in this world can match. But with that comes great expectations.

If Christ offers us security, protection, and comfort but with that is the knowledge that nothing else in this world can do that the same way Christ can. Being a disciple isn’t a one way street. Christ has prepared us to be his hands and feet in the world. The expectation of discipleship is that we feel so filled and grateful for God’s love and protection that we can’t but help ourselves, we must serve our neighbors. Christ doesn’t love us and protect us because he expects anything in return. But, the love of God through Jesus is so powerful that we do it anyway. So this means that the security and comfort we receive from God through Jesus also doesn’t look like anything else that this world can offer.

We are a people who have been ushered from an empty grave into the world declaring that Alleluia! Christ is risen! For us, this means that because our security is found in Christ, we are free to serve others that the world has forgotten about. Because our identity is in Christ, we need not fear the judgement of others. Because the good shepherd keeps us secure, we can enter into the places in the world that others have forgotten and shine the light of Christ. The security we receive from Christ isn’t locked doors and shuddered windows, but instead is open hearts, minds, and ears and we anxiously look to encounter the risen Christ through others in the world. You are known. You are loved. You are genuinely cherished by the risen Christ. There is no part of you that Christ does not love. In that love comes the security and knowledge that the love of Christ has no expiration date. You are safe and secure in the risen Christ. The powers of evil in this world may fight for you, but they will not win. Have no fear, little flock. You are genuinely known and genuinely loved by a God who would and did die for you.