12.02.2018

Sermon for Advent 1



Sermon for December 2, 2018: Trinity Fellowship ELCA & First Presbyterian, Rushford

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36

Good news statement for sermon: Jesus calls us to face uncertainty and chaos with courageous confidence.

The season of Advent begins today. It’s a time of year in which we prepare our hearts and minds. There are three different ways we talk about how Jesus comes into our lives during Advent: 
  1. We talk about how he comes as a baby born to Mary and Joseph. 
  2. We talk about how he comes into our hearts daily. 
  3. We talk about how he will someday come again - which is sometimes referred to as the Second Coming of Jesus. 
During Advent, our Scripture readings invite us to ponder all three ways that Jesus comes into our lives. 

Today, our Gospel focuses on the reality that Jesus says he will someday come again. The reading is from fairly late in the Gospel of Luke. 

Sometimes in the Gospels, Jesus speaks a word of comfort. Sometimes he heals people. Sometimes he teaches large groups and performs miracles. And sometimes - in passages like the one we’re exploring today - he talks about the end of time as we know it, and he does so in a way that no one completely understands. This Gospel reminds us that while we don’t fully understand WHEN Jesus will come back or what it will be like, he will someday, and he wants his disciples to know that. 

In these verses of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives his followers a model for how to posture ourselves in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. 

In the reading, Jesus describes that when the Son of Man returns, there’s going to be a lot going on…things relating to the sun and moon and stars and seas - confused and fainting people, etc. 

Jesus says to his followers…When you see all that happening, “Stand up and raise your heads.” He’s encouraging them to be brave and bold - no matter what is going on around them. 

Jesus goes on to encourage his friends to always “be on guard” and pay attention to what’s going on in their hearts…to watch and ensure their hearts don’t get weighed down by the worries of this life. 

Another way to translate the Greek word that is translated in our passage as “be on guard” is “pay attention.” Jesus is inviting his followers to ALWAYS pay attention to what’s happening within their hearts emotionally…and to guard against worries and distractions. 

Jesus tells his friends to put their heads up and stand in the face of anything. He invites them to be courageous and confident. Just prior to today’s reading, Jesus reminds his friends that they can trust that the Holy Spirit will give them the words they need…so they don’t need to worry. 

In life today in 2018, there is chaos. There is uncertainty. These are real components of life, and we’ve all experienced them. 

As the people of Trinity Fellowship and First Presbyterian, you understand the reality of uncertainty…of not knowing exactly what to expect…of taking a bold stand in the face of fear. 

Jesus’ words made sense 2000 years ago and they make sense today. 

In the face of uncertainty and chaos, we have options. We can cower in fear…we can wilt in worry…or we can stand up and raise our heads. We can pay attention to what’s happening in our hearts. We can pray for strength and guidance. We can watch for signs that Jesus is right with us every step of the way.

Worry and fear are toxic emotional states. Jesus knew it then and now. We know it and live it every day. 

It isn’t just at the Second Coming of Jesus that we are called to stand up and raise our heads…to pay attention…and to trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us. 

It’s every day. Every day we are called to stand up and raise our heads with courageous confidence. It’s a daily invitation. 

How might the Spirit of God be calling you to stand up boldly as an individual? As a congregation? 

Today, we have the opportunity to tune into what’s happening in our hearts…just as Jesus advised in the Gospel. What’s going on there? How might you pay more attention and be more alert to heart matters - to worries and distractions? And we do this individually - and we do this collectively, as a family of faith.  

As we begin our Advent journey, Jesus invites us to get ready - to prepare - and to pay attention. 

May God’s Spirit guide you throughout this special season - and may you sense Jesus at your side every step of the way. 

11.23.2018

Thanksgiving Eve Sermon


Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Setting: Zumbro Lutheran Church in Rochester, MN - Thanksgiving Eve Service
Gospel: Matthew 6:25-33
Good news statement: To release worry is revolutionary.

This evening’s Gospel reading comes early on in Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. At this point in Matthew’s telling, Jesus hasn’t even put his whole squad of disciples together yet; he’s called just a few of his new friends. He discerns it’s time for their first big teaching session and they head away from the crowds.

To paint the scene, they’re together and on a mountain side. So when Jesus talks about grass and birds and lilies….they’re probably literally looking at grass and birds and lilies. Today’s reading doesn’t exist in isolation. Jesus didn’t take them out to a mountain exclusively to talk about worry. Today’s reading is a tiny portion of the teaching session, and it’s stuck in between some of the most familiar chapters of the Bible. It’s during these chapters of Matthew that Jesus talks with this first disciples about the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes (blessed are the poor, the merciful, the peacemakers), loving their enemies, and the golden rule. It’s also where Jesus gives a bit of guidance about wealth and power.

In today’s reading, Jesus focuses in on the theme of worry. It’s good to know that immediately before this, in verses 23-24, Jesus has just taught his disciples one of life’s most timeless truths: “No one can serve two masters….You cannot serve both God and money.”

Immediately after, he says the words, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”

So those words are in response to the reality that he just said something that would probably be anxiety-provoking...a life of following Jesus isn’t about accumulation of stuff or attachment or wealth.

Worry can also be translated as troubled and anxious to the point of exhaustion. Worry is apparently timeless...it has been a long-standing reality for humans for a long time. Perhaps the specific content of our worries in Minnesota in 2018 has changed over these thousands of years, but humans have spent unnecessarily large amounts of time fixating to the point of emotional exhaustion for a long time.

In our modern world, we live in the midst of a culture and landscape that actually thrives on our worry...on our discomfort...on our inability to live with uncertainty. That’s a lot of what worry is about...it’s about what our mind does to resist the unknown. Worry is a way we try to manage uncertainty. Uncertainty is a natural and inevitable part life...there will always be things we don’t know and can’t predict. But, when we’re uncomfortable with uncertainty, our brains start to worry. Worry mimics control. It’s a way to satiate that desire to know what’s next even though worry doesn’t relieve uncertainty in any way, shape or form. It temporarily makes us feel like we have some control.

And what do we do when we worry? When we’re uncertain? We spend money. We watch tv. We internalize and blame ourselves for everything. We eat and drink to excess. We compare our lives to other people’s lives. We turn inward. We get sucked into a social media vortex. We obsess over the news. We judge. We do all the things that people do when they are worried and uncomfortable with uncertainty. It’s not something to feel ashamed about...it’s all of us; we are a team of humans and we’re in this together. Worry was real for those first disciples that Jesus called, and worry and its implications are real for us. And it’s not just an individual matter, we can also think collectively...over millennia...what do groups of people do when they’re worried and anxious? What do churches do when they’re worried? What do countries do? We….fight. We find an enemy. We blame. We take advantage. We turn inward. We disregard the planet.

Strangely, as uncomfortable as worry and our responses feel, the system we’re living in doesn’t weaken with our worry. It grows. We feed the beasts of consumerism and individualism. We feed the need for the illusion of control. The cycle continues. And there’s worry at the center of it all.

When Jesus invites his followers to let go of worry, he’s doing more than offering an inspirational quote. It’s more than content for a Facebook post or an embroidered wall hanging. When Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life,” Jesus is empowering us to disrupt an entire economic and social system that feeds on our collective anxiety. Releasing worry isn’t a feel-good concept. It’s revolutionary.

The reality that Jesus mentions worry to his disciples so early on is a strong signal that he recognized just how toxic worry would be to the proclamation of the gospel...to the sharing of the good news...to the ushering in of the coming of God’s kingdom as a place where justice, peace and love prevail.

In acknowledging that worry exists, Jesus equips his disciples to become more self-aware and to pay attention to their own emotional states. He helps them understand and recognize that worry is an emotional state...and we can learn to separate ourselves from that space.

So if we’re not supposed to anxiously think about the uncertainties and discomforts of this earthly life, what are we supposed to do? What’s an alternative?

Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness”

The word “strive” in Matthew’s original Greek of this reading is zā-te'-ō. It can also be interpreted as…seek, to crave, to look out for.

So the antidote for worry? Being on the lookout for God’s kingdom...craving it...watching for it constantly.

So what’s God’s kingdom? It’s love. It’s peacemaking. Compassion. Justice. Equity. Forgiveness. Curiosity. When we spend our lives watching for it and working for it and experiencing it, Jesus says we won’t need to worry.

In directing us toward the kingdom, Jesus offers us a worry-alternative. He pulls us out of ourselves. He invites us to put that energy toward something productive...welcoming in God’s kingdom and celebrating it every chance we get.

The kingdom of God comes into our lives every time we sit with uncertainty and face it. And just acknowledge it. Uncertainty is a real thing for all of us - for our churches and communities and structures. We don’t have to avoid uncertainty. We can, instead, look at it. We don’t have to go buy something to numb it. Or drink. Or turn on our phones. Or find someone to blame. When we just sit with the reality of uncertainty, we catch a glimmer of something sacred. And worry quiets down.

That’s the kingdom of God. That’s power. That’s kingdom power. When humans do this...when Jesus followers learn to do this, imagine what’s possible. That’s what Jesus was teaching his friends...learn to do this - learn to live without worry. It opens up so much space. It’s the keys to the kingdom. And it frees us to put our whole hearts...our energy...our advocacy...our concern on our neighbor. On justice. On love. On forgiveness. On creativity, beauty, compassion and gratitude.

On this pre-Thanksgiving Eve, Jesus gives us this remarkable teaching on worry. He empowers us let it go and be on the lookout for God’s kingdom instead.

Thanks be to God that we are not bound to a life of worry.
Thanks be to God that Jesus believes in our capacity to recognize worry and release it.
Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit is within us and around us - guiding and empowering us every step of the way.

Amen.

11.15.2018

Three Good Things




It's a suggested happiness practice from the Greater Good Science Center of University of California - Berkeley. 


I have a very basic daily gratitude practice that I do each morning - but I'm thinking about incorporating Three Good Things as an evening ritual. Very cool. 

11.12.2018

Situation Report: California


I give thanks for the ministry of Lutheran Disaster Response. 


Here's a way to give financially online: link.

Psalm 43:1-7 comes to mind...

  

11.11.2018

Fig Tree Ponderings

In the mornings this month I've been using the "The Word in Season" devotional produced by Augsburg Fortress.

Saturday's reading was Mark 11:12-14 & 20-24. FASCINATING and perplexing Gospel text. Here's a look.


There are a multitude of curiosities in this text. 
  • Jesus was hungry...cool little detail reminding us that Jesus was a real human who consumed food. 
  • He sees a fig tree wanting to get a snack, and there are no figs on the tree....because it wasn't fig season. 
  • Fascinatingly, he then curses the tree and his disciples overhear him do it. He appears to be quite upset that he can't have a fig snack. I can imagine the disciples whispering to each other, "Wow, Jesus must be having a rough day. Or he must be really hangry (hungry + angry)."
  • The next morning, the tree is dead. 
  • Jesus turns it into a teaching moment, "Yeah, of course it's dead. All you need is faith and you can do anything." 
  • He then connects prayer to the emotional state of the person praying...he seems to be saying that prayer is about more than the words being prayed...more than the petitions. It's also about the person praying believing that it's already happening: "Believe that it will come to pass....and believe that you have already received it." 
This morning, I also heard a Gospel song I haven't heard before: "No Reason to Fear." A link to the Youtube and lyrics is below. The point of the song is that we don't have to fear in life because God gets the final say on everything. 

I think Jesus might be saying something similar in the Gospel. 

So what does this mean for our lives today? 

I don't know. I am going to keep chewing. 

And as I pray in the week ahead, I'm going to pray not just with my words and hopes...but with my whole heart - visualizing the outcome as if it's already happening and praying more than anything for God's will to be done. 




Lyrics of "No Reason to Fear"

11.10.2018

All Saints Sermon from November 4, 2018



Today, on this All Saints Sunday, Jesus meets us in the most painful, difficult, complicated parts of life. He cries into the tombs of our despair and hopelessness. He invites us to come out of those tombs…to be free…to believe.

Today’s Gospel text is full of real, raw emotion. It centers around real, devastated people dealing with one of life’s few inevitabilities: death. Yet even though we all know its coming, none of us knows exactly when…and sometimes it feels very untimely.

In the case of today’s Gospel reading, it’s a man named Lazarus who has died….probably moderately young…maybe in his 20s or 30s. He has two sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are good friends of Jesus.

Lazarus has died…and Mary and Martha are distraught with grief.

The sequence of the Gospel story is significant…the way Jesus enters into the situation reminds us of how Jesus enters into our situations. Before Jesus calls us out of our tombs of despair and sadness, he first meets us wherever we’re at.

In interacting with Mary and Martha, Jesus enters into the realities of the situation - he’s ready to hear their stories and to feel real feelings right along with them.

Today’s Gospel story reminds us of the depth and significance of Jesus’ feelings. When Jesus sees Mary and her friends crying…John tells us that Jesus was “great disturbed in spirit.” And then Jesus weeps, too.

There is comfort in knowing that God in Jesus not only came here to proclaim hope - and life over death - and love over hate…Jesus also came among us to accompany us in the real lived experiences of being human.

As we weep nationally…over anti-Semitism, violence, hatred, injustice, misogyny, and racism…as we weep over people being unable to honor our shared humanity…as we weep, we can imagine Jesus drawing near and weeping, too. Mary cries out, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” We feel that way sometimes, too, “God, if you would just intervene, life wouldn’t have to be so complicated.”

It’s interesting that in that raw, real moment of Mary speaking out to Jesus, he doesn’t try to explain away God’s mysteries…or talk her out of her feelings…instead, he witnesses her feelings and he gives himself permission to grieve, too.

Today, we invite Jesus to draw near…to come closer…to feel it all right with us.

In the Gospel, Jesus invites the people to move the stone away so that he can have access to Lazarus…to the finality of it…to death. Martha warns him of the stench…a dead body - deceased 4 days - long before modern embalming technology.

Jesus is not intimidated by the stench of death. He doesn’t avoid it. He just gets closer.

We don’t have to try and protect Jesus from the brokenness in our own lives…the hopelessness…the fear…the uncertainty…the anger. Jesus comes near to us, he joins us and he calls us out of our despair - out of our tombs.

Even when hope seems dead and all that’s left is a stench and a dream of what could’ve been, Jesus still draws near and still brings a word of hope.

Jesus calls out to Lazarus: “Lazarus, come out!”….he invites those around him to “Unbind him and let him go.”

In that moment, Jesus frees Lazarus, Mary and Martha - from despair, from death, from hopelessness…and today, in this moment, Jesus frees us. No matter how stinky the tomb we’re in, Jesus brings hope He doesn’t offer us naive hope - or the false belief that somehow we can prevent death in this earthy life. We can’t. We’ll all die. Lazarus eventually died a permanent earthly death, too.

Jesus reminds us that hope perseveres. He reminds us that death and hatred and pain are real….very real parts of life…but they aren’t final. And love is stronger. Stronger than death, stronger than hatred, stronger that despair. Jesus reminds us today that we can experience deep and painful emotions without getting stuck in them.

On All Saints Sunday, as we worship and sing hymns and light candles: we grieve - we remember - we process reality as it is - we hope - and we trust. For some, the people on our hearts and minds died recently. For others, it was long ago. There are a complexity of emotions in this space today…and the Holy Spirit makes space for all of them. Some of us are grieving people today…and some of us are grieving other deaths…the death of a pet, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the death of a dream we had for our own lives, our a dream we had for our children’s lives.

Just as Jesus drew near to Mary and Martha and wept with them, Jesus draws near to us, and weeps with us, too…acknowledging that life can be deeply hard and painful.

And then Jesus calls us to step out our tombs into the light of hope.

We give thanks today - that in life and in death…in grief and in gratitude…in all that this life entails, Jesus draws near and reminds us that we are never alone.

Love prevails. Thanks be to God.

Amen.

The Love I Fought to Feel was Always Free



Jon Bellion released a new album yesterday. You can stream it on Spotify.

I like this song a lot: "Stupid Deep."

Here's the chorus:
What if who I hoped to be was always me?
And the love I fought to feel was always free?
What if all the things I've done (What if all the things I've done)
Were just attempts at earning love?
But the hole inside my heart is stupid deep, oh, stupid deep

11.09.2018

Greetings after a two month blog hiatus

This amazing quilt was part of the Good Earth Village live auction in October.
We got it! We love it, and Finn does, too. 

Well, it sure has been a minute! 
Two months since my last post?! 
Where has the time gone? 
This autumn is zooming by so quickly. 

Some highlights from September to today...
  • September highlights: 
    • Alex's birthday party in Iowa! Happy 35th to Alex! 
    • Sarah and Jon's wedding in Iowa
    • Book group: LOVE THESE LADIES!
    • Facilitating a boundaries workshop for work
    • Visiting Josh and Sweta in Iowa: Bro and sis, love you so much! 
  • October highlights: 
    • Walking with friends around Silver Lake
    • Elle and Evan's wedding in Asheville
    • A week in North Carolina with my hubby: What a vacay! So great. Fell in love with NC!
    • Staff retreat in Nisswa: Oh, dearest team. So much gratitude for these gems. 
    • Good Earth Village Gala
    • Installation of a pastor, pulpit supplying and all kinds of cool work projects
    • Gave a speech on restorative justice for the Rochester Rotary Club
    • Denver, IA Saturday to celebrate Nancy's birthday
    • Creation of the "We Matter Mavens" habits group that will be meeting monthly (my November goal is to get to the gym 8 times)
    • Halloween fun with Alex and hubby at Forager
    • Community healing service at the synagogue in town 
  • November highlights so far: 
    • Hefe Rojo with Justin, Byron and Lois
    • Time with friends
    • Walks at the RAC & Silver Lake
    • Pulpit supply at Hosanna for All Saints
    • Funeral home visit with the 9th grade confirmation kids from Zumbro
    • 2018 Fall Theological Conference: "Dismantling White Supremacy: Building Beloved Community" - by far my favorite Theo Conf ever...amazing speakers, courage-building collegiality, spiritually engaging...THANK YOU, HOLY SPIRIT!
Vocational highlights: I'm really grateful for my job and my team and the people and congregations we serve. The election of a bishop is coming up at the end of May. There has been a lot of interesting and meaningful work involved in getting the people of our synod engaged in the process. The whole staff is co-terminus with Bishop Delzer so that means we all turn in our resignations when his term ends, and then it is up to the new bishop to discern if she/he/they would like to bring us back onto staff. Personally, it has been a period of discernment. I love serving in my current role, but I also feel quite open to whatever new possibilities the Holy Spirit is cooking up. My first call in Stewartville was extremely formative and impactful, this role has also been formative and impactful, and I trust that whatever is ahead will be awesome!