3.23.2019

A Column from Judas' Perspective



For this year's Lenten series in the Post-Bulletin, each week the column is written from a different perspective of a person with whom Jesus interacted.

I've always been intrigued by Judas and curious about his part in the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Today's column is written from his viewpoint: here's the link.

3.22.2019

A Letter to Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo

"An official visit by the Special Rapporteur on Racism to the United States during this timely season will give [Professor Achiume] an opportunity to gather information, meet with officials and civil society organizations and directly impacted communities, and offer an assessment and recommendations for effectively fighting the deeply rooted issues of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of xenophobia and bigotry in the United States."

"We are equally concerned about the rise of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments which ave continued to escalate across the United States."

These are two portions of an important letter written to our Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, from a broad coalition of religious and civil rights organizations including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The letter invites Secretary Pompeo to extend an invitation to Professor E. Tendayi Achiume, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to gather and present information about trends related to racism and discrimination in this country.

I am prayerful that Secretary Pompeo and his team will respond to this letter and invite Professor Achiume to the table. Together, we can build a more just world. To do so, we must understand the depth of the problems at hand, hear from those most directly impacted and base our solutions on the recommendations of people like Professor Achiume whose perspectives are based on research, data and experience.

Holy Spirit, hear our prayers and grant us courage.

3.04.2019

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

Location: Hosanna Lutheran Church, Rochester
Gospel: Luke 9:28-36
Good news: When we stay awake and listen to Jesus, we are transformed.

Today we find ourselves on the top of a mountain between two significant seasons of the church year. We’ve journeyed through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany - and before us is Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week and Easter. But first - we climb a mountain with Jesus and a few of his disciples, and we stand in awe.

Today we honor Transfiguration Sunday.

It’s a Gospel reading filled with mystery. There’s Peter, John and James - some of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples. Jesus takes them up a mountain to pray. And then there’s Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah…two Old Testament heroes representing the law and the prophets. Both Moses and Elijah had mountain experiences…and here there are on a mountain again. Moses received the 10 commandments. Elijah encountered God in a whisper. And then, in today’s reading, there’s also cloud. After that, we hear the actual voice of God.

The surroundings of the Gospel reading are significant. Throughout the Bible, mountains are more than places of beauty. They are places of prayer and transcendent spiritual experiences. Clouds are important, too. In the Bible, clouds represent mystery.

Right from the start of this Gospel, we know something really special is happening…we know God is doing something new in Jesus. Jesus brings people with him. Peter, James and John are with him for the transfiguration. This is different that Moses and Elijah…and other biblical heroes. Oftentimes their encounters with God happen individually, and then they bring a message back to the people. Jesus expands the table and invites more people to encounter God’s presence.

******

While they’re with Jesus, they experience the importance of staying awake. Luke, the author of the story, tells us that they were weighed down with sleep. We don’t know exactly what time Jesus invited them out to the mountain to pray…maybe it was late at night. We’ve all been really sleepy before. Heavy eyelids. Pinching ourselves to stay awake.

Somehow, Peter James and John do figure out a way to stay alert. Luke writes, “But since they had stayed awake, they saw Jesus’ glory.” This detail invites us all to reflect on the power of spiritually staying awake. If their sleepiness had overcome them, they would’ve missed it all.

I don’t think the Gospel writer, Luke, is advocating getting less than 8 hours of sleep…or that we give up sleeping altogether. On the contrary, rest is a really good and important thing. Instead, I think he’s inviting us to think about what it means to remain awake emotionally and spiritually.

As Jesus’ followers today, are we awake? Alert? Paying attention to God’s movement around us? Do we slow down enough to practice awareness of the present moment? I wonder if we, like the disciples, are often weighed down with sleepiness, too - literally and metaphorically. We fill our days and nights. We fill up our attention in so many ways. When our time and energies are so full, it’s hard to stay awake and aware of what God is doing in our midst.

But what a wonder it is when we are alert and aware and paying attention. We witness the Holy Spirit in so many ways!
*Last time and the sound system…people ready to solve problems and respond
*On an airplane and met a chemistry teacher from North Carolina
*Denver Public Library: Dr. Seuss Birthday Party
*When and where have you witnessed God's presence?

So what can we do as Hosanna Lutheran Church…individually and collectively to encourage each other to stay alert and aware and awake?

-Engage in spiritual practices…prayer, meditation, slowing down, sharing meals
-Serving…inside and outside the walls of the church
-Reading the Bible and other spiritually enriching literature

All of these are ways we can be awake and aware…tuned into Spirit’s guidance. This is really what any kind of Lenten discipline is about…to empower us to remain aware of God’s nearness.

In staying awake, Peter, James and John experience something profound and astounding. Even terrifying. They see Jesus’ glory and transfiguration. They hear God’s voice in a cloud! And what does God say to Peter, James, and John?

“This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.”

Of everything God could say, this is what God chooses. It’s powerful. And brief.

Imagine what the experience was like for Peter, James and John. They were already Jesus’ disciples…and certainly they were already incredibly inspired by him and in awe of his words and deeds. But now they were actually hearing God…and God said, “listen to Jesus.”

This is God’s same guidance to us today. Listen to Jesus.

In the church, we’re really good at listening about Jesus. We listen to stories about Jesus…we read stories about Jesus….we hear people talk about Jesus.

But God doesn’t say, “Listen to stories about Jesus.” God says, “Listen to Jesus.” And that means that Jesus has impactful things to say…and we, as his followers, are equipped to listen!

How are we listening? Is there a mutuality in our communicating with Jesus…or does it tend to be one-sided? Where might we take a step toward listening more deeply? How do we shift from hearing about Jesus…to actually hearing Jesus?

As we transition into the season of Lent, may the Spirit empower us to be awake and aware. May we listen to Jesus. And may travel through these 40 days ahead trusting that the Spirit will guide us along the way. Amen.

2.25.2019

Preparations for Transfiguration Sunday

The lectionary Gospel reading for this coming Transfiguration Sunday is Luke 9:28-36:

“Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.”

Some reflection questions to ponder this week:
  • What do you think it means that Peter and his companions saw Jesus' glory? How might this experience have impacted them? 
  • What might be the significance of the mountain and the clouds? 
  • Why do you think Peter wants to build the dwelling places? Have you ever had an experience so profound you just wanted it to last forever? Did you eventually have to "come down from the mountain"?
  • In Luke's telling of this story, Peter and his companions stay awake even though they're really exhausted. What are the challenges of staying awake today (literally and metaphorically)? If we do stay awake as followers of Jesus, what might we witness/encounter? 
  • Of all the things God could say at this moment, what does God say? Does this surprise you? Why is it important?

Included here are also a handful of historical pieces of art to use in your contemplations, Bible studies and sermon preparations.

May it be a week of fresh spiritual illuminations!













2.16.2019

Sermon for Sunday, February 17


Gospel: Luke 6:17-26 (click the image above for the full Gospel text and accompanying art)

Good news statement: The kingdom of God reverses our expectations. It comforts and discomforts. It’s a reversible sweater, and we need both sides.

Introduction: Good morning; I’m so grateful to be with you again this week as we explore God’s word together! Last week, we were with Jesus as he directed his friends to drop their nets for an unexpected catch. That was chapter 5 of Luke. Now we’re a little farther along in Luke 6. Jesus has spent the night praying and he’s just called more disciples. He guides them out to a plain. People are coming to be healed…and to hear his words. A similar story occurs in Matthew but they are on a mountain, and it’s called the “sermon on the mount.” In Luke = sermon on the plain.

Art time: Let’s look at some artistic depictions of the story. (Move through slides linked to above). When we step into a Gospel story, it’s impactful to imagine the scene and the audience. He’s talking to his disciples (and likely the crowds)…those crowds were full of folks who probably felt defeated…and isolated and perhaps unacknowledged by those in religious power.

Sermon:

So what did Jesus say to his disciples in this moment? Blessings and Woes. And these blessings and woes reveal that the good news of Jesus is kind of like a reversible sweater. 

The Gospels are full of references to the “good news.” The good news that Jesus brings into the world is kind of like a reversible sweater…where one side is super soft plush and one side is really itchy, thick wool. And both sides are important and serve a purpose. The Gospel is comfort and discomfort…a fair representation of the Christian life.

Another way to talk about the Gospels propensity to create both comfort and discomfort is described by theologian Richard Rohr as the three purposes of the Bible:

1. Confront
2. Convert
3. Console

Today’s Gospel does all three, and all three are important. Rohr says that if we always jump right to consolation…to using the Bible to make us feel better…we’re missing a lot of why Jesus came to dwell among us. The consoling and comforting is absolutely a big part of the Gospel, but it isn’t the whole Gospel.

There’s parts of this gospel that feel like soft plush: blessed are you who weep…who are hungry…who are poor….who are despised and hated. That’s comforting. Especially to the original audience of new disciples and a crowd of suffering people. And it’s also consolation to all of us. We’ve all wept. We’ve all felt suffering. And in this reading, Jesus is saying that we’re loved by God…that we can hold hope…even in the midst of deep suffering. “Blessed” = loved…valued.

And then there’s this other side. This thick, scratchy wool. It has a purpose, too. These WOES. Woe to you who have wealth…woe to you who have food to eat…woe to you who are laughing and joyful…woe to you when people speak well of you.

Itchy! Scratchy! Discomfort! What does it mean?! If you have questions about today’s Gospel and where to find oneself in it - you’re normal! Me, too! My invitation to you is to lean in and step closer. Like Jesus said last week, “Don’t be afraid.” The Bible is an invitation; not a weapon.

Another way to think about “Woe” = wake up…be aware! It’s like someone warning us before we inadvertently step off a cliff. It’s an alarm.

Jesus is teaching his followers that God’s reality…God’s kingdom…is not exactly as it appears. Sometimes it seems like those with wealth and food and bliss have it all - that somehow they are extra blessed. Jesus exposes that perspective as a lie. He flips over the expectations.

He’s saying to this crowd of people who are experiencing suffering: God is with you. And he’s also saying to this crowd of people - some of whom were probably experiencing the opposite end of the emotional experience: you’re not extra blessed just because things are going well for you. This awareness is fundamental for Jesus; it’s something he really wants his disciples to comprehend. Life is full of ebbs and flows for everyone, and ones level of suffering has nothing to do with whether they are loved by God. It can all change in an instant.

In these “blessed” lines of the Gospel; Jesus is exploring the “blessing of vulnerability”…In each example, Jesus is revealing that in states of vulnerability and need - there is gift and love and hope.

He’s also revealing that when you’re perhaps experiencing a sense of self-reliance…that life is so good and God is unnecessary…that’s actually a “woe” - “curse of the illusion of self-reliance.”

We all need all of this good news at different points in life. Our denominations and churches and halls of power do, too. Sometimes we’re self-reliant. Sometimes we’re vulnerable. If the good news is a reversible sweater - we all need both sides.

Jesus doesn’t provide comfort and discomfort without a purpose. There’s deep value in all of it. There is gift in the “blessed”…a reminder to persevere, to trust, to lean into a community of love. And there’s gift in the “Woe.” The Woe is an invitation, too - toward repentance and conversion…ongoing conversion. To not get too comfortable…to be forever woe-ed and woo-ed into an expanded sense of the inclusive nature of God’s kingdom.

As Alice Camille wrote, “The love of God doesn’t play favorites…and today’s Gospel reminds us to embrace the same approach”

As the church, we’re called to be a place where all are welcome. We are called to be a place where God’s comfort is extended. We’re called to be a place where the Gospel can provoke discomfort and curiosity and a deepened sense of mission, too.

Thank you, Jesus, for inviting us out to the plain with you today to hear your blessings and woes. It is here that we experience your presence as a source of comfort and discomfort. When what we need most is your comfort, wrap us in the warmth of your infinite love. When what we need most is to be discomforted and awakened to injustice and participation in oppression and our own sense of self-righteousness, give us courage to step forward to your truth and respond.

Thank you, Spirit, for meeting us just where we are with open arms. Always. Amen.




1.22.2019

Photos and highlights from the Border Immersion Experience

From January 12 to January 19, I joined four others from our Southeastern Minnesota Synod in a "Border Immersion Experience" at the US/Mexico border. The program is through Border Servant Corps which is a ministry of Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces and the Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA.

I've written about the experience on my Facebook page, personal Instagram account, and in the Post-Bulletin column. I also posted throughout the experience on the Southeastern Minnesota Synod Facebook page & Instagram account. Here are links to my personal posts:

1/12: Instagram
1/13: Instagram
1/14: Instagram
1/15: Instagram
1/17: Instagram
1/18: Instagram
1/19: Instagram

1/19: Post Bulletin
1/26: Post Bulletin (part 2 - publishes on January 26)

1/15: Facebook
1/17: Facebook
1/19: Facebook 

Here are some photos from the immersion. It was a profoundly impactful experience.























1.05.2019

Sisters in Spirit Retreat

What are you doing on February 2? Would you like join me in Hopkins, MN at Gethsemane Lutheran Church for their annual Sisters in Spirit event? I'm grateful, excited and honored to be their presenter this year. The morning retreat includes fellowship, a keynote, worship and a chef-created lunch! How cool is that?



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.