4.27.2019

This week's Post-Bulletin Column



For this week's Post-Bulletin column, I focused on awe. 

4.23.2019

Sermon on Salt and Light


This sermon was preached on Tuesday, April 23 at St. Olaf College during chapel. 

In the Gospels of the New Testament, we repeatedly encounter Jesus reminding groups of humans that they have the capacity to transform the world.

In readings like today’s passage about salt and light, Jesus invites his community to be a presence in the world that empowers people to have the courage to witness reality as it is.

When Jesus says, “You are light” - he’s calling us to be a force of illumination. When we are able to really see at world around us with all our senses - to examine it - to understand it… in those moments new possibilities are created.

Jesus believes in the capacity his followers to be a transformative, illuminating force.

Today’s Gospel reading falls in the midst of a much larger training session Jesus has with his followers. He’s early on in his ministry, and he’s describing to his disciples the core nuggets of what it means to be part of what he’s doing.

He uses two metaphors that were part of every life - salt & light. Salt was integral to life - it was a preservative, a purifier, and it added flavor. Light, too, was central to life and it set the rhythms of each day. Salt and light were central to middle eastern life in the first century.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t say, “If you’d like to become salt….” or “I’d like you to consider being the light.”

He declares, instead, “YOU ARE SALT” and “YOU ARE LIGHT”!

He’s revealing to people a permanent identity they likely didn’t realize they had. He’s saying, “You are a force of illumination in the world. You can help people see reality as it so they can courageously respond.”

It is when we’re able to courageously witness reality…especially life’s difficult realities like racism, gender discrimination, injustice, inequity, a broken immigration system, climate change, and white privilege…When we can witness those realities without defensiveness and fear, transformation happens. When we are able to acknowledge brokenness…and see it…we can then address it with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose.

This is why the influence of illuminators is so important. They help us all to see.

When we stop avoiding and denying and hiding in shame, we can more fully hear the Spirit’s guidance - empowering us to respond to the needs of our communities, world and planet. To be a follower of Jesus is to illuminate the world in such a way that we can collectively and courageously look around without fear.

Here at St. Olaf, you’re doing it.
  • Through poetry and art. 
  • Through music. 
  • Through protest and prayer. 
  • Through your essays and explorations. 
  • Through your questions and contemplation. 
In all these ways, you are being a force of illumination, and you’re empowering one another and those outside this community to see the truth and to be set free.

As a member of the staff of the Office of the Bishop of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, I want to affirm you - for your work. Your courage. Your worship. Your commitment. And I want to say concretely: you are salt and light - and it’s transforming the world. The ripples of what happens here in this chapel, on this campus, in your library and classrooms…these ripples spread and empower us all.

I love this Gospel reading because it’s a commissioning. Jesus has brought his crew together, and he’s getting them ready for real life….a life in which they will be constantly formed and reformed. This passage is a commissioning for us, too.

Within the next month, another school year will wind down. In these next 3-4 weeks, where in your life is the Spirit calling you to be light? To be salt? What about this summer? How will you use this season of your life here on this campus to illuminate the world in whatever chapter comes next?

As you navigate the road ahead, remember this….

When Jesus coaches and empowers his disciples, he doesn’t say “be likable” or “be brilliant” or “be beautiful” or “be agreeable.” He doesn’t describe how they should grow their following and become more successful.

Instead, Jesus proclaims a truth “You are light!” He wants people to recognize that the world is illuminated because of them and through their collective efforts as Jesus’ followers.

Let this truth soak in. The world is illuminated through you.

Thank you for the ways you empower us all to see beyond ourselves. May the Spirit continue to guide and infuse you with all the courage you need as you continue to usher in the kingdom of God in this community and beyond!


Amen.

4.22.2019

Post-Bulletin Column Series: Lent 2019


Easter Monday greetings to you! I hope that you had a peaceful, joyful, radiant weekend. Justin and I were down in Iowa to celebrate Easter, and it was great. The photo above was taken by my 4-year-old niece, Sophia. Nancy and Jerry, my in-laws, planted some garlic last week, and Sophia captured this photo of the garlic peeking through. Resurrection! 

Each year throughout Lent, I focus my weekly Post-Bulletin column on a particular theme. I pitched a new idea to my editor, Jeff, for 2019. "What if I write each week from the perspective of a different person who encountered Jesus in the gospels?" Jeff gave the go-ahead, and I was excited! Writing creatively in this way was totally new territory for me, and I underestimated how much I would love it. Lent 2019 was one of my favorite Lenten seasons, and that was in part because each week I got the opportunity to encounter the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection from a new perspective as I prepared to write the column. The other reason Lent was so great was because I got to be a mentor for an awesome middle schooler on Wednesday nights through Zumbro Lutheran. 

Below are the links to each of the "Holy Everything" columns of Lent. Feel free to use them however you'd like - as devotional material or perhaps in your congregational context. A word of background: I took a lot of creative liberties in these portrayals. Parts are certainly drawn from the biblical descriptions of each person, but I also did plenty of research on cultural norms and historical references from other sources. I hope you enjoy!

(Please note: If you are not a Post-Bulletin subscriber, I believe you get 4 clicks per month per browser. Consider becoming a subscriber. It's $16/month for the paper version, and $10/month for online online. As a columnist I don't get a discount, but we do subscribe nevertheless. Journalism matters to democracy, and I really don't want it to die; subscribing to a few papers is one way to support journalism and reporters.) 


Post-Bulletin Column Links: 

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?