Sermon: A Christian Guide to Destroying Your Enemies

Sunday, November 20, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Reign of Christ Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 32:06; sermon starts around 38:32)

What comes to your mind when you hear a word like “power”? What is power? What does power look like? What does it look like to be powerful?

When we think about being powerful, most of us probably think about power in terms of authority and money, control and strength. We think about people who have the ability to impose their will on others, perhaps by persuasion, but usually by force – in the same vein, we probably think immediately of military might, people who have access to the nuclear codes. We see the leaders of nations as powerful: presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens and so on. 

Power is a major theme for us this morning, because today is the Sunday we celebrate the Reign of Christ – the last Sunday of the liturgical year. We celebrate that Christ is the king of all creation – now that’s some serious power! That’s a heavy business card right there. And our texts all reflect this power in various ways:

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Sermon: Keep Up the Good Work (No, Really.)

Sunday, November 13, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 21:31; sermon starts around 27:25)
(another reprise, but I hope it still speaks)

If you’ve been following any of the news lately about what’s been happening with social media – with Facebook and Twitter in particular – you know that there has been a lot of drama. It kind of feels like we’re seeing what happens some of the worst and most petty impulses that humans have are given free rein to cause havoc online.

But, admittedly, I spend a lot of time on social media, especially on Facebook – I basically live on Facebook, haha – and because of that, I know that there are also a lot of good things that social media can make possible, like networking with other clergy folks, doing ministry, and keeping up connections with my friends and family who live all over the country/globe. 

And every once in a while, I get to see some really beautiful and awesome things happen on social media. During the height of the pandemic especially, there was (and continues to be) this whole informal network of people online who have found ways to help each other out in times of need. I think of it as a sort of “Facebook Underground Railroad.” A friend of someone’s friend reaches out asking for help, usually needing money, and this network of people in all different places, from all different backgrounds, mobilizes to respond. One time, we helped a single mom in Chicago who was struggling after her car was impounded over a ticket. A while back, I put the word out on facebook to help a friend of mine who was trying to escape an abusive partner. We raised over $6,000 for her in a matter of weeks. 

There’s no formal organization at work here, no mission statement or central command. It’s just a bunch of regular people who are connected by compassion, by the recognition that as humans we need each other and that none of us is in this alone. And the folks who volunteer their time and resources don’t ask a lot of questions about the requests that come through for help. People just trust that the need is there and they give if they can. And I often see the same people stepping up again and again to chip in and/or spread the word. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times the Facebook community gets called on or what else people have going on in their lives – someone is always ready to step up and help however they can.

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Sermon: Blessed Are the Maladjusted

Sunday, November 6, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
All Saints Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 23:51; sermon starts around 30:37 (my mic kept cutting out for some reason, so sound isn’t great))
image source

Many of you know this already, but back in January of this year, I was diagnosed with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. I was diagnosed by the therapist I’ve been seeing for a little over three and a half years, and almost everyone I’ve shared this information with has had pretty much the same reaction, which is: “Huh… actually yeah… yeah, that makes a lot of sense.” 😅

For most people, ADHD is the kind of thing that you associate with hyperactive little boys who can’t sit still or pay attention – it’s not something you expect to find in an adult woman, so it’s often overlooked. Our hyperactivity tends to get internalized as anxiety (100% me), and we get pretty good at hiding the way we struggle with things like concentration and impulsivity and time management – largely because it’s embarrassing; there’s a lot of social stigma around struggling so much with these things. 

But just like those hyperactive little boys, our brains are literally wired differently. Our brain biology is different from the average person’s. My brain has neurological differences that affect things like: the way I perceive and experience time, the motivation and reward centers of my brain, and my ability to block out stimuli and resist impulses so that I can direct my focus where I want it to go. (As most folks with ADHD will tell you, it’s actually not really the case that we have a deficit of attention; on the contrary, we often have an overabundance of it – and in my case, at least, that abundance of attention behaves a lot like a large, poorly leash-trained golden retriever 😜)

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Sermon: The Punchline

Sunday, October 23, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 26:41; sermon starts around 32:12)

The parable that Jesus tells in our gospel text for this morning almost sounds like the setup to a joke: a tax collector and a Pharisee walk into a bar temple. But the punchline to Jesus’ parable is one that his listeners probably did not see coming. Two men go up to the temple to pray, but only one of them comes away justified – and it’s not the one you’d expect! It’s the tax collectornot the Pharisee. Scandalous!

Of course, this story hits a bit differently for us now, reading this in the 21st century. We’ve gotten all of our ideas about what a Pharisee is from these texts written centuries ago by early Christians trying to distinguish themselves from Jewish religious leadership. So when we hear this Pharisee’s prayer, in which he actually thanks God that he is not like this scummy, tax collector guy, we are already primed to hear what a hypocrite he is and to have a poor opinion of him. And I mean, honestly, who prays like that?? It’s true we may not always be the most saintly of saints here – but at least we can be thankful that we’re not like that guy, right?

Ha! And there’s the punchline of the joke. Even for us, it’s almost impossible to hear this story and not go away thinking some version of, “God, I thank you that I am not like that pharisee!” It turns out, being judgmental and hypocritical is something that just seems to run deep in our human DNA. 

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Sermon: MARCO!

Sunday, October 16, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 23:27; sermon starts around 28:43)

(From outside the sanctuary)
MARCO!
[POLO!

MARCO!
[POLO!

(Gradually moving into the sanctuary)
MARCO!
[POLO!

Oh hey, there you all are! You guys really shouldn’t wander off like that; it’s so weird.

Hehe, evidently enough of you played that game as kids – or had kids of your own who played it – that you remembered how it goes. For the sake of anyone who might be totally confused right now, could someone offer an explanation of what this game is and how it’s played?

[Marco Polo: it’s a kids game named after a 13th century Italian explorer (for some reason), usually played in a swimming pool. A variety of tag – one kid is “it” and has to tag the others – but unlike regular tag, whoever’s “it” must keep their eyes closed; they locate the others by calling out, “MARCO!” to which other players must respond, “POLO!”]

Exactly – it’s kind of a call-and-response sort of game, a swimming pool version of tag or blind man’s bluff. I don’t know if kids still play it much these days, but when I was growing up, it was definitely a summertime staple. 

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A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 12:1-2

Whenever I set out to write a funeral sermon, one of the first and most important questions I consider is: How did this person’s life point us toward God? Or, put another way, how do we know and love God better as a result of knowing and loving this person? Because all people were created in the image of God, each and every person, each life, has something to teach us about who God is.

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Called to Something(s)

For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the encourager, in encouragement; the giver, in sincerity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Romans 12:4-8

The image of the body with many members is an image that Paul uses often in his letters to talk about the body of Christ and the multitude of different gifts God gives to each of us as members of this body. It’s an image that comes up often in our life together as church, walking together in the way of Jesus. And it speaks to a gift from God of which Lutherans have a rich understanding: vocation. This is a theme that we are especially focusing on this year at St. John’s, through our worship life, stewardship, and Christian education.

A word like “vocation” may call many different things to mind. You might immediately think of vocational schools – job-focused education for practical occupations like plumbers, mechanics, hairdressers, and so on. Or vocation might take your brain to more churchy places – it comes from the Latin word vocare, which means “call,” a word that might instead evoke a job more like mine, where people wear schmancy robes and talk about God a lot.

In truth, however, every single one of us has a vocation – usually vocations! – to which God has called us: some kind of calling toward which we are drawn and for which God has equipped us. But, to ask the Lutheran question, what exactly does this mean?

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Sermon: Scaring Is Caring

Sunday, September 25, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 16:53; sermon starts around 24:11)

Once upon a time, there once was a very rich man. He lived in a fine house and wore expensive clothes; his table never lacked for any good thing. He had amassed more money than he honestly knew what to do with. But rather than even entertain the idea of giving up some of his wealth in order to benefit others, this rich man chose to be tight-fisted and hoard all his money away. He didn’t care at all about the suffering of the neighbor (or the neighbors) literally at his doorstep – in fact, he hardly seemed even to notice they were there. This man is selfish and miserly and cruel. And his name is: Ebenezer Scrooge. 

Heh, I just can’t seem to read this particular parable of Jesus without being reminded of the familiar story of A Christmas Carol. There are just so many points of connection between these two tales. In Jesus’ story, the rich man is already dead, but he pleads with Abraham to try to save his five brothers by sending Lazarus to them back from the dead – what he’s asking for is basically the plot of A Christmas Carol: Scrooge’s whole ghostly adventure starts off when the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, shows up to warn him about the damage he is doing to his own soul by his selfish behavior. 

Neither of these wealthy men in these two stories care about anyone but themselves. Just as the rich man ignores Lazarus begging and dying at his gate, Scrooge is completely indifferent to the struggles of his impoverished employee, Bob Cratchit, and his family (in fact, he is very much the reason they are impoverished to begin with!). But with Scrooge, we do get a glimpse a little deeper into the psyche. As mean and uncaring and just plain unlikable as Scrooge is, it’s hard not to also feel pity for him. He is clearly not a happy man. He has achieved the goal to which he has devoted his life – the goal of accumulating great wealth – but it has left him feeling empty inside, isolated from other people, miserable and alone.

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Sermon: Sometimes Even the Found Are Lost

Sunday, September 11, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 20:05; sermon starts around 26:32)

Whenever I’m introducing myself in churchy kinds of settings, I often describe myself as a “lifelong Lutheran” – but in truth, that’s not a completely accurate description. I mean, sure, I was born, baptized, raised, and confirmed in an ELCA church – there are even several Lutheran pastors in my family, going back at least as far as my great-great-grandfather Friederich Hefner. But for me personally, the relationship has been a bit more complex.

When I was quite young, my heart wandered away from the church out of anger at the idea of a God who thought He needed my mom more than nine-year-old me did… But then an experience of the Spirit I had at confirmation camp brought me back.

In college, I wandered away from the church in confusion when it seemed to me like I always heard Christians talk about stuff like condemning gay people or judging others they disagreed with way more than they talked about Jesus or about loving their neighbor… But then I went back to camp as a counselor, and the Spirit helped me see and experience that love really is at the center of faith. 

After college, I didn’t mean to leave the Lutheran church. Ironically, it was actually my zealous enthusiasm for reading the bible and for growing in faith that led me away again. It led me down a bizarre two-year path of study during which I nearly became a Jehovah’s Witness. Suffice it to say, it was a very weird period of my life, and I totally understand now why people join cults. That experience left my faith in such a twisted and broken and vulnerable state that it was several years before I could bring myself to go back to church at all.

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Sermon: Parenting Is Hard. Even When You’re God.

Sunday, September 4, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 18:21; sermon starts around 24:58/25:17)
image source

I’m curious to know – nearly all of you here are parents – when your kids were growing up, did you set rules for them? (I’m guessing you definitely did.)  
What were some of the rules you gave your kids?
Why did you make these rules? What was your goal in setting these rules?

Good parenting involves setting healthy boundaries and guidelines for your kids. You make rules because you care. The purpose of making rules isn’t just to be arbitrary or controlling, or to suck the fun out of a kid’s life – it’s to keep them safe and healthy, to teach them values like responsibility and respect, and to help them grow into flourishing adults.

In our first reading, Moses is reminding the people of Israel about God’s rules. Almost the entire book of Deuteronomy is basically one long speech from Moses to the people of Israel as they are finally about to enter the promised land. And one point that Moses keeps hammering on again and again and again is the importance of abiding by God’s law – especially the ten commandments. It starts to sound kind of onerous. I don’t know about you, but I know for me, almost any time people start talking about the ten commandments, I tend to get this mental image of a distant, celestial, frowny-faced God, whose finger is perpetually hovering over the “SMITE” button, just waiting for us to screw things up.

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Sermon: Those Who Are Bad at Kickball Will Be Exalted

Sunday, August 28, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 19:38; sermon starts around 25:36)
image source

As most of you probably know, I grew up north of here, in the tiny village of Coleridge, NE – it’s a community that’s quite a bit smaller than Schuyler. The school in town has since been consolidated, but while I was growing up, the school was K-12 – kindergarten through twelfth grade – all in the same building. I graduated with a class of 17 people; 14 of us had been there from the beginning and had known each other pretty much our whole lives.

But for most of the time, during those 13 years of school, it had actually only been 13 of us together, taking classes and going out for sports and other extracurricular activities. The 14th core member of our class was a girl named Ashley. Ashley was born with pretty severe cerebral palsy, which affected her mobility and also left her with significant cognitive impairments. Because of this, she wasn’t really able to progress much further than about a third grade level of education. So as the rest of our class progressed through middle school and high school, Ashley kind of got left behind.

But when the time came for our class to graduate, Ashley “graduated” alongside the rest of us as well. Even though she didn’t get an actual diploma, her family wanted to make sure that she also got to experience such a significant milestone. And to celebrate, they threw a huge graduation party for Ashley, and they invited absolutely everyone.

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Sermon: You Keep Using that Word. I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means.

Sunday, August 21, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 22:50; sermon starts around 29:14)

As I was reading through our texts for this morning, I have to admit that I felt a little twinge of guilt. There’s all this language about being respectful of the sabbath, of taking sabbath rest – and yet I’m very, very aware that I myself have actually not taken a day completely off since the week before last… I’m also very aware of the fact that the final words of this very sermon were written no more than an hour or two ago. 😬 The words of Isaiah seem particularly to sting: stop “trampling the sabbath” and “pursuing your own interests on [God’s] holy day,” Isaiah says; “call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable”; “honor it” – instead of just “going your own ways, serving your own interests, [and] pursuing your own affairs.”

…oops. Sorry, God. My bad.

About a month ago, I preached a sermon about Martha and Mary – and I mentioned that this is something that pastors especially seem to struggle with. There are a whole lot of Marthas in ministry as clergy, people who pour a lot of themselves into what they do and who struggle to disconnect from their work. It’s also just kind of the nature of ministry that there’s almost never really a natural stopping point – there’s never a point at which you’re “done” with anything. At the end of every sermon, there’s always just another sermon to write. I can easily imagine that working in education is very similar – or even farming, to some extent – no matter when you decide to call it quits for the day and go home, there’s always more work to do.

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Sermon: A Legacy of Care and Service

Friday, August 19, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Colleen Dubsky
Obituary • APHA Tribute
watch this service online (readings start around 22:09; sermon starts around 24:49)
image source

Readings:

Many years ago, when I was in college, I spent a couple of my summers working out at Camp Carol Joy Holling, near Ashland, NE. I had a friend at school named Nicole who had talked me into applying for a job there. I just worked as a regular old counselor – and then later as a “creative arts specialist” – but the job that Nicole got to do was totally fascinating to me. She worked as one of the camp’s small handful of wranglers. It was her job to help care for the camp’s horses. She spent time getting to know them and taught the campers to understand and appreciate them; she taught kids – and counselors! – the basics of riding, and she got to lead these amazing, long trail rides all over camp. 

I’d had very little experience with horses, but I loved animals and I was really interested to learn more. So one week, I asked Nicole if I could spend whatever time I could spare kind of job-shadowing her – helping her with horse-chores and getting some hands-on experience working with horses. In retrospect, it probably should have been more of a red flag to me from the minute I found out that her day started at 4am

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Sermon: Is Not My Word Like Fire?

Sunday, August 14, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 14:46; sermon starts around 21:11)
image source

Back when I was in college, I spent two summers working out at Camp Carol Joy Holling in Ashland. My first summer on staff there, I worked with kids as a regular counselor – but the second summer, I decided to apply for a position as the “Creative Arts Specialist.” I’m sure you’re all *shocked* that I had a job where I did crafts with kids all day, every day. 😜

By far the most ambitious craft project that kids got to do at camp was make pottery. If you have any experience at all with pottery, you probably know that it’s a process that tends to take a long time. First, you take your lump of wet clay and mold it into the shape you want, whether it’s a vessel of some kind, or a sculpture, or whatever. Then, before you can do anything else with your piece, you have to let it sit and dry out as much as possible – at least a day or two. And then you fire it in the kiln, which takes a good ten-twelve hours. Then you have to let it cool down. And then if you want to glaze it, that’s even more drying, and an even longer firing in the kiln, followed by an even longer cooling.

Thankfully, we didn’t do the full on glazing at camp – those kids are only out there a week at a time! But we did allow campers to paint their pottery after firing. So the whole week had to be timed just right – campers made their clay items first thing on Monday, and that left just enough time for them to dry out enough to be fired, and then juuust enough time for them to cool down enough that kids could handle them and paint them on Friday, right before they left.

Unfortunately for me, in order for the timing to work with the drying and the cooling, pottery absolutely *had* to be fired Wednesday night, overnight. And since the camp’s old kiln had manual controls for the heat, it meant that every Wednesday, I got to babysit the kiln aaalllll night, getting up every hour and a half or two hours to adjust the temperature up or down. 

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Sermon: Longing for Home

Sunday, August 7, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 23:02; sermon starts around 29:53)

If you’ve been in my office lately, or if you’ve glanced at the office windows from outside the church, something you already know about me is that I enjoy decorating my windows in fun and creative ways. Right now, they’re decked out with a bunch of colorful paper cutout designs meant to look summery, like suns and flowers and leaves. But for many months before that, my windows were covered in a whole blizzard of intricately cut out paper snowflakes. 

A number of people asked me how I managed to get my snowflakes to look so delicate and so detailed – and the simple, honest answer to that question is: practice. Lots and LOTS of practice.

Making snowflakes became almost a kind of spiritual practice for me back when I was living in the Dominican Republic. Mostly it was a way of dealing with overwhelming feelings of homesickness. I fully expected when I moved there that I would start to miss people – all my friends and family back home – and that I’d miss certain foods or certain places that I used to go. What I wasn’t expecting was how much I would also miss the weather! Hard to believe, I know – but I really missed the changing of the seasons. As far as I can tell, the DR really only has two seasons: it’s either hot and miserable, or it’s wet and miserable!

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A Service of Letting Go and Letting God

Back in June, I gathered for a mini-retreat with the worship and music team at St. John’s to look ahead over the coming year (Aug-Jul) and dream up creative and innovative ways to deepen and diversify our worship life together. Especially after the practically apocalyptic challenges of the last few years, people are just exhausted — weary of historic world changes, worn out by constant worrying, carrying burdens of grief and disappointment and frustration and stress in their hearts with nowhere to set them down.

I wanted to find a way to offer people an opportunity to name and begin to process some of these burdens, some of the trauma of the last few years, and to open up their wounded hearts to God for healing. In previous years, this congregation had a history of doing some kind of special service — usually a service of healing — on the fifth Sunday in months with five Sundays; so we decided to resurrect that tradition to start periodically doing a ritual we have called “A Service of Letting Go and Letting God.”

Below, you can find the link to the live stream of worship, as well as the embedded video (if it decides to work 😜); I also copied the bulletin so you can follow along if you so desire. If you’re looking for a way to unburden your heart and open up your pain to God in prayer, I hope this service may be useful to you — that it may help you to name your burdens, let them go, and let God take care of the rest.

Watch the service here or embedded below.

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Sermon: A Heart of Compassion

Tuesday, July 26, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Connie Muhle • Obituary

Readings:

I never got the chance to meet Connie, but I have heard many of the stories about her, from Rick and Diane, and from others in the community who knew her well. And, reading through her beautifully written obituary, I’ve gotta say it’s really a shock that Rick’s sister would be remembered as a storyteller and a prankster who loved to make people laugh. 😜 Heh – it’s even more of a shock that this family would choose to celebrate Connie’s life by gathering around a table to share food and to share stories. (Just kidding. 😉) I get the strong sense that there’s a streak of good humor and a little bit of orneriness that runs deep in this family.

But above all, everything I have heard or read about Connie just glows with the love that so many had for her. She was a loving mother, grandmother, wife, sister, and friend – someone who showed up with enthusiasm to support the people she cared about.

I was especially moved by the stories about Connie’s deep love for animals. Her dedication to caring and advocating for the vulnerable and the voiceless is truly inspiring. She went to great lengths to protect those who could not defend themselves and did everything in her power to find loving homes for them. These stories speak volumes about what a kind heart she had, and what an extraordinary spirit of compassion.

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Sermon: Hey, God.

Sunday, July 24, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 15:30; sermon starts around 23:54)

Our gospel reading for this morning is all about prayer. The disciples find Jesus praying, as he often does, and they say to him: “Lord, teach us how how to pray!” All the cool kids are doing it – John taught his disciples how to pray! Heh, it’s kind of fitting for us that the disciples reference John like this – because here at St. John’s, prayer is something that we have actually been focusing on all this year. 

I’ve gotta say, as your pastor, it has been really fun to watch you all experimenting with different ways of praying; it’s gratifying to witness the moments in which someone really connects with some new kind of prayer. It’s been surprising at times, too, to see which forms of prayer people really kind of glom onto and choose to take with them. I had one of those moments back in March: during the five weeks of Lent, we explored a new way of praying each week – and I was very surprised that, of all the ways we prayed, one of the most popular ended up being an ancient form of prayer known as a collect. (I even mentioned to some of my clergy colleagues that the collect prayer had really caught on at St. John’s, and they didn’t believe me!)

Granted, I didn’t exactly call it a collect prayer – me being me, I made up a goofy acronym and called it “Praying with GRASE” instead. So now, for those of you who were there, it’s pop quiz time, haha. Who can help us name the five parts of the collect?

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Sermon: Christ Be Our Electrolyte

Sunday, July 17, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 9:13; sermon starts around 15:03)
image source

One of the weirder things about being a Peace Corps Volunteer is that you tend to pick up a lot of very random skills – skills that occasionally come in handy later!  For instance, I know how to use a machete; I know how to haggle over a taxi fare in Spanish; and I know how to take a bath – and even wash my hair! – with a shockingly (some might say disgustingly) small amount of water.  

One of the most surprisingly useful skills I learned is one we were actually taught as part of our training – and that is how to make oral rehydration solution, or ORS.  It’s basically a kind of crappy-tasting homemade version of Gatorade.

It was actually a pretty crucial skill for us, living in the Dominican Republic.  Walking for miles a day and sweating in the tropical climate, you could easily get dehydrated quite quickly.  Although, to be completely truthful, between the dramatic changes in our diets, and the threat of things like giardia, cholera, and just your garden variety intestinal parasites, it wasn’t usually *sweating* that posed the biggest risk of dehydration. 💩

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Sermon: Everyday Ordinary Superpowers

Sunday, July 10, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 17:21; sermon starts around 24:40)
image source: CustomCapeShop on Etsy

Just curious: have any of you heard this gospel story before?  Heh, of course you have – the parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most widely known stories in all of scripture!  Most of us here have probably heard it dozens of times and practically know it by heart.  

And if you’re like me, each time you hear it, you may find yourself resonating with a different character in the story – today it might be the Samaritan man himself, or the innkeeper; tomorrow it might be the man on the road, or the priest and the Levite, or even the robbers!  There are so many ways we can read this story.

Today, I find myself wondering about the lawyer at the beginning of this passage.  I wonder: what was he feeling as he listened to this story?  Here he was, thinking that he had come up with a couple of pretty clever questions to stump Jesus.  Yet, instead of responding to his questions with elaborate legal answers, or by quoting obscure portions of the law, Jesus tells this simple parable in which a Samaritan – an outsider – is the one who does the right thing.  

Continue reading “Sermon: Everyday Ordinary Superpowers”

Sermon: Standing in the Tension

Sunday, July 3, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 12:53; sermon starts around 19:55)
image source

It’s not often that you come to worship on Sunday morning expecting to hear the word “circumcision” read aloud quite so many times (or I suppose it’s possible you do; I don’t know your life, lol) – but we get a heaping helping of it today in our second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  To a casual reader of scripture, it can seem really odd that Paul gets so hung up on this one particular issue – I mean, the book of Galatians only has six chapters and Paul talks about circumcision in three of them!

Why do you suppose that is?  Why was circumcision so important for Paul?

Circumcision was an ancient Jewish practice, part of the law of Moses – its origins traced all the way back to Abraham.  As part of the covenant with God, Abraham himself was circumcised, along with all the males in his household and their descendants.  

To the Israelites – the descendants of Abraham – circumcision was a physical sign that someone was righteous before the law, that they were a believer in good standing.  Those who were not circumcised were cut off from the community (ironic); and over time, the word “uncircumcised” even came to be used as a derogatory term for non-Jewish people – because they were considered to be outside of God’s law.

Continue reading “Sermon: Standing in the Tension”

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