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:

Continue reading “Sermon: A Christian Guide to Destroying Your Enemies”

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.

Continue reading “Sermon: Keep Up the Good Work (No, Really.)”

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 😜)

Continue reading “Sermon: Blessed Are the Maladjusted”

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. 

Continue reading “Sermon: The Punchline”

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. 

Continue reading “Sermon: MARCO!”

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.

Continue reading “Sermon: Scaring Is Caring”

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.

Continue reading “Sermon: Sometimes Even the Found Are Lost”

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.

Continue reading “Sermon: Parenting Is Hard. Even When You’re God.”

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.

Continue reading “Sermon: Those Who Are Bad at Kickball Will Be Exalted”

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.

Continue reading “Sermon: You Keep Using that Word. I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means.”

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

Continue reading “Sermon: A Legacy of Care and Service”

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. 

Continue reading “Sermon: Is Not My Word Like Fire?”

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!

Continue reading “Sermon: Longing for Home”

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.

Continue reading “Sermon: A Heart of Compassion”

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?

Continue reading “Sermon: Hey, God.”

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. 💩

Continue reading “Sermon: Christ Be Our Electrolyte”

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”

Sermon: Dirty Little Secrets

Sunday, June 19, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 23:07; sermon starts around 30:28)

Our gospel reading for this morning brings us one of the greatest and best known stories from the life of Jesus: the healing of this man with the legion of demons.  Or – as our bishop-elect pointed out at text study this last Tuesday – you could also read this story as the biblical origin of deviled ham.

It’s a story with a lot of layers.  Jesus and his disciples have just sailed across the Sea of Galilee – through a storm, which Jesus calmed – and they’ve landed on the opposite side, in the country of the Gerasenes.  As they head toward the city, they walk by a cemetery, where they suddenly encounter a man tormented by demons, who lives chained up in the cemetery.  Jesus immediately goes to heal the man and – after some brief negotiations with the demons – he allows the demons to possess a herd of pigs, which immediately run into the sea and drown.  Super weird story so far.  But it gets weirder.  

The people whose ham just got deviled run back to the city and tell everyone what happened.  And then the people of the city run out to see for themselves – “and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they became frightened.”  It’s not the demons, or the snapped chains, or even the possessed pigs – it’s seeing this man healed and clothed and in his right mind that really freaks them out.  It’s only after Jesus frees this man from his demons that the people become afraid.  

Why?  Why is it only after this man’s liberation that the rest of the community suddenly becomes afraid?  What do you think?

Continue reading “Sermon: Dirty Little Secrets”

Sermon: Created By Love, For Love

Sunday, June 12, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Holy Trinity Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 25:00; sermon starts around 30:09)

(reprise of an earlier sermon)

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday – heh, if you’re on the team changing paraments, you know this as our one last white Sunday before a long season of green.  Today we celebrate the mystery of God, who is three-in-one and one-in-three: the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But before we dive in, I have a quick pop quiz!  Heh, it’s only one question long – but I rarely get the right answer.  Can anyone tell me: How many times does the word “trinity” actually appear in the bible?

It’s a trick question!  The answer is actually zero.  Despite how central the doctrine of the Trinity is to our faith, the word “trinity” never actually appears in the scriptures – not even once – which is kind of weird considering how much we use the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to talk about God.  I mean, we even have whole congregations (and at least one seminary!) named for the Trinity!

So what gives?  We already have an entire book full of words about God – why was it so important for the church to add this one other word?

Continue reading “Sermon: Created By Love, For Love”

Sermon: We Have No Idea What’s Coming for Us

Sunday, June 5, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Pentecost Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 19:10; sermon starts around 26:36)

You might remember that last week, when we last left our friends the disciples, they were standing just outside Bethany: feeling confused and anxious, staring up into the sky and trying to wrap their brains around what just happened.  They were stuck in this strange, uncertain time of limbo without a clue of what would happen next.  Jesus had risen from the dead, which was good – and then he ascended into heaven, which was… weird.  He blessed them and he left them with this promise that he would send them an Advocate, a divine Spirit of power and truth.  But in this moment, these disciples had no idea what was coming for them; they just chose to trust in this promise that the Spirit would move.

Going into Synod Assembly over the last few days, there was a lot of this anxiety and uncertainty, particularly among clergy, and especially among my colleagues who work in the Synod office.  The election of a bishop is a big deal in the church, and Brian Maas is a tough act to follow, especially after a full decade of being bishop.  Ten years ago is when I first started discerning a call to ministry, right around the time Bishop Brian was elected, and for me he has been a constant presence, a mentor and supporter and someone I deeply admire all the way through my candidacy journey and into the parish – he has never not been bishop for as long as I’ve been in ministry.

I think it’s safe to say it was a very emotional assembly for pretty much everyone present.  There were lots of tears shed as we said our goodbyes to Bishop Brian and his wife Debbie. They weren’t all tears of sadness; many were simply tears of gratitude, thankful for these last ten years – and thankful that they will both be sticking around the synod.  And there was also celebration that Brian will be moving into a new call as the Vice President for Mission and Spiritual Care at Immanuel.  But there was still sadness, all the same. 

And there was a lot of anxiety about who would step into that role next.  I have so much love and respect for my colleagues in the synod, but those are some BIG shoes to fill – and not just because Bishop Brian is like eight feet tall.  The office of bishop demands an almost impossible constellation of gifts – as a pastoral caregiver, as an administrator, as a preacher, as a CEO, as an ambassador for the church, and more.  Nine candidates had allowed their names to go forward to take a chance at being bishop.  And we as an assembly gathered around them, praying for a Spirit of wisdom and discernment, praying for God’s will to be revealed to us.  As we gathered, we had no idea what was coming for us; but we chose to trust in this promise that the Spirit would move.

Continue reading “Sermon: We Have No Idea What’s Coming for Us”

Sermon: When Your Happy Ending Is More of an Ambiguous Middle

Sunday, May 29, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Ascension Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 20:30; sermon starts around 26:42)

Whenever you crack open a bible, something you’ll likely notice as you read is that there are a lot of stories in the bible that get told multiple times in different ways.  Usually these stories are written by different authors, relying on different written and oral traditions, who are telling the story in a way shaped by their own particular communities and agendas and perspectives.  Usually.  Unusually, you get stories like the ones we read today.  Our readings for this morning include two different accounts of the ascension of Jesus, but – plot twist – both stories were actually written by the same guy: the evangelist Luke.

Insofar as the major details of what happened, both stories are pretty much the same.  But the tone in which they’re told is quite different.

The first time Luke tells the story of the ascension, it comes at the very end of the book of Luke, as he is wrapping up his gospel account.  And this version of the story has a very hopeful, feel-good kind of vibe to it.  It’s written as a happy ending: there is understanding and blessing; there’s joy and continual praise in the temple, and they all lived happily ever after, the end!

But then Luke opens the Book of Acts – which is basically the sequel to the Gospel of Luke – by telling the story of the ascension again.  Only this telling of the story doesn’t give off that same kind of happy ending vibe as the gospel version.  In this version, the disciples seem to be a lot more confused and troubled and anxious.  They assumed that they had gotten to the happy ending part with Jesus’ resurrection – and that the next logical step would be to raise the kingdom of Israel from the ashes and to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression – but now they don’t seem so sure.  

Continue reading “Sermon: When Your Happy Ending Is More of an Ambiguous Middle”

Sermon: The Bigger Picture

Sunday, May 22, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixth Sunday of Easter
watch this service online (readings start around 13:41; sermon starts around 20:08)
r-e-c-y-c-l-e, recycle… ♻️

I spent this last week hanging out with other clergy friends at the Festival of Homiletics, the preaching conference I go to every year.  And it’s fairly easy to tell when I’ve been spending more time than usual with other clergy folks, because I notice that it affects the way I talk – I find myself using a lot of those five dollar words they teach us in seminary, words like: soteriology, kerygma, eschatology, exegesis, and so on.

One of these words that you might hear used by particularly nerdy preachers (like yours truly) is the word “pericope” (it looks just like the word “periscope” without the ‘s’).  Pericope is a word that’s sometimes used to talk about a section of scripture  – it’s basically like how we use the term “reading” or “lesson.”  The word comes from the Greek for “a cutting-out” – which kind of evokes this image of someone snipping out passages of scripture and then pasting them somewhere else.  

The group of people who put together the three year series of readings that we follow – the lectionary – are responsible for cutting out the texts that we read together each Sunday (kind of makes them sound like scriptural scrapbookers, haha).  Most of the time, it’s pretty obvious why they choose to cut texts where they do – perhaps there’s a story or a parable with a clear beginning and ending or a section all on the same theme.  But sometimes, like with our readings for today, the place they choose to cut something doesn’t make much sense to me at all.  

Like with this gospel reading especially.  The way it’s cut, we’re missing a lot of the context.  And without seeing the larger context that this piece is cut out of, it’s hard to tell where Jesus is even going with all the different things he says here.  He says some stuff about loving him and his Father and keeping their word, then he says some stuff about the Holy Spirit and some stuff about peace, and finally he hints at something bigger that’s about to happen.  

Continue reading “Sermon: The Bigger Picture”

Sermon: Christ Be Our Compass

Sunday, May 15, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday of Easter
watch this service online (readings start around 16:18; sermon starts around 23:16)

Have any of you ever heard of a game called Minecraft?  It’s a pretty popular game – you might even have kids or grandkids or students who play it, if you haven’t played it yourself.  My two younger siblings got me hooked on Minecraft during the height of the pandemic.  They’re usually a little more on the cutting edge of that kind of stuff than I am – but they like to find things that the three of us can play together, and Minecraft fit the bill.

And it’s actually a lot of fun!  Minecraft is what’s known as a “sandbox game”: you’re basically dropped into a digital world and given complete freedom to explore.  You go “mining” for all kinds of different resources; and you can then use those resources to make tools, or to construct a shelter, or really to build anything and everything you can possibly imagine.  

And it’s fun because there are lots of different ways to play the game.  If you want to fight your way through zombies and giant spiders and exploding monsters all the way to the big final boss and win the game, you can do that.  If you want to build a farm and raise sheep and grow wheat and steal chicken eggs to throw at your siblings, you can do that.  If you want to build fantastical palaces or underwater fortresses, or just explore and map the world as far as you can go, you can do that!

Personally, I like the creating and exploring the best.  Every Minecraft world generates randomly, so you never know what you’ll come across: perhaps a deep dark forest, or a barren desert, or a range of massive mountains overlooking a vast sea.  And the world is virtually limitless, so there’s always more to explore.  The one downside of this is that it is extremely easy to get lost.  There’s no real logic to the way different geographical features are arranged, so if you don’t remember the way you came, it can be nearly impossible to get back to where you started.  

Continue reading “Sermon: Christ Be Our Compass”

Sermon: Following Footprints

Sunday, May 8, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday of Easter
watch this service online (readings start around 14:32; sermon starts around 20:40)
image source

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling deeply confused or bewildered or even just plain lost, then there’s a very good chance that you have spent some time inside the Miami-Dade airport (lol).  During the years when I was living in the Dominican Republic, I used to spend a lotof time inside the Miami airport.  It was always the inevitable first stop I had to make anytime that I came home.  

Like most airports, the Miami airport is pretty sprawled out.  And especially since I came in on an international flight, it usually took a long time to get where I needed to go.  First I had to get through customs and immigration, and then I’d have to walk what felt like 500 miles from the far-flung terminal for international flights to get to the gate for my connecting flight.  It was pretty easy to get disoriented and lost along the way.

But I remember that the airport had these decals on the floor that were supposed to help you figure out where you needed to go.  They were shaped like footprints, and there were different colored trails of these footprints that promised to lead you to all sorts of places: one might lead you to baggage claim, another might lead you to the food court, still another might lead you to customer service or to a place where you could get a taxi, or to wherever else you might need to go inside an airport. 

Continue reading “Sermon: Following Footprints”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑