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


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


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.  

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.  

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What We’ve Got Is Good Indeed

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 2:1-4

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”  There is some snarky, dad-joke-loving part of me that reads the beginning of the Pentecost story and thinks, “Wow, that’s amazing that they all knew to get together for a Pentecost celebration before they even knew Pentecost was going to be a thing!”* 

But of course, it wasn’t just coincidence that the first believers were all gathered in one place where the Holy Spirit could conveniently find them.  They were actually gathered to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Weeks, called Shavuot.  Shavuot is a celebration of the giving of the law to the ancient Israelites on Mount Sinai.  It takes place fifty days after the Passover – a week of weeks, plus a day – and “pentecost,” which comes from the Greek for “fiftieth,” takes its name from this fifty days, since Pentecost likewise occurs fifty days after Easter Sunday.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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)
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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”

Sermon: More to the Story

Sunday, May 1, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday of Easter
watch this service online (readings start around 14:16; sermon starts around 23:56)

(You decide: Who preached it better – 2019 Day or 2022 Day? 😜)

Our gospel reading for this morning picks up right on the heels of our gospel reading from last week – which is a little bit odd, if you remember how that reading ended.  Last week, we read the story of “Doubting” Thomas (I hear Rick preached a pretty good sermon on it 😜).  This story comes at the very end of John chapter 20 and it ends with Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  And John then closes the chapter by writing:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:30-31

Now, that really sounds like it’s the end of the story, doesn’t it?  It sounds like it should be the end of the book of John.  All it’s missing is “and they all lived happily ever after.  The End.”  So it’s kind of surprising then to turn the page and find that the book of John actually goes on for a whole other chapter.  

Continue reading “Sermon: More to the Story”

Sermon: The Joy of Unmet Expectations

Sunday, April 17, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Easter Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 22:49; sermon starts around 29:02)

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!

This is the same joyful greeting that centuries of Christians have used to greet each other on Easter morning.  Because this is indeed a day of great joy!  For many of us, the joy of this day is pretty obvious – the joy of gathering with family, of seeing children and grandchildren, the joy of a time to rest and a time to celebrate with the people we care about.  And especially after these long years of wandering through the wilderness of a global pandemic, I know my own heart is full of joy at just being able to celebrate this day gathered here together.

But of course, the true joy of Easter goes much deeper than even these joys.  What we celebrate today is the fact that the fundamental order of the cosmos has been shifted.  There is now an empty tomb where a grave should have been.  There’s nothing but linens where a dead body should have been.  There is now life where death should have been.  Christ’s resurrection is the death of death itself.  And since we have been baptized into his death, we now live, filled with the hope that one day we – and all those we love – will also be raised with Christ to eternal life.  That’s more than enough to move us to cry out: Alleluia, alleluia!

Given the joyful nature of the day, though, it is a bit strange that this joy seems to be almost absent in our gospel reading for this morning.  This text from Luke is certainly full of many feelings, but joy isn’t really one of them.  Instead, the people in this reading move from grief to perplexity to outright terror to disbelief, and finally to amazement – which is really all the closer we get to actual joy in this text. 

Continue reading “Sermon: The Joy of Unmet Expectations”

Have Mercy on Us

Every year we go through the great Three Days at the end of Holy Week, I find it speaks to me in different ways. Though I’ve heard these words a hundred times, each time I hear it, there’s some new detail, some new connection, that somehow makes the story new again.

At worship tonight, as I was reading the Passion story from John 18-19, a few verses near the end of chapter 19 grabbed my attention:

…they did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

John 19:31b-33
Continue reading “Have Mercy on Us”

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