Sermon: Clinging to the Leg of Christ

Sunday, October 17, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 15:24; sermon starts around 22:45)

When I was a small child, I was very excited for the day that I would finally get to start going to school.  School was where my mom worked – and I loved hanging out with her, reading and making craft projects and playing silly games and having fun.  But as excited as I was to start school, I was also equally as terrified about the prospect.  My dad has even told me in recent years about how anxious I was about the fact that I didn’t know how to read yet – and no amount of reasoning could persuade me that school is, in fact, the place you’re supposed to go to learn how to read.  And beyond that, I just had no real idea what school would be like – for me, it was a venture into the unknown.

On the first day of kindergarten roundup, Mom took me to school, all dressed in my new school clothes, with my new little backpack on my back.  At first I was excited, but with every step closer to the classroom, it felt like my excitement was slowly replaced by terror.  Finally we stood in the very doorway of the classroom and I was so filled with fear that I would not let go of her.  She turned to leave and go to her own classroom, and I literally wrapped my arms around her leg and clung on like a second skin.  Eventually she pointed out that another little girl I was friends with was there, and she got me to let go just long enough to wave hello – and when I turned around, poof!  Mom was gone.

Looking back now, it’s a pretty cute, funny little story.  And, obviously, I survived a whole lot more schooling after that.  But at the time, I was really scared.  I didn’t know what was going to happen or what it would be like.  And so I did what humans tend to do when we’re afraid – I grabbed for something familiar and I held onto it for dear life, with both hands.  

Our instinctive fear reaction comes from one of the oldest parts of our brain – the amgydala, located near the brain stem.  As we learn and grow older, we develop more and more of our higher brain function, like reasoning and logic and language – we literally learn to “use our words”!  We grow into being able to view and interpret the world around us in more rational and abstract and imaginative ways.  

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Sermon: Culture Shock

Sunday, October 10, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twentienth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 21:05; sermon starts around 28:05)

Several weeks into my Peace Corps service, I was still waking up every morning and having to actively remind myself that I wasn’t in Nebraska anymore.  By this point, I was living in our community-based training site on the eastern side of the island – we weren’t even done with training yet! – and I was already feeling ready to come home.  

Don’t get me wrong – the Dominican Republic is a beautiful country, and at first I was really excited to be there.  I remember riding in on the bus from the airport for the first time; I stared out the windows with my mouth hanging open, taking in the palm trees and the ocean and the brightly painted buildings and the merengue and bachata blasting from the radio.  I was excited to try Dominican food, and to try out my Spanish skills talking with Dominican people, and just generally to immerse myself as much as I could in Dominican culture.

But a month or so in, the newness of everything I was experiencing had started to wear off – and I was tired.  I was tired of speaking in Spanish all the time – it was exhausting!  I was tired of eating beans and rice every day.  I was tired of people always staring at me or standing too close to me.  I was tired of it always being too hot or too wet or too loud.  I was tired of constantly feeling out of step with the people around me.  Sometimes I would even imagine to myself that this whole thing would turn out to be one huge prank: like a game show host would step out from behind a curtain and be like, “Surprise!  You’re on Candid Camera!” and everyone would suddenly start speaking English and acting like “normal” people.

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Sermon: One Flesh

Sunday, October 3, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 14:37; sermon starts around 21:55)

For the last several weeks, we have been steadily making our way through the Gospel of Mark, following Jesus and the disciples as they draw closer and closer to Jerusalem.  And it seems like the closer Jesus gets to Jerusalem – and to the cross – the more difficult his teachings are becoming.  Just in the last few weeks, we have heard Jesus say that anyone who wants to get ahead must be last of all and servant of all; we heard him say that we must lose our lives in order to find them; and just last week you might remember his teachings that if your eyes or hands or feet cause you to stumble, you should cut them off!

Today’s reading from Mark manages to hit us even closer to the heart with this difficult passage about divorce. You can tell that even the disciples find this teaching harsh, because they bring it up again with Jesus later – like they think that maybe when the Pharisees asked him, Jesus was just a little hangry or something and needed to have a snack and relax.  But when they ask him about it in private, Jesus not only reaffirms this teaching, he doubles down on it and makes it sound even harsher.

It’s hard to read this text. It has been used in such harmful ways in the church: especially against the many people whose lives have been touched by divorce and against members of the LGBTQ community.  I’m sure there are people sitting here who know exactly how it feels to have this text used against them – people who have been made to feel shame by other people wielding this text like a weapon.  I’m not here to do that.

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Sermon: Drastic Measures

Sunday, September 26, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 16:41; sermon starts around 25:00)

I’ve talked a bit about my mom in my sermons and about how she was diagnosed with cancer around the time I was five or six. My whole childhood was significantly shaped by her illness and death; but yet, as an adult, I have been amazed to keep discovering just how little I understood about how hard and painful my mom’s battle with cancer really was. I knew that she had chemotherapy that made her hair fall out – I remember getting to play with some of the fun wigs that she had – but I had no idea how rough the chemo and the radiation treatments really were on her body. It was basically a race to try to kill the cancer before the cancer – or the treatment itself – killed her. 

And I knew that Mom had had a mastectomy.  As a kid, that part of it seemed pretty straightforward to me: that’s where the cancer is right there, so just – boom – chop it off and you should be good to go!  But now, as I’m getting close to the age my mom was when she was battling cancer, even that choice hits me kind of differently.  I’m still a relatively young person – and so was my mom – and I can’t imagine having to make that choice whether to literally cut off part of my own body.  That could not have been easy.

But in my mom’s case, that amputation was the most hopeful thing that they could do.  She was barely 40 and there was every reason to expect that she still had decades of life ahead of her.  She was a beloved elementary school teacher and had a huge community of support behind her, praying for her to get better.  And, of course, more than anything, she was a wife and a mother with three young kids at home all under the age of ten.  We needed her.  We loved her.  And so the doctors fought like hell to save her life.  They tried everything that they could to help her, exhausted all possible options, even experimental treatments.  And some of those treatments were extremely invasive and aggressive and painful, but the doctors decided it was worth it – because her life was worth saving, and it was their best chance of doing so.

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Sermon: Choose Wisely

Sunday, September 19, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 17:34; sermon starts around 23:13)

For the last several weeks, we’ve been reading a lot of passages from the book of James (Luther’s least favorite epistle, lol).  The letter of James belongs to a category of biblical writings known as “wisdom literature” – this also includes books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  While wisdom literature can sound like something that would be really abstract and esoteric, one of the things that actually characterizes biblical wisdom literature is that it is often very practical and down to earth.  This is the tone that James sets in the very first verse of our second reading today.  He writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”  For James, wisdom is more than just words – wisdom is about our actions.  The true test of wisdom is in how it is reflected – or not reflected – in our day-to-day lives.  

To help draw this out and make it clearer, James asks his readers to consider three questions:

  1. Who is wise and understanding among you?
  2. Where do all the conflicts and disputes among you come from?
  3. What does God want?

These are important questions in the life of faith.  The first time I can remember really wrestling with these questions was way back when I was in sixth grade.  I’ve talked a little bit before about how unpopular I was growing up, how I was bullied a lot.  I grew up as a member of a small class in a K-12 school in a tiny town.  There weren’t exactly a lot of rungs on our social ladder back then, but you can bet your bottom dollar that whatever the lowest rung was, that’s where you’d find me.  

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Sermon: Living by Example

Friday, September 17, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Laverne SchmaleObituary
watch this service online (readings start around 27:12, sermon starts around 29:27)


When I was a very young girl, growing up in a small town in Nebraska, I remember going to church with my family every Sunday.  My home congregation had a lot of youth and kids back then, and about once a month or so, we started our Sunday school time with an assembly.  All the kids, from the tiny preschoolers all the way up to the confirmation students, would gather together in the church basement for a short service before going to our classes.  

We sat in rows by class, from the youngest in front to the oldest in back.  And I remember being in about first or second grade (it was the last year of sitting in the tiny folding chairs before you graduated to the *adult size* folding chairs) – I remember turning around in my chair and craning my neck to try and see the older kids sitting aaaaall the way at the back of the fellowship hall.  They seemed so cool and wise and knowledgeable, those ninth graders.  They got to make the pancakes at the pancake feed; they got to run the hoses at the carwash fundraiser; they helped out with vacation bible school; they even got to light the candles on Sunday mornings.  So cool!  As a little girl, watching them, I learned from their example.  I saw all the things they got to do in the church, all the ways that they served – and I wanted to be just like them.

I remembered those Sunday school days as I was preparing for today.  Our first reading, from Philippians, is a passage that Laverne specifically wanted to be read at this service.  And as I heard more and more stories about her over the last week from the people who loved her and knew her best, I started to understand why – why she chose this passage.  The apostle Paul wrote these words in a letter to the young congregation in Philippi: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Follow my example, Paul is saying, and I will teach you how to live a good and faithful life.  

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Sermon: Listening from the Heart

Sunday, September 12, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 20:02; sermon starts around 27:23)
image source

One morning, when I was in high school, I was hanging out in the school’s computer lab. I was about sixteen years old; it was my sophomore year, and I was by far the fastest typer in my class – because unlike many of the other students, I actually bothered to practice. I was deep in the middle of one of the typing lessons when one of my younger brother’s friends – Mason Kalin – came into the lab. He saw me sitting back in a corner of the lab and came over to talk to me. I was kind of annoyed by this – I was trying to concentrate on what I was doing! So I only kind of half-listened as Mason started going on and on about whatever it was he was talking about. It sounded like maybe he was talking about one of the video games he and my brother had been playing recently – all kinds of explosions and chaos and who knows what else – I was pretty sure I had already heard my brother going on and on about it at home, so I didn’t feel like I really needed to hear it again. 

Eventually Mason wandered off and I went back to my typing.  After a while, the bell rang, and I closed out of the computer and gathered my stuff and prepared to go to my next class.  But when I stepped out into the hallway, it was like a ghost town.  Nobody was at their lockers, nobody else was walking to their next class – it was weird.  So I walked down the hall a little ways to try to find out what was going on.   And I discovered that everyone – students, staff, faculty – the entire school was all crammed into the library; and they all had their eyes glued to the TV.  I walked in to see what was going on – and I got there just in time to watch the second tower fall.  

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Sermon: Chalupas or Bust

Sunday, September 5, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 15:10; sermon starts around 22:50)

On Tuesday afternoons, almost every week, I drive to Fremont to meet up with other clergy folks from around the area for text study (as I’ve mentioned many times before).  And for me, it’s become a bit of a habit after text study to hit up one of the many drive-thrus in Fremont and bring home something for supper.  It’s just nice to get home and have supper ready and not have to cook.  

My go-to is usually Raising Cane’s, but this last Tuesday I was in more of a taco kind of mood, so I decided to head to Taco Bell instead.  I pulled into the parking lot of Taco Bell and was about to get into the drive-thru lane when I noticed something odd.  A couple of other cars had pulled into the lot ahead of me, driving toward the drive-thru, but at the last minute, they veered away and drove out the other side of the parking lot.  I got closer and realized that there was one lone Taco Bell employee out sweating in the sun, standing at the end of the drive thru lane and waving cars away.  

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Sermon: Choosing Gods

Sunday, August 22, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 12:43; sermon starts around 19:59)

Our readings for this morning actually begin with the end of a story.  The Israelites have been dreaming of the promised land since the days they were slaves in Egypt.  They followed Moses through the sea and into the desert.  They wandered for decades in the wilderness, where they buried an entire generation of their people.  They followed Joshua, son of Nun, into battle as they conquered the land of Canaan.  And now, at long last, God has “given rest to Israel from their enemies all around.”  They finally made it!  The promised land is theirs.

Now, in the last couple chapters of the book, Joshua gathers all the people together – he “[summons] all Israel, their elders and heads, their judges and officers, and [says] to them, ‘I am now old and well advanced in years; and you have seen all that the Lord your God has done… for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.”  He reminds them: God “gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.”  Now that all the tribes of Israel have settled into the land that they have been given, Joshua calls them together to remember that everything they have received is a free gift from God, and not something that they earned for themselves.

And so this story that we read today is a scene of thanksgiving and celebration, just as you might expect.  But there’s also more to it than that.  After Joshua finishes retelling all the wonderful things that God has done for the people of Israel, he says to them: “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve God in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”  And together, Joshua and all the people of Israel pledge their allegiance to God, renewing the covenant that God first made with Abraham.

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Sermon: Reeking of Christ

Sunday, August 15, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 14:37; sermon starts around 19:08)

I vividly remember the first time I ever tried to make guacamole.  I think I was maybe a sophomore in college – about 19 or 20 years old.  I’m pretty sure I had only just recently eaten guacamole for the first time.  It wasn’t something we ever really ate at home when I was growing up.  But for me it was definitely love at first bite.  So I wanted to try to figure out how to make my own guacamole at home.  It seemed pretty straightforward: mash up some avocados, add some lime juice, throw in some diced tomatoes and onions, a pinch of salt, and – of course – some garlic.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if you’ve ever shopped for avocados, you can probably guess my first mistake.  I had no idea how to choose a ripe avocado – and even if I had known, the avocados I found at the grocery store were all hard as rocks.  But I didn’t let that stop me!  I got back to my apartment with my produce purchases and decided to dive right in.  The avocados I bought were so hard I physically could not mash them.  I just ended up cutting them up into tiny pieces before tossing them with the other ingredients.  It was really more of an unripe avocado salad than it was guacamole, and it was a disaster.  But I thought to myself: No worries, I know how to fix this – garlic!  Garlic covers a multitude of sins.  So I added some extra garlic.  I added a LOT of extra garlic.

I added so much garlic that it completely overpowered all the other flavors in the guacamole.  Honestly, that didn’t bother me too much – I like garlic a lot, so I didn’t mind some extra garlic flavor.  But when I woke up the next morning, I could still taste that garlic.  I brushed my teeth, and I could still taste garlic coming off of my breath.  And it soon became pretty clear that I didn’t just taste garlic – I smelled like garlic too.  Every Friday morning in the music department at Wesleyan, we had recitals – all the students in the department would gather down in Emerson Recital Hall to watch each other perform.  That morning, where I sat, there was at least a three seat buffer on all sides of me, because absolutely no one wanted to sit next to me.  Even after showering, I absolutely reeked of garlic.  

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Sermon: More than Manna

Sunday, August 8, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 14:52; sermon starts around 20:48)

When I was growing up, like most kids, I really liked candy.  I had a really big sweet tooth.  Some of my favorite candies were only available during the Easter season, so I was always really excited when Easter came around.  I mean, yeah yeah, Jesus rose from the dead and all, and that was great – but also, they have Cadbury Crème Eggs at the grocery store, yeah!!  

As Paul writes, “when I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, and I reasoned like a child” – and in my childish reasoning, I thought: well, a little candy is really good, but a LOT of candy – that’s got to be even better!  And this candy’s only around once a year, so I’ve gotta make it count – so almost every Easter, I would go overboard, eating about as much candy as I could physically stand.  There was one year in particular that stands out – I don’t remember how old I was – I was so excited about the candy that I hardly even ate any real, substantial, nourishing food.  I just gorged myself on sweets all day – I couldn’t get enough.  By the time we got home from my grandma’s house that evening, I was not feeling very well – as you can probably imagine.  I vividly remember starting to walk up the steps to go to my room, when all of a sudden I was violently revisited by everything I had eaten that day – 🤮 – all over the stairs.  

The really stupid thing is that eating all of that candy didn’t even really feed my hunger.  As soon as I came down off the sugar high and got it all out of my system, I was hungry again!  But I definitely wasn’t hungry for more candy –I was literally sick of candy – instead I was hungry for something real and solid and nourishing.

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Service of Lament and Hope

Sunday worship, August 1, 2021
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Watch the service below. And follow along here with the special digital bulletin.

I encourage you to follow along with the paper ritual! Find someplace safe to burn the first paper, and then for the second paper you can use this seed paper I found here (it really does grow!), or perhaps write on some compostable/recycled paper before adding it to your compost bin, or whatever kind of paper/writing you can find that makes you feel hopeful!

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Sermon: A Tale of Two Feasts

Sunday, July 11, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 14:59; sermon starts around 23:28)

In our gospel reading from last Sunday, you might remember that Jesus sent out the twelve disciples on their first solo mission.  After a disappointing start in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus sends out the twelve, two by two, into all the surrounding area, to preach and teach and heal in his name.  And for once, the disciples totally nail it!  As Mark writes, “They went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  Jesus and the disciples are doing awesome stuff all over Galilee: they’re healing the sick; they’re freeing people from their demons; and they’re preaching good news everywhere they go.

This is the report that reaches Herod at the beginning of our gospel reading for today.  Herod had heard of Jesus – but now he’s hearing about all these incredible things that Jesus and his disciples are doing, and the way that massive crowds of people have started following them around.  And all this freaks Herod out. Herod feels threatened because he recognizes that there is real power at work here, real power in the things that Jesus and his disciples are doing.  And Herod recognizes this power because it’s the same power – God’s power – that was at work in John the Baptist.  So, logically, Herod concludes, “Well, the only possible explanation is that this guy must somehow be John the Baptist… whom I killed… who now seems to have been raised from the dead…  Crap.”

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Sermon: Risking Hope

Sunday, June 27, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 11:46; sermon starts around 20:18)
image source

Our readings for this morning are all full of such good news.  As a preacher, it almost makes my job harder, because what else can you really add to great texts like these?  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is God’s faithfulness.”  Mmm!  So good — end of sermon! (just kidding)  

The stories in our gospel reading are especially moving.  Jesus has just come back from the trip he made across the sea in our readings from last week, where he healed the man with the demons in the country of the Gerasenes.  And now, by the time Jesus gets back, word of his healing and teaching ministry has spread so widely that he barely steps foot off the boat before he’s mobbed by a massive crowd.  

One of the people who comes to Jesus is a leader of the synagogue named Jairus.  Jairus’s daughter is sick and at the point of death and he is desperate for any way he can find to save her.  He throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs him to come and heal his daughter.  And without a word, Jesus follows him to his house.  By the time they get there, the little girl has already died and the people are already weeping.  But with just a few words, Jesus raises her to life again.

And Jesus heals another person without even trying!  As Jesus is following Jairus to his house, a woman comes up behind him in the crowd, just trying to touch his cloak.  Like Jairus, this woman is in desperate need of Jesus’ healing power.  She has been bleeding for twelve years, and nothing she has tried has helped her.  She’s spent all her money on medical care and has only gotten worse.  I can only imagine how exhausted and desperate she must be for help.  And, for that matter, how lonely and isolated she must be.  Her hemorrhages were more than just a medical issue – because of them, she would have also been considered “unclean,” forced to live in isolation from her community.  Yet here she is in the crowd, spurred on by the hope that Jesus will be able to help her.  And the instant she just touches him, she can feel in her body that she has, indeed, been healed.  

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Sermon: God of the Deep

Sunday, June 20, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 13:01; sermon starts around 20:03)

Our readings for this morning are full of storms and calamity and terror.  I got to talk about these texts with a bunch of other clergy folks at our text study this last Tuesday.  We were trying to imagine what it would have been like for the disicples or for Job facing these dangerous situations.  None of us had ever been on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during a storm – and we’ve definitely never been scolded by God out of a whirlwind!  But we’d all had experiences of being completely overwhelmed or outright terrified.  

One of my colleagues talked about his first time being in a boat that was far enough out from the shore that he couldn’t see land anymore.  It was just this little boat floating on all this vast expanse of water.  It kind of reminded me of the story I’ve told before about the first time I swam in the ocean!

Another colleague told us about taking his first steps on the Camino de Santiago.  The Camino is a pilgrimmage walk – about 500 miles on foot over mountains and rough terrain – and he was awed and overwhelmed by the intense journey before him. 

I shared about the first (and currently only!) earthquake I ever experienced.  It was back in 2010, when that massive earthquake hit Haiti.  I was on the other side of the island, but it was still strong enough where I was to put a crack in one of the walls of my little house.  I remember the sound of the bars shaking in my windows and seeing the power lines outside swinging wildly back and forth along the streets.  And I remember feeling this sense of almost betrayal and just utter helplessness.  To me, having grown up in Nebraska, the earth was always steady and trustworthy, yet here it was literally shaking beneath my feet.  I felt like a flea hanging onto a dog’s back for dear life – just tiny and insignificant and powerless.

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Sermon: The Holy Gamble

Sunday, June 13, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 13:33; sermon starts around 20:03)
image source

I made a couple of trips to Fremont this last week, and as I was driving by the fields, I was amazed at how tall the corn is already getting in some places.  This time of year especially, I’m always reminded of just how beautiful a place Nebraska really is – so lush and green.  And it will never not be amazing to me how things grow.  Planting and growing things is such an ordinary, mundane part of life in Nebraska, but it’s pretty incredible when you stop and think about it.  We take this tiny little pebble-looking thing and stick it in the dirt, and from it this whole plant grows.  It’s this everyday miracle of creation that we actually get to participate in.  How cool is that??

And agricultural science is amazing to me.  It’s amazing how much we can know about exactly what seeds need in order to grow – the amount of sunlight and moisture, the precise proportion of different nutrients, and how we can analyze the composition of the soil and amend it as needed to get the perfect balance.  Modern agriculture has produced incredible technological advances that make it more possible than ever to create the most optimal conditions for crops to grow.  

And yet, even though we have all these amazing advances, at the end of the day, we’re still a lot like the farmer in Jesus’ parable.  We prepare the field and we plant the seed, but we still don’t really know exactly how it grows.  Or to say it another way, we don’t know how to make a seed grow.  It’s not like you can just open up a seed and yank out a plant.  We can do lots of things to create the ideal conditions for a seed to take root and grow.  But none of us can make a seed grow.  Only God can do that.

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Sermon: Spirit Is Thicker than Blood

Sunday, June 6, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 14:43; sermon starts around 21:21)

For the first few months that I lived in my site as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic, I was tasked with doing a diagnostic report in order to get to know the community.  One of the main things that this involved was a lot of going door to door to meet people, to interview them about their lives and about the town.  And to my surprise, at almost every single house I visited, I got asked the same strange question, which was:  Are you here to talk to me about Jesus?

Now, the Peace Corps is pretty explicitly a secular, government organization, so I was very confused as to why people kept asking me this.  But I found out why when, one day, someone else knocked on my door – and I learned that there was a large group of Jehovah’s Witnesses living in the community.  It was a fairly new congregation, so there were lots of missionaries there from the US and Canada and Europe who were trying to get it going – and so, naturally, many people in the community assumed that I was also one of these missionaries.

I had never met a Jehovah’s Witness before, and I quickly became friends with these missionaries.  It was just nice to be able to talk with people who spoke English and who came from a similar cultural background (speaking a second language all the time is exhausting!).  But even more than this, I was interested in talking about Jesus, even though it wasn’t the reason I was there.  I had been studying the bible on my own and I was hungry to grow in my faith, and so when they offered to study with me, I eagerly accepted.  

The two young women who came to visit me became really dear friends – and through them, I learned a lot about what the life of a Jehovah’s Witness missionary was like, what they had sacrificed to be there.  Almost none of them got paid for being missionaries (so, slightly less than a Peace Corps Volunteer, haha).  They would go home for a couple months out of the year, get a few jobs, and work their butts off as many hours as they possibly could so that they could save money to live on the rest of the year.  And they had all left behind their families back in the places they had come from, in order to do this mission work.  

Continue reading “Sermon: Spirit Is Thicker than Blood”

Sermon: Pete and Pete and Pete

Sunday, May 30, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Trinity Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 15:37; sermon starts around 22:57)

I grew up mostly in the 90s – which was kind of a golden age of TV shows for kids.  Or, at least, it was a golden age of really, really weird TV shows for kids.  This week, I have been thinking about one of my favorite shows from that era – by far one of the weirdest shows ever on TV – this show on Nickelodeon called “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.”  

It’s a hard show to describe, if you’ve never seen it.  Essentially, the show is based around the lives of these two brothers, who are both named Pete Wrigley – and the show never bothers to explain why they’re both named Pete.  It’s not like they’re adopted or step/half brothers or brothers who didn’t grow up together or anything like that; they are full brothers whose parents apparently just decided to name both of them Pete.  And the show only gets weirder from there.  

Like, for instance, Little Pete has a tattoo of a dancing woman named Petunia on his arm and his best friend is a superhero named Artie – the strongest MAN… in the world – who always wears pajamas and helps Little Pete do things like beat up the ocean at the end of every summer.  Meanwhile, Big Pete has to deal with bizarre bullies like Hat Head and Open-Face, whose defining character feature is that he is always seen eating open-faced sandwiches.  It is such a weird show, and I love it so much.

Continue reading “Sermon: Pete and Pete and Pete”

Becoming New

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

2 Corinthians 5:17

I was so grateful this past month to have a chance to get away for a little bit for some continuing education and time with dear friends and colleagues.  We all attended the Festival of Homiletics – an annual week-long preaching conference – together; and since we are all fully vaccinated and the festival was online only this year, we decided to rent an AirBnB and create our own little conference around the festival.  

We took turns planning and leading morning and evening prayer services; we created intentional times and spaces for processing and making meaning of the events of the last year; we cooked for each other and gave hugs, and we planned “cohort enrichment” events that varied from an evening of the great Lutheran pastime of beer and hymns, to a very nerdy birthday party for yours truly, to an emotional service of grief for a dear friend who was marking the second anniversary of her mother’s death.

It had been over a year since I’d gotten to see any of my friends – some I hadn’t seen since we graduated from seminary! – yet in many ways it was like no time had passed; being with my friends was the same as it was before.  

But in many ways, it was also very different.  After fourteen months of isolation and struggle and anxiety and uncertainty, we didn’t want to take a single moment together for granted.  We were intentional about how we used our time – making sure there was time to learn together, to play together, to sing and pray and study and relax, to cry and eat and laugh and worship together, to watch and wait and listen for the Spirit stirring among us.  

Continue reading “Becoming New”

Sermon: Choosing Love

Sunday, May 9, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixth Sunday of Easter
watch this service online (readings start around 17:51; sermon starts around 23:25)

What comes to mind for you when you hear the word “love”?  What thoughts or feelings or memories does “love” evoke in you?  Take a second and let the word wash over you: love.  

I imagine that, like me, you’re probably feeling kind of a warm, cozy, internal feeling, and you’re probably thinking about members of your family or your close friends, or maybe remembering how you met your spouse.  Or certainly today you might be thinking about the mother figures in your life, or about the people with whom you have a mothering kind of relationship.  Heh, if you’re really like me, you might also be thinking about your cats or your other pets.  These feelings of love are a gift – and they are such a central part of what makes us human.  

Love is also central in the bible, and it’s a major theme in our texts for this week, as well as in our texts from last week.  In fact, both our second reading and our gospel reading for today pick up immediately after our second reading and gospel reading from last Sunday.  Much like this week, the author of 1 John reminded us last week that God is love, and that God loves us and that we are called to love one another.  And this week, in our reading from (regular old) John, we find Jesus still in the upper room with his disciples on the night in which he is betrayed; he’s still trying to get them to understand what it really means to be his disciples – he’s trying to teach them that love is at the heart of discipleship.

Indeed, love is the foundation of our faith.  Jesus has told us that the first and greatest commandment is that we are to love God with all our heart and with all our mind and with all our strength – and that the second commandment is that we are to love our neighbor as ourself.  And here he says it yet again, in our gospel reading:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:12
Continue reading “Sermon: Choosing Love”

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