Sermon: Still

Sunday, October 25, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Reformation Sunday
First Reading • Psalm • Second Reading • Gospel
watch this service online (readings start around 16:28, sermon around 22:26)

Psalm 46 is one of those old favorite psalms that we read together every Reformation Sunday.  It’s a powerful and comforting psalm.  And, of course, Martin Luther loved this psalm so much that it inspired him to write A Mighty Fortress, which we also sing every year on Reformation Sunday.  Both the psalm and the hymn still have lots of power, inspiring us and comforting us over five centuries later.  

With so much intense stuff going on in the world right now, it seems like now is a good moment to pause and just let ourselves rest in these words for a moment.  Now is the time to pause and remember that God is our refuge and strength, even in the midst of chaos and calamity.  The earth may move, the nations may rage and the kingdoms shake, but the Lord of hosts is with us, and the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

I know this hasn’t been an easy time for any of you.  I know your lives have been chaotic and disrupted.  This pandemic has stolen our sense of safety and forced us to question nearly everything that we once took for granted.  This election season feels like it’s lasted about 50 years, and now that we’re finally entering the final few crushing days before the actual election, it feels like every nerve is on edge like the sound of nails screeching on a chalkboard.  We’re all feeling the stress.

And I know you are tired.  I know you are sad.  I know you are frustrated and fed up and full of grief that things continue to be so difficult and so different from life as it was.

All of this is why today I want to invite you into the peace of Psalm 46.  There’s a centering prayer practice that uses Psalm 46 that I’ve seen people using around the synod a lot lately, and I want to share it with you.  It focuses specifically on the first part of verse 10 of Psalm 46, which is the part of this psalm that you probably know best: “Be still, and know that I am God.”  This practice shows that practically every word of this phrase has rich meaning and can speak good news to us.  

Continue reading “Sermon: Still”

Sermon: A Faithful Father from Generation to Generation

Tuesday, October 13, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Bob SvobodaObituary
watch this service online (readings and sermon start around 17:26)

Readings: Matthew 11:28-30, Psalm 145: 3-4, 8-13, John 14:1-6

Bob Svoboda

One of the most powerful images of God that we see in our scripture readings for today is the image of God as our loving father.  And I honestly can’t think of anything more fitting for a day like this as we gather to say goodbye to our dear brother in Christ, Bob Svoboda.  The love that our Father has for his children was brightly reflected in the love that Bob had for his family.  

Bob was a faithful servant of the church and his country, and he was a dedicated farmer.  But as you look around at all the many – many –  photos and mementos that his family has brought, and listen to the wonderful stories that his family tells about him, what really shines through more than anything else is the love and pride that Bob felt for his kids, his grandkids, his great-grandkids, and his whole family.  He was so proud of all of you, and he was especially proud to be able to hand down the legacy of the family farm to a new generation.  He was proud to hand down a legacy of love and faith.

Continue reading “Sermon: A Faithful Father from Generation to Generation”

Sermon: This Feast Won’t Wait

Sunday, October 11, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon start around 23:25)

I think I’ve mentioned before in my sermons that part of my regular, weekly routine is to attend text study on Tuesday afternoons.  It’s truly a blessing to have that time to gather with clergy friends and colleagues, whether virtually or in person, time to check in with each other and to dig into the readings for the week.  And if you’re a preacher, it’s really great to have other preachers to trade ideas with, especially when you’re feeling stumped about what to preach on a particular set of texts.  

This has been one of those weeks for me.  In fairness, the readings for today do have a lot of really great stuff in them.  We have this theme of feasting and celebration that starts in our first reading from Isaiah and goes all the way through all four of our texts.  In Isaiah, God sets an extravagant mountaintop feast with rich foods and fine wines.  All people from all over the globe are invited to attend, especially the poor and the suffering, and God promises to destroy “the shroud that is cast over all peoples” and “swallow up death forever.”  

In our well-known psalm – Psalm 23 – God sets a table for the psalmist in the midst of his enemies with a cup overflowing with goodness.  And in his letter to the Philippians, Paul is so much in the party mood that he says it twice: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”  

And of course, in our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus tells a parable that takes place – where else? – at a wedding banquet!  In his story, this king is so determined to have this big party that even when the original guests turn down the invitation, he sends his servants out into the street to invite literally anyone else they can find.  Like in Isaiah, everybody is invited to this banquet!

Continue reading “Sermon: This Feast Won’t Wait”

Sermon: Called to Follow Hymn

Sunday, October 4, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon start around 23:08)
image

I’ve been meditating a lot this week on our hymn of the day: “Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service.”  It’s actually one of my favorite hymns.  I’ve been reflecting on the text of this song and realizing that it might actually help us make some sense out of our readings for today. 

This is a really challenging set of scripture texts.  Throughout these readings, we see deep conflict playing out between God and God’s people.  And that’s mainly because God’s people have failed to produce the kind of fruit that God had hoped to find growing in the “vineyard.”  Instead of following God’s will, these people have acted with greed and stubbornness and pride.  Jesus points out in his parable that even when God’s own son comes to them, instead of changing their ways, they double down and treat him terribly too.  And Paul reminds us in this passage from Philippians that Christ is the one we should actually all be striving to imitate.

That’s where “Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service” begins, with a reflection on Christ.  The first verse goes:

Lord, whose love in humble service
bore the weight of human need,
who upon the cross, forsaken,
worked your mercy’s perfect deed:
we, your servants, bring the worship,
not of voice alone, but heart;
consecrating to your purpose
ev’ry gift which you impart.
Continue reading “Sermon: Called to Follow Hymn”

Sermon: Skydiving with All Our Heart

Sunday, September 27, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon start around 22:02)

When I was a kid, growing up, I had a wide variety of random interests.  (Not much has changed as an adult, haha)  I was an avid reader and read every book in our school library.  I liked making art and I’d jump around between drawing and painting and collage and papier mâché and other media.  I liked science a lot, and I had this huge rock collection.  One summer I even tried to convince myself that it would be cool to get into studying bugs – though I quickly gave up on that once I realized that I’d have to spend a lot of time around, well, bugs.  As kids do, I was just trying on all kinds of different things to see what might fit me.  

I still remember the advice my dad gave me whenever I or one of my siblings decided that we wanted to launch ourselves into some new area of interest.  He said that if you are really, truly invested in something you say you’re interested in, you put in the effort.   It’s not just something you decide to do on a whim and then drop later when you lose interest or it becomes inconvenient (especially if you want Dad to put time and money into it!).  If you’re really invested in something, you think about it and talk about it; you learn about it; you practice it.  

Dad always used the example of skydiving.  He said that if you say you’re genuinely interested in skydiving, you look into it.  You know how much skydiving lessons cost and where you can take them.  You know what parachutes are made of and how they work.  You know what kind of planes skydivers jump out of.  You know if there are any magazines about skydiving – and if there are, you have a subscription.  Basically, if you don’t know the first thing about planes, parachutes, or gravity, you probably don’t actually care about skydiving as much as you’d like to think you do.

If you really do love skydiving, then it will show.  You won’t have to convince someone else that you’re truly interested in it, because they will see it for themselves.  Our actions – or the lack thereof – have a way of showing us what we really care about; they show us what is truly in our hearts.

Continue reading “Sermon: Skydiving with All Our Heart”

Sermon: Fair Isn’t Fair

Sunday, September 20, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon start around 20:55)
image source

When I graduated from high school, there were lots of different parties at different people’s places.  But there was only one party that every single member of my class went to – including me.  And that was the graduation party at the house of this girl named Ashley.  Ashley had pretty severe cerebral palsy; her speech was impaired and she walked with crutches, and developmentally, I think she stayed around more or less the third grade level.  But Ashley stayed in our class all through middle school and high school as we all grew up together.  She was one of us – and so of course we went to her party.

After gorging ourselves on pizza, we started playing a game of kickball out in the back yard.  Ashley played too.  And I remember, every time Ashley came up to bat, the pitcher would gently roll the ball toward her, and when she managed to connect with it and kick it somewhere into the infield, whoever was closest to the ball would just take their time and leisurely stroll to go get it.  Then they would pick it up, rear back, and chuck it as hard as they possibly could out into the outfield.  The outfielders would go scrambling after the ball, while Ashley made her way to first base and ran on toward second, laughing her head off the whole time.  Then they’d throw the ball again toward second base and overshoot it by a mile, while Ashley just kept running and laughing.  We kept up like this all the way until Ashley made it back to home base and practically collapsed into a puddle of giggles.  We all cheered for her like crazy the whole time.  It was such a lovely afternoon together.  

We didn’t care all that much about the rules of the game – nobody was playing to win.  For us it was more important to make sure that everyone – especially Ashley – was included, and that we all just had a good time together.  

Continue reading “Sermon: Fair Isn’t Fair”

Sermon: Seriously, Love Your Neighbor.

Sunday, September 13, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon begin around 18:30)

Our gospel reading for this morning follows right on the heels of our gospel reading last week.  You might remember that last week, Jesus was giving his disciples instructions for how to go about resolving conflict with each other.  He laid out this long process to follow: first, if you have a problem with someone, go and talk it out with just that person.  If they don’t listen, then take someone else with you; if they still won’t listen, then bring the matter before the church; and if even that doesn’t work, then let that person become to you “as a Gentile and a tax collector” – which by now, as followers of Christ, we know actually means: love them all the harder.

Reconciliation and right relationship are of utmost importance to God.  It’s no accident that the two greatest commandments we receive are to love God and to love our neighbor.  There is power in relationship – as Jesus said in our gospel reading last week, if even two or three are gathered and in agreement about something, God is there among them.  And throughout the long history of God and the church, we have seen that God will go to any length in order to restore relationship with us – even taking on human flesh, suffering, and dying in order to bring about reconciliation.  This is the God of love in whose image we are made.  And this is the path of Christ which we are called to follow.  

All this talk about loving one another sounds really lovely – and it is – but in real life, it’s not always as easy as it sounds.  And so it’s not very surprising that immediately after Jesus gets done saying all this, the disciples have a few more questions for him.  Of course Peter is the first one with his hand up, and he asks Jesus:  “Okay, so I totally get that if another member of the community wrongs us, we go through this whole process to try to reconcile with them.  But, like… what if it happens again?  And again?  I could get behind forgiving someone, say, a half dozen times.  But seven?  Jesus, do we have to forgive someone as many as seven times?”

Continue reading “Sermon: Seriously, Love Your Neighbor.”

Sermon: Love Your Neighbor. Not a Suggestion.

Sunday, September 6, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon begin around 19:39)
image source

Many years ago, when I was still in high school, my family and I took a road trip out to western Nebraska and South Dakota.  We saw the Badlands and Toadstool Park; we drove up into the Black Hills, visited Mount Rushmore, and got to see all kinds of cool stuff.  We had taken trips out there before, but this particular trip was different, because it wasn’t just the four of us.  For the first time, my dad’s then-lady-friend had come along with us, which was a big deal.  And while I don’t remember my dad explicitly saying as much, it was very much understood that the three of us kids were to be on our best behavior.

Unfortunately, at the time, my brother Ben and I were in the middle of a huge, ongoing fight.  I have no memory whatsoever of what we were fighting about, and I’m not totally sure that I knew at the time either.  It may just have been that we were both in the middle of our peak “sullen, angsty teenager” years.  

Actually, looks like all three of us were, lol

Whatever the case, I could hardly stand even looking at my brother without being overcome with fury, let alone being stuck with him in a confined space for hours at a time.  Ben and I mostly did our best to keep our distance from one another, which is pretty hard when you’re both stuck inside a car.  And I’m sure you can imagine that our bad attitudes did not make us very pleasant company for most of the trip.  

By the time we started wrapping up our vacation, I had started feeling really guilty about that.  Ben’s and my conflict with each other had also negatively impacted the people that we cared about; and it probably hadn’t left a very good impression of either one of us.  And I guess Ben must have been feeling the same way – because the one clearest memory I have of that trip is of sitting next to my brother in the car; I looked at him and he looked at me, and we both raised our hands in a peace sign and declared: “Truce?”  

Continue reading “Sermon: Love Your Neighbor. Not a Suggestion.”

Sermon: Weirdos for Christ

Sunday, August 30, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon start around 20:22)

I’m really excited that we got to read the second half of Romans 12 today.  I didn’t get the chance to talk about it last Sunday, when we read the first half of this chapter, but Romans 12 is actually my favorite chapter of the whole bible.  There’s so much good stuff packed into it.

This passage that we read today is particularly special to me, because it’s the first passage of scripture I can remember ever being captivated by.  It came up in the lectionary when I was in my last year of confirmation, right around the time that I was starting to think about what my verse was going to be.  

I actually ended up choosing the last three verses of the chapter as my confirmation “verse” – and to refresh your memory, that’s the part of the chapter that goes like this:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:19-21

Haha, it’s not necessarily the kind of scripture that you would expect most confirmation students to choose for their confirmation verse.  Those kinds of verses tend to contain a lot less wrath and vengeance, and burning coals – which is the one part my family still remembers to this day.  But for me, choosing these verses was a really powerful statement of faith.   

Continue reading “Sermon: Weirdos for Christ”

The Gifts of Gratitude

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were indeed called in the one body.  And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

Years ago, when I was still in seminary, I worked a part time job as a hospital chaplain in the northern suburbs of Chicago. I loved the work.  It felt like a holy privilege to get to walk alongside people through some of the darkest and most difficult days of their lives.  

One patient visit I still think about a lot was with a woman named Donna.  Donna was near the end of her life, dying of stage IV breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver.  I knew this would also be a challenging visit for me, because Donna, who was almost the exact same age my mom would have been, was dying in exactly the same way my mom did over two decades earlier.  She even had a daughter that was pretty close to my age.  And while Donna had made her peace with death and was more than ready to enter hospice care, her daughter was decidedly not ready for that.

Continue reading “The Gifts of Gratitude”

Sermon: Holy Truth in the Midst of Grief

Sunday, August 23, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this sermon online (gospel and sermon start around 23:50)

The month of August has a strange way of sneaking up on me every year.  I forget about just how complicated a month it is for me.  On the one hand, there are some really joyful milestones to be celebrated this month.  For instance, August 1 is the date that I first started my call here at St. John’s, back in 2018.  And next Sunday, August 30, will be two years to the day since I got ordained – what a gift!  And, of course, who could forget that August 13 is International Left-Handers Day, which – as a proud lefty myself – I am delighted to celebrate.  

But, on the other hand, August also brings with it reminders of some deeply sad and painful things.  August 2 would have been – should have been – a celebration of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.  Now it’s a reminder that they barely made it to 14 years.  And that’s because today, August 23, is the anniversary of my mother’s death.  She died 26 years ago today, after a long battle with breast cancer, leaving behind three young kids and a devastated family.

And even though it’s been such a long time since she died, the grief doesn’t really ever go away.  It just changes.  If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you probably know what I mean.  My mom died so young, so much before her time, that it’s not just that I miss her, though I do; it’s that I grieve all the many things she should have been here for – the birthdays, the graduations, the anniversaries, all the many, many milestones and moments of life that just pile up deeper and deeper with each passing year.

Continue reading “Sermon: Holy Truth in the Midst of Grief”

Sermon: No Need to Panic

Sunday, August 9, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this sermon online (gospel and sermon start around 18:50)
image source

It was a very hot evening in the Dominican Republic, and my project committee and I had just finished yet another very long and very unproductive meeting.  I was feeling so frustrated and so angry about how we never seemed to be able to get anything done, to move toward the goals that we had set.  And, evidently, I was not the only person feeling a little hot under the collar.  Another member of the committee – Ángel – was a middle-aged man with whom I’d sometimes butted heads on previous occasions.  He and I spoke at length after this meeting – and our conversation pretty quickly turned into a full-blown public screaming match right out in front of the community technology center.  It was not pretty.

I still remember looking at his face, all red and flushed and sweaty, and thinking to myself, “What am I doing here??  How did it come to this?”  I was about a year into my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I had put SO much time and thought and effort into developing a project plan for the community, based on the needs and resources they had identified.  But a year in, almost none of it had come to fruition.  Almost nothing had changed.

There were a lot of reasons things had not panned out.  I was sent to be an education volunteer working mostly with computer education – which is pretty hard to do when the electricity goes out all the time.  I was a 23-year-old with a degree in music – convinced I was somehow going to save the world – being faced with the reality of complex problems that were never going to be solved overnight.  And as a young woman, I was often not taken seriously as a leader, and I found out the hard way that there were just not that many people who were willing to put in the sustained effort needed to actually make a difference.  

In short, I had no real idea of what I had signed up for when I decided to become a Peace Corps Volunteer.  And especially in that one very heated moment, I felt like maybe I had gotten myself in over my head.

Continue reading “Sermon: No Need to Panic”

Sermon: Abundance in the Midst of Grief

Sunday, August 2, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon start around 19:08 — now with greatly improved audio!)
image source

Our gospel reading for this morning is a very familiar and well-loved story.  The feeding of the 5,000 is one of the only miracles that appears in all four gospels.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all thought that it was important to share this story – which says to me that this story tells us a lot about who God in Christ really is. 

It’s a story of mind-boggling abundance.  And that title – “the feeding of the 5,000” – really doesn’t do it justice at all.  After all, that 5,000 number only counts the men – if you include just one woman and one child for every man, that’s 15,000 people right there!  That’s like double the population of Schuyler!  I mean, just think of the logistics of putting on our pancake supper or the soup at the Holiday Fair every year – and all that is for just a few hundred people.  Now imagine trying to scale that up to serve every single person in Schuyler – twice over.  🤯

Yet as powerful as this image of divine abundance is all on its own, this story actually becomes even more powerful when you read it in its context.  Because this story contrasts starkly with what is going on in the verses around it.  

The story that comes right before this one – at the beginning of Matthew 14 – is one that the lectionary chooses to skip over.  And understandably so, because it is both gross and tragic.  Our gospel reading gives us a hint at it, the way that it’s printed in the bulletin.  It starts out, “Now when Jesus heard [about the beheading of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”  

Continue reading “Sermon: Abundance in the Midst of Grief”

Sermon: Gardening for Dummies

Sunday, July 12, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon start around 19:35)

When I was growing up, we always had a big garden in the back yard.  My dad especially was really into gardening; and I have a lot of fond memories of helping plant impatiens or pick tomatoes or dig up carrots… or eat all the strawberries…  After I graduated and left home, I moved around a lot – and I kind of missed having that big garden.  I always had a houseplant or two, but it just wasn’t the same.

So when I moved into the parsonage here and saw that great big back yard and the space already marked off for a garden, I got SO excited!  Finally I’d get to have a garden of my own!  I spent my first winter here dreaming about all the vegetables that I was going to plant, all the things that I wanted to grow.  When it finally got warm enough to plant, a member of the congregation was kind enough to come over and till up the ground so that I could get my plants in. 

I bought tomato plants and red bell peppers and eggplant and summer squash, all ready to get started.  And then I realized: I didn’t actually know the first thing about growing my own garden.  Literally!  I knew some of the middle things, but definitely not the first thing.  I knew I had to dig a hole and stick a plant in it, and that I would need to water it from time to time.  But I had no real clue of what I’d gotten myself in for.  I was totally unprepared for battling with the weeds that had lived in that soil long before I decided I wanted to wrestle tomatoes from it.  It had never even crossed my mind to do something like have my soil tested to see what kind of fertilizer I might need to add to it.  And I had very, very much underestimated how physically demanding it would be to try to get a garden going on my own.

Suffice it to say, my garden was in pretty sad shape by the end of the summer – as my neighbors could probably tell you.  I did manage to get out of it about a dozen or so tomatoes, a few bell peppers, a squash or two, and one massive, fat eggplant.  But if I had known what I was doing and had put in more effort to take care of my garden, I probably would have gotten a lot more out of it.  With patience and commitment and hard work, it probably would have borne a lot more fruit.

Continue reading “Sermon: Gardening for Dummies”

Sermon: You Must Be Yoking

Sunday, July 5, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel and sermon begin at 17:08)

I am tired.  And it’s not just because I generally don’t get a lot of sleep on Saturday nights.  I have been tired for many months now.  I am worn out with worry and uncertainty.  I am exhausted with trying so hard to be a good pastor when it’s hard to be sure what that even looks like right now, in the times we’re living.  I have been feeling cut off from you, from my people.  

I have been struggling a lot with my mental health these past few months – with depression and PTSD and anxiety.  I’ve been feeling even more isolated than usual; and those negative internal voices that are always there start to get really loud without any kind of external connection or feedback to interrupt them – those internal voices that tell me that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not good enough, that I am worthless and unloved.

Maybe you know what it’s like to struggle with those internal voices as well.  And even if you don’t, I’m sure that the last several months still haven’t exactly been an easy time for you.  I imagine that you are also tired.  I imagine that worry and uncertainty also keep you awake at night.  I imagine that you are also worn out from trying to do the best you can for your family and for your community. 

For me it can be hard to open up about just how much I have been struggling.  It feels risky and vulnerable to speak openly, especially about mental health issues; it often leaves me wondering how other people might see me because of it.  And I think that this is at least partly a feature of our culture.  We are afraid to show weakness.  We feel like we have to be strong – and that being strong means we carry our burdens all on our own.

Continue reading “Sermon: You Must Be Yoking”

Sermon: Freedom Isn’t Free

Sunday, June 28, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Watch this service online (15:44 for 2nd reading and gospel, sermon around 19:38)
image source

The main protagonist of Victor Hugo’s famous novel, Les Misérables, is a man named Jean Valjean.  Valjean is a poor man who ends up spending 19 long years in prison just for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry family.  At the beginning of the novel, he has just been released from prison.  The authorities have sent him off with a yellow passport, which signals to everyone he meets that he is an ex-convict.  

At first, Valjean is turned away at every single place he comes to.  But finally he meets a kind clergyman – Bishop Myriel – who invites him in.  The bishop treats Jean Valjean with respect; he invites him into his home and feeds him supper and gives him a place to sleep for the night.  But Valjean is distrustful and he repays the bishop’s kindness with theft; he steals a bunch of the bishop’s silverware and runs off in the night.  

Before he gets very far, the police catch up with him, and they drag him back to the bishop’s house.  When the bishop sees Jean Valjean in custody, he says to him: Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come back!  You took the silver forks and spoons with you, but you forgot to take the candlesticks I gave you. 

The apostle Paul would have immediately recognized this story for exactly what it is: grace.  Jean Valjean was saved and set free by grace.  Bishop Myriel showed him the kind of love that God showed humanity in the cross of Christ.  He spared Valjean from the punishment he deserved and instead chose to set him free. 

Continue reading “Sermon: Freedom Isn’t Free”

The Evil I Do Not Want

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:15, 19, 22-25a

Martin Luther loved this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans – which we’ll be reading in the lectionary coming up in July.  Luther was a man tortured by his own shortcomings and failings; fearful that he would never be good enough for God, he would sometimes even leave the confessional booth only to go right back in to confess other sins that he had thought of.  He identified deeply with the struggle Paul names here: despite his best intentions and efforts to be a model Christian, Luther kept finding himself giving in to sin and brokenness.  

It was in this struggle of feeling like he would never, ever be good enough that Luther experienced the revelation of grace.  He would never be good enough to earn his own salvation.  Yet he had been redeemed by Christ’s self-giving love, once and for all time.  He had been saved by grace through faith, apart from works, for the sake of Christ.  And this revelation actually freed Luther to start becoming the better Christian he wanted to be.  His focus shifted from being directed inward toward himself to going outward toward the church and the broader world, a change that enabled him to become a powerful voice of reform in the church.  This is the legacy that we, as Lutherans, inherit.  

Continue reading “The Evil I Do Not Want”

Sermon: It Takes More than Time to Heal Some Wounds

Sunday, June 21, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel reading and sermon start around 21:41)

It was an exciting week at the parsonage this past week.  The water heater had to be replaced after we discovered that it had sprung a leak.  Not good.  But, in the process of getting it fixed, I did get to spend some quality time with our dear brother in Christ, Rick Fendrick.

Rick is a storyteller, and he likes to joke that it’s dangerous to tell stories to pastors, because you never know when one of your stories will turn up as a sermon illustration.  And, well, Rick is not wrong about that, lol. (Rick is a member of my congregation and I asked his permission before sharing this story)

I kept thinking about one of Rick’s stories as I was reading through our texts for this week.  He was telling me once about how one of his collarbones is actually shorter than the other one – and that if you feel along the length of the shorter collarbone, you’ll come across a hard lump of bone sticking out.  He explained that when he was younger, he broke his clavicle as he was playing basketball with some friends.  

The clavicle can be a tricky bone to heal, since you obviously can’t put a cast on it like you could with a broken arm or a broken leg.  And Rick’s collarbone ended up not healing correctly.  Instead of the pieces of bone lining up end to end and knitting themselves back together that way, they overlapped slightly, which is what created the knot of bone you can still feel there to this day.

Continue reading “Sermon: It Takes More than Time to Heal Some Wounds”

Sermon: Compassion and Courage

Sunday, June 14, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (gospel reading and sermon start around 23:46)

Our gospel text for this morning is all about compassion and courage.  Here we find Jesus in the midst of a massive campaign of teaching and preaching and healing all over the country.  His twelve disciples are with him and his ministry has drawn huge crowds of people everywhere they’ve gone.  Jesus is on a mission.  

Yet we see that Jesus’ mission isn’t just driven by his own need to spread the good news of the kingdom; his mission is deeply rooted in compassion.  Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw these crowds that had gathered, he had compassion for them.  He listens to them and feels their pain and he responds to their needs.  And he consciously models this behavior for his disciples to imitate.  And he points out to them that there is still a lot more work to be done.  He tells them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.”

The disciples may have wondered where on earth Jesus was going to find these laborers – not to mention what sort of harvest they would be gathering in.  But it soon becomes clear that Jesus means them.  They are the ones that the Lord of the harvest is going to send out to bring the harvest in.  And Jesus tells them what they’ll be doing: “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons,” you know, just basic, everyday ministry kind of stuff.  Can you imagine how overwhelming it must have been to be handed that to-do list?  If I were one of those twelve disciples, I would definitely be wondering how on earth Jesus expected me to be able do all that.

Continue reading “Sermon: Compassion and Courage”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑