Sermon: Awaiting the Future

Sunday, May 24, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Ascension Sunday
watch this service online
image source

Easter has come and gone – and all the teaching and healing, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the confrontations with religious and political authorities, the cross, the tomb.  Jesus has died and then risen from the dead.  There were rumors of his resurrection, then surprise sightings, then bread broken together: the whole gang reunited at the table. (Well, almost the whole gang.)  The disciples have been pulled in every direction by wonder and fear and grief and hope.  To say that it has been a rollercoaster of a time for them would be putting it mildly.  

But, after all the ups and downs of the journey they’ve been on, Jesus has emerged victorious.  He has triumphed over death itself once and for all.  So now what?  The disciples ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  When are you going to stomp some Romans and throw down the emperor and take back the homeland?   You know, Messiah kind of stuff!  When can we go back to the glory days?  When can we go back to the way things were before?

I can imagine this question is one that has become familiar to a lot of us in the last couple of months, if not all of us.  When can we go back to the way things were before?  It has been a rollercoaster of a time for us, with rising cases and a falling economy and a flood of information and guidelines from various sources that often conflict and contradict one another.  We are sick and tired of being sick and tired, tired of being cooped up, tired of being afraid.  We long to go back to the lives that we were living before.  

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Sermon: The Hope that Is in You

Sunday, May 17, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixth Sunday of Easter
watch this service online
image source: Holding onto Hope by Isabel Emrich

When I was really young, I was actually a fairly shy, nervous child.  For people who know me now, that’s probably kind of hard to imagine, but it is true.  I was especially anxious about the prospect of starting school.  I felt like I wasn’t prepared enough to go yet, and I worried that I wouldn’t know anyone there.  

My mom took me to school on the first day of kindergarten prep – and I clung onto her like a second skin.  I literally had hold of her leg as she stood in the doorway.  She tried to convince me to let go, that I was going to have so much fun; finally she said, “Look, there’s your friend Valerie over there; why don’t you go say hello?”  I let go of her leg for one second to wave hello – and by the time I turned around, Mom was gone.  At first, I definitely felt like I had been “left orphaned”; but of course my mom was right and I ended up having a great time.  (And she did come back to get me later!)

No matter how high or low the stakes are, venturing into the unknown is often scary.  And that can be true whether you are a kindergartener on the first day of school, a worker who has recently started – or lost – a job, a cancer patient on the first day of chemo treatments, or literally anyone living through  a global pandemic.  I’m sure you probably don’t have to look very far back in your mind to come up with a time that was full of anxious uncertainty for you. 

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Sermon: Remedy for a Troubled Heart

Sunday, May 10, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday of Easter
watch this service online

In our gospel reading for this morning, we hear Jesus talking to his disciples – and the first thing we hear him say to them is: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  I don’t know about you, but for me, as a person living in this particular moment of history, I have to admit that my knee-jerk reaction to this kind of statement is: “Easy for you to say, Jesus!”

My heart is deeply troubled these days.  And even though I don’t know exactly what you all have been experiencing over the last couple of months, I can easily imagine that your hearts are pretty troubled also.  This whole pandemic – and everything that comes with it – is a trauma that we are experiencing together as humans on a global scale.  The constant, elevated baseline level of stress we are experiencing leaves us all feeling exhausted and irritated and anxious and afraid.  And that’s even before you pile on the regular stress of work and home life, the grief of caring for loved ones dealing with illness, and just the regular human business of living and dying.  What a burden!  Can you feel the weight of all that tension that you are carrying in your body?  I invite you to just take a moment and sit with that feeling; find where in your body you are most carrying that stress and just hold it for a moment.

This is the weight of the collective grief that we are sharing: our longing for things to go back to the way they were, our uncertainty about what is going to happen next.  And this grief hardly makes it easy for us to hear Jesus say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  That is something that is much more easily said than done.

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Sermon: Layers of Love

Sunday, May 3, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday of Easter
watch this service online (gospel and sermon begin around 19:20)

I mentioned earlier my ball of wool yarn that I brought. (At the beginning of worship, I invited folks to find an object in their home that helped them to think of God as their Good Shepherd.)  This is something that I can look at and touch and hold onto that helps me to remember that God is my Good Shepherd.  And I chose this particular item for a lot of reasons.

For starters, well, to state the obvious, it came from a sheep.  This is natural, undyed wool.  And it actually came from local sheep!  I bought this at the Brown Sheep Company out in Mitchell, NE, by Scottsbluff.  And knowing where it comes from reminds me that God, our shepherd, is not some far-off, distant, inaccessible deity; God is up close and tangible.  

We know through the sacraments that God comes to us in humble, everyday things – things like water, bread, and wine: things that we can see and touch and taste.  And God is often portrayed in scripture as a shepherd, which was certainly a humble profession – Jesus even paints himself as a shepherd in our gospel reading this morning.  

And beyond being a humble line of work, being a shepherd was a common line of work.  The image of God as a shepherd places God squarely in the middle of our everyday life.  And since I really love to knit and crochet, you can imagine that yarn is a pretty big part of my everyday life!  I am actually about 90% sure that there is currently yarn in every room of my house.

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A Spirit-Led Church, Even in Exile

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:4-5, 11-12

We are coming up on the festival of Pentecost once more, on the very last day of May this year.  Pentecost is basically a celebration of the church’s birthday – born in a rush of Spirit in wind and flame.  That Spirit drew believers together in ways they never imagined – with people they never imagined! – and then sent them out on the wildest journeys to the far corners of the earth.  

As I was thinking about what to write for this month’s newsletter, I looked back at last year.  Pentecost was in June and I wrote a little bit about the history of Pentecost – as well as the two festivals that surround it, the Ascension and Holy Trinity – and its origins in the Jewish Festival of Weeks.  I wrote about how it is the same Spirit that unites us with the believers that came before us, and how each year, each generation, that passes through the cycle adds new layers of richness and meaning. 

I was thinking about last year’s floods when I wrote that, how all the flooding shaped the way we heard the promises of scripture – especially the story of Noah and the flood – how it shaped the way that we as a church related to our community and expressed our faith.  Yet as intense as the floods were, of course, they pale in comparison to how drastically the present crisis has upended our lives.

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Sermon: A Message and Mission of Hope in the Midst of Calamity and Emptiness

Sunday, April 12, 2020
Easter Sunday
Salem Lutheran Church, Fontanelle, NE
Preachers: Pastor Day Hefner, Pastor Allison Siburg, Pastor Shari Schwedhelm, Pastor Heidi Wallace
Watch video of this service
image source

Pastor Day Hefner
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE

Good morning and happy Easter once again to you all!  It has been a delight and privilege to get to gather with these wonderful colleagues as we walk through the journey of these days of Holy Week and now Easter morning together.  

We realized what a neat opportunity it is to have four female preachers coming together to proclaim the good news, just as the good news was first proclaimed by women on that first Easter day, standing outside the empty tomb.  (Admittedly, it did take the lone male of our entourage to point this out, haha.)  So rather than have just one of us give the sermon this morning, we decided that all four of us would offer our own perspectives, and share the good news with you in our own particular ways. 

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Easter Sunday 2020

Our joint Easter service, broadcast from Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle, NE. You can find the digital bulletin here. And you can also read a manuscript of the four mini-sermons here.

We had some technical difficulties broadcasting this service — as if the coronavirus weren’t enough of a disruption, we had a winter storm with high winds and ice that kept knocking out power and reception! But Christ is still risen — Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Vigil of Easter 2020

Night three of the “Triduum Tour,” broadcast from my own congregation — St. John’s Lutheran in Schuyler. The Easter Vigil is one of my absolute favorite services of the entire liturgical year. It is a glorious celebration with fire and water, sacrament and story and song. In some ways, it’s kind of like “Easter Eve” — an Easter version of Christmas Eve — except the Vigil actually predates Christmas Eve and is the inspiration for rituals commonly associated with Christmas Eve. Click here to see the digital bulletin.

Facebook Live video of the service

Good Friday 2020

Here is night two of the “Triduum Tour” — broadcast from Salem Lutheran Church in Fremont, NE. The Good Friday liturgy is so powerful and moving and it was a great gift to get to share it with beloved friends and colleagues. You can also follow along with this service in the digital bulletin.

Maundy Thursday 2020

A few of my colleagues and ministry and I have decided to join forces for Holy Week and Easter Sunday this year, in this time of exile. Rather than all reinvent the wheel separately, we decided to do something together that we’re starting to call the “Triduum Tour” — hehe. It has been uplifting and meaningful for us to put together; I hope others will enjoy experiencing it also. If you’d like to follow along with the service, please check out this digital bulletin as you watch the video below.

Sermon: You’re Killing Me, Smalls

Sunday, March 29, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday in Lent
watch this service online (gospel reading and sermon start around 16:53)

Even though our texts for this week are serious and heavy – dealing with life and death kinds of stories – weirdly enough, the one thing that kept coming to my mind all week was one of my favorite movies to watch when I was growing up: the 1993 cult classic The Sandlot.  

In the movie, a nerdy kid named Scotty Smalls moves to a new city with his parents.  He ends up making friends with a group of neighborhood boys who are all completely obsessed with baseball.  They all gather down at the sandlot to play baseball nearly every day.  The sandlot, as its name suggests, is a vacant, sandy lot that the boys have turned into their very own baseball diamond.  

One of the important features of the sandlot is a fence.  Beyond their outfield, there is a tall, ragged fence – maybe 7 or 8 feet tall; it’s an impenetrable barrier cobbled together from rusted old junk and corrugated metal sheeting and lengths of chain link and it’s all grown over with vines and brambles.  It’s a gnarly-looking old fence, and all you can see beyond it is some overgrown trees and the top of an old, dusty house.

One day, one of the boys hits a baseball clean over the fence.  And to Scotty’s surpise, the other boys treat this hit like an automatic home run.  They don’t even try to go over the fence and get the ball back.  Scotty is already out in the outfield, so he yells to the other boys, “Wait a sec, I’ll get it!” and he starts to climb the fence.  In response, the other boys all scream, “NOOO!” and they all immediately run across the field to Scotty and physically drag him back down onto the ground.  Scotty is annoyed and confused by this, but the boys all hold him back, shouting in chorus, “What are you doing??  You could have been killed!”  

As Scotty learns, the boys all live in fear of a huge, mean, baseball-hoarding dog who lives on the other side of the fence, a dog whom they have nicknamed “the Beast.”  And so, anytime they hit a baseball over the fence, it’s considered gone for good.  To these boys, that outfield fence has become the point of no return.  Once you cross over that barrier, there’s no coming back.

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Mary Stood Weeping

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

John 20:11-15a

Early on the morning of the very first Easter, Mary Magdalene stands, weeping, outside the empty tomb.  So much has happened – so much hopeful excitement, followed by so much sorrow, so much loss.  And now, when she has come to say her goodbyes to her friend, to her hope, it seems that the universe has added insult to injury and someone has taken his body, so that she cannot even mourn him properly.  

The worst thing imaginable had happened to Mary and the other followers of the Way – they had watched helplessly as the Roman Empire crucified their Messiah and Lord.  Their hopes for God’s reign were snuffed out.  

Yet God was not done.  

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Sermon: A Shepherd Shall Lead Us

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Funeral of Terry Pospisil
Svoboda North Chapel, Schuyler, NE
image source

When I was growing up, my best friends’ family had a farm just a few miles outside of our hometown.  And they raised sheep.  I spent a lot of time out at their farm, and sometimes I would get to help take care of the sheep.  There was, of course, the matter of making sure the sheep had water and enough to eat.  And, periodically, they would have to move the sheep from one pasture to another, to give them plenty of grass to munch on.  My friends’ parents would open gates and move around their electric fences.  And then we got to do the fun part: in the absence of sheepdogs, my friends and I would actually chase the sheep around, trying to get them to move from one enclosure to the other.  To me, at the time, it seemed like being a shepherd would be a really fun job!

But that is not at all what being a shepherd looked like thousands of years ago, when Psalm 23 was first written.  Back then, being a shepherd was a tough, dirty job.  There were no neatly fenced in pastures to keep their sheep in.  Instead, a shepherd wandered with his flock of sheep through the steep hills and rocky wilderness of ancient Palestine.  He stayed with his sheep night and day to protect them from predators.  And the sheep’s lives totally depended on their shepherd guiding them through rough places to find clean water and good pasture.  

That is the image of God that our psalmist is painting in Psalm 23.  God is like a good shepherd, willing to do anything to keep the sheep safe and fed.  And like a good shepherd who is willing to get his hands dirty, God stays with us, even in the hardest, messiest, most painful moments of our lives.  God is with us.  God never abandons us nor leaves us to our own devices; instead God wanders with us into the wilderness and helps guide us to places of safety and peace.

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Sermon: Compassion, Not Fear

Sunday, March 22, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday in Lent
watch this service online (gospel reading & sermon start around 18:01)
image source

I really struggle with a verse like John chapter 9, verse 4.  In this verse, Jesus responds to the disciples’ question about sin, saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  A statement like that one feels dangerous to me.  On its face, this verse kind of makes it sound like Jesus is saying that God deliberately chose to inflict suffering on someone – like God chose to make someone suffer simply because it would make Jesus look good later. 

There is a lot of toxic theology out there that follows this idea.  I’m sure you have probably heard some of it at some point in your life.  It’s the “everything happens for a reason” school of theology; it’s the kind of theology that teaches that even suffering comes from God – that if you are suffering, it’s either because you deserve it or because God is trying to teach you a lesson or to make an example out of you. 

But that’s not what I believe.  I don’t believe that suffering is ever part of God’s plan for us, because that simply does not square with the God of love and grace that I know and trust.  That’s not who God is.  The God I follow does not inflict suffering on people just to prove a point; instead God is present with people in their suffering, supporting them and loving them unconditionally.

So how do we make sense of what Jesus says here?  Jesus tells his disciples that this man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  

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Virtual Church

This past week has marked a seismic shift for many of us in how we live our daily lives, and for those of us in ministry, it has meant drastic change in how we gather and connect as the body of Christ.

For anyone who might be looking for resources or some kind of spiritual grounding during this time, I thought I would post a link to the “Virtual Church” page I put together for my own congregation — St. John’s Lutheran Church in Schuyler, NE. On it, you will find updates and links to resources for prayer and meditation, as well as links to participate in our live-streamed worship and bible study.

May God’s peace be with you during these uncertain days.

Be safe, and wash your hands!

Sermon: Going Through Samaria

Sunday, March 15, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday in Lent

Our gospel text for this morning picks up just about half a chapter after our gospel reading from last week.  And there is a LOT going on here.  

Last week, you might remember, Jesus was in Jerusalem, where he received a nighttime visit from a Pharisee named Nicodemus.  In the first few verses of John chapter 4, Jesus learns that trouble might be brewing with the rest of the Pharisees, so he and his disciples decide to hit the road.  In verses 3 and 4 of chapter 4, John writes that “[Jesus] left Judea and started back to Galilee.  But he had to go through Samaria.”  And that is where our story begins.

John writes that Jesus “had” to go through Samaria to get from Judea to Galilee – and if you look at a map of the area, that seems totally logical.  These three regions were all right next to each other, between the mountains and the Mediterranean sea, with Galilee to the north, Judea to the south, and Samaria right in the middle.

But that is not the route that most Jewish folks would have taken.  That map would not show you the long history of religious and political division between these people.  And because of these divisions, Jewish people would do practically anything to avoid having to set foot in Samaria.  Instead, to reach Galilee, they would cross the mountains to the east, travel up the Jordan River until they reached the Sea of Galilee, and then cross the mountains again.  And remember, this was all on foot!  

So when Jesus decides he “has” to go through Samaria, he’s not talking about geography.  He seems to be deliberately choosing to cross over this division between people as part of his mission and ministry.  He is choosing to cross the barriers that these peoples have placed between themselves.  And that choice opens him and the disciples to some wonderful and bizarre encounters, like the one we read about today.  

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Sermon: Frankly, I Still Don’t Get It

Sunday, March 8, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday in Lent
image source

Nicodemus really doesn’t get it.  Bless his heart.  In our gospel reading for this morning, he shows up on Jesus’ doorstep in the middle of the night, wanting to have a conversation.  I’m not sure why he came by night – it might be that he didn’t want the other leaders to see him there; or it could be that there was something weighing on Nicodemus’ heart, something that was keeping him up at night.  

Whatever the case, he comes to Jesus, eager to talk.  Nicodemus starts off by acknowledging Jesus’ authority, saying that we – not just “I,” but “we” – know that you are a Rabbi, a teacher like us, one who has come from God.  Even the other Pharisees have to admit the evidence in front of their eyes, because no one could do the signs you do apart from God.  

And before Nicodemus can continue, Jesus says to him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Huh? This abrupt turn in conversation completely baffles Nicodemus.  He takes it in the most hilariously literal direction and asks Jesus: How can it be possible for someone who has already grown old to somehow go back into their mother and be born again??  What???  But instead of helpfully explaining his statement, Jesus doubles down and says again that one must be born again or be born of water and Spirit, in order to enter the kingdom, and he continues on in that vein from there.  It quickly becomes clear to Nicodemus that he, Jesus, and the other Pharisees are not operating on the same level at all.  

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Sermon: Learning from the Best

Sunday, March 1, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
First Sunday in Lent

Something that I am really grateful to my mom for is that she instilled in me a great love for reading.  She was a teacher – no surprise there – and some of my earliest memories of her are of seeing her curled up on the end of the couch with her big, owl-like reading glasses perched on her nose and a book in her hand.  And of course, she always used read to me, especially before bedtime.

As a little girl, I wanted to be just like my mom, so I was really, really eager to learn how to read.  I was obsessed with the idea of being able to read before I started school – and I was bound and determined that I was going to make that happen.  I remember bursting into my parents’ room one day when I was maybe four or five years old, excitedly yelling, “Mom, Mom, look; I can read!”  I insisted that I was going to read to her for a change.  So I made her sit down on the bed and I ran to get one of my favorite books – The Little Red Caboose – and I sat down next to her, and page by page, I excitedly “read” the whole story to her. 

Mom let me down gently.  She chuckled at my enthusiasm and thanked me for wanting to read to her.  But she also pointed out that I wasn’t really reading quite yet; I had just heard the story so many times that I’d basically memorized more or less what was on each page.  I got so mad when she told me I wasn’t doing it right.  But she told me that it was something that would just take time and practice and patience to get better at.  (My three least favorite things)

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Sermon: Who Loves You Most

Wednesday, February 26, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Ash Wednesday

I live by myself, so not a lot of people usually see what I look like or what I do when I go home at the end of the day to relax.  Usually, the first thing I do – after I feed my cats – is to change my clothes.  In my head, I think of it kind of like Mr. Rogers on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: he comes home singing and he carefully changes out of his suit coat and work shoes into a cardigan and tennis shoes.  Except in my case, it’s not usually quite that charming.  Usually it’s just me taking off my pants and slipping into some old sweatpants and a grungy pair of slippers, before flopping down on the couch to chill out for the evening.  It’s not terribly pretty – but it is pretty comfortable!

In strong contrast to this, my friend Zainab has a home routine that looks completely different.  At home is where she’s more likely to get dressed up.  Zainab coordinates services for refugees and immigrants at the Good Neighbor Community Center in Lincoln, and she does a lot to help the community, especially to help other Arabic and Muslim women like herself.  I met her many years ago when I was working for Lincoln Literacy.  I used to coordinate English classes at the Good Neighbor Center every Friday, so I had a lot of opportunity to sit and talk with Zainab and get to know a little more about her life and her faith.  

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Sermon: Good Game

Sunday, February 16, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
image source

I am not a big sports person.  I don’t follow any sports teams or watch a lot of games; it’s just not really my thing.  And because of this, it often surprises people to learn that I actually played a lot of sports when I was growing up – I even enjoyed some of them!  I was never a great athlete or anything, but it was fun to be part of a team, fun to hit things and throw things and just run around outside together having a good time. 

I played softball every summer, starting from about when I was in second grade.  And the fact that I was never a very sporty person did not stop me from getting into a competitive spirit.  We may have been a bunch of little girls playing against other little girls, but we still developed rivalries with teams from neighboring towns and we worked hard to win!  And when we were out on the field, it was easy to let the faces of the other team kind of blur together while we focused on cheering on our own.  

But one thing I will always vividly remember is what happened at the end of each and every game.  No matter who won or who lost, the players and the coaches of both teams would line up in single file; and then they walked across the field and and high fived every single member of the other team, telling each one of them, “Good game, good game, good game, good game…”

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Prouty’s Landing

This is a reflection I wrote back in 2015 during my time in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) – we were asked to share stories for story theology, and this is one of the stories I told. I came across it again recently and thought it might be good to share here.

One of the keystones of the camp experience at Camp Carol Joy Holling in Ashland, NE, is the series of “co-op activities” that all campers participate in.  These are physical activities designed to make groups work together, with the goal of increasing trust and building relationships.  They range from simple games with objects like tennis balls and foam pool noodles to the more demanding “Co-op Challenge Course.”

As a chubby eighth-grader, obliged to attend a week of church camp with peers who had bullied me off and on for as long as we’d known each other, I was not exactly thrilled about the prospect of us all doing physical activities together.  Still, there were were, one hot July afternoon, up in the woods on the challenge course, struggling to work together as a team.  We had already completed trust falls and balanced ourselves on a giant teeter totter and built a human bridge over an imaginary river of molten peanut butter.  However, the next obstacle in front of us was the most challenging we had yet faced.  Prouty’s Landing wasn’t much to look at – just a couple of 3’x3’ wooden platforms spaced perhaps ten feet apart, with a rope tied around a strong tree branch in between, dangling down to the ground.  To complete Prouty’s Landing, everyone in the group had to stand together on one of the platforms and swing across to the other platform, one by one.  If anyone touched the ground at any time before everyone was across, the entire team had to go back to the beginning platform and start over again.  

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Sermon: Be Salty and Get Lit

Sunday, February 9, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
image source

When I first started discerning a call to ministry, my first instinct was to try to resist it.  “No, no, no,” I said; “I’m pretty sure you’ve got the wrong person.”  I thought of the people I had observed being pastors and leaders in the church, and it was really intimidating to me to think that I could be one of them.  They seemed to have patience and knowledge and wisdom way beyond mine.  And they seemed like people of deep and abiding faith, while my faith life, by contrast, often felt like a hot mess (and still does sometimes, if I’m being honest).  I was immediately ready to reach for that bushel basket and pull it over myself.  

I decided that I needed a LOT more information if I was really going to follow this path.  So I started talking with pastors and reading books that pastors had written; I started visiting seminaries and talking with other people who were thinking about ministry.  And, in the process, I got to hear a LOT of people’s call stories.  So many call stories.  I remember I was at a visit weekend at Wartburg, sitting in a room with maybe 30 or 40 other people, all taking turns telling our stories.  And after at least half a dozen people compared their call story to Jonah – who you’ll remember ran away from God’s call and got eaten by a fish – after that, I realized that I was far from being the only one trying to hide under a basket

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Choosing Your Fast

“Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”

Isaiah 58:5-8

February 2020 is already upon us!  And with it comes Ash Wednesday – the beginning of the long season of Lent – on the final Wednesday of the month.  Lent can be a really meaningful season.  It’s a season in which we are invited to gather up the burdens and worries and distractions we carry in our hearts, and to turn and lay these things at the foot of the cross.  It’s a season of repentance, a season to acknowledge our human limitations, to turn back toward God and let God’s way be our way.

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Sermon: Blessings in Low Places

Sunday, February 2, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
image source

(CN — stories of domestic abuse and alcoholism, migration-related violence)

Francisca was blessed.  She lived in a small house just outside a village in Honduras that she and her husband had moved to when they married.  The house had no electricity or running water; so, every day, multiple times a day, Francisca trekked out to a nearby stream with her buckets and hauled water back to the house.  It was back-breaking work.  Most of the food they ate depended on what they were able to grow in their small garden.  It was a hard life.  But Francisca gave thanks to God because she knew she was blessed.  

They were too poor to afford shoes, so Francisca went everywhere barefoot.  Her husband was frustrated with their lives, frustrated with the lack of opportunities in Honduras, frustrated with the violence that reached even their small village; and he chose to take out his frustrations on Francisca.  The beatings were worst when he drank.  And when he started drinking even more heavily, Francisca knew that she needed to leave.  It wasn’t safe to stay in that house anymore.  It wasn’t safe to stay in her village either; it wasn’t really safe to be a woman living on her own in Honduras at all.  

So Francisca made a bold decision.  Like many others before her – and many after her – she made the difficult decision to head north.  She decided she would try to reach the United States and seek asylum there.  It was a dangerous journey.  Francisca had to cross Guatemala and then the entire length of Mexico in order to get to the US border.  A good deal of that journey was on foot and the rest was aboard a freight train that migrants had come to call La Bestia – The Beast – because of how dangerous it was to ride.  She was beaten many times and robbed at least twice before she finally made it to the Texas border, where she was immediately arrested by Border Patrol.  And Francisca was blessed.

Continue reading “Sermon: Blessings in Low Places”

Sermon: Fools in the Dark

Sunday, January 26, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday after Epiphany

One of the fun things about being a pastor is that I now have a whole gaggle of friends who are also clergy people.  And clergy are a weird, funny bunch of people.  Many of us are on social media and we like to share funny ministry-related memes and jokes that we come across with each other.  I kept thinking of one meme that made the rounds a lot last year as I was doing my sermon prep this week.  

It’s kind of a play on WWJD – What Would Jesus Do.  There are lots of different variations on it, but they all draw on stuff that you can actually find in scripture.  It usually goes something like this: “Whenever someone asks me ‘WWJD,’ I remind them about the time that Jesus flipped over a bunch of tables and chased people with whips.”  Or “When someone asks me WWJD, I remember that time Jesus made over 100 gallons of wine and partied with people at a wedding.”  Or my personal favorite: “Whenever someone asks me WWJD, I like to remind them about that time Jesus took a nap on a boat.”  

I feel like today’s gospel reading could be made into yet another variation on this meme.  Whenever someone asks me WWJD, I remember that time Jesus got so freaked out about the path he was called to follow that he packed up his bags and moved all the way across a sea to hide out in another city.

Continue reading “Sermon: Fools in the Dark”

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