Sermon: Kingdomsick

Sunday, August 11, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Can you think of a time in your life when you felt really, really homesick?  You know that feeling of longing deep in the pit of your guts?  It’s that longing to be home, the longing to be someplace where you feel like you belong.

I don’t know about you all, but that’s definitely something I’ve felt at different times in my life.  For many years, I was basically a nomad, just moving around from place to place.  And there were a lot of moments in there where I felt sad: missing home, missing the people that I know.

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Sermon: We Give Thee But Thine Own

Sunday, August 4, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

When I was very young, my home congregation actually had a pretty good sized Sunday School program.  Once a month, they would gather us all together in the basement for an assembly.  We sat in neat rows, from the little preschool kids in the tiny folding chairs at the front, all the way to the big, cool ninth-graders in the back, in their last year of confirmation.  I don’t remember a ton of what we did together, if I’m being honest.  I’m sure we sang songs and read scripture and all that good stuff.

But the one part of those assemblies that has burned itself forever onto my brain was the part where we took the offering. Every month, in Sunday School, we would pass the basket down our neat little rows.  And the reason I remember it so well is because we always sang the same verse of the same hymn:

We give thee but thine own,
Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is thine alone:
A trust, O Lord, from thee.

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Sermon: How Rude

Sunday, July 28, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

I think I was in maybe third grade when I first learned the Lord’s Prayer by heart.  I liked it because it was pretty simple and straightforward.  Though, if I’m honest, I think I mostly liked it because it was a lot shorter and easier to memorize than the Apostles’ Creed!  These words have been with me for a long, long time, as I’m sure they have been with many of you.

However, for me, that deep familiarity can also mean that it’s easy to look at this gospel text – which is one of the places in the gospels where the Lord’s Prayer appears – and think to myself, “Ok, yeah, I know pretty much what this text is about.  This’ll probably be a sermon about the importance of prayer.”

But the more I read over this text this week, the more I noticed how annoying it actually is.  Almost everything and everyone in this passage is incredibly rude!

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Sermon: We’re So Vain (We Probably Think This Sacrament Is About Us)

Sunday, July 21, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
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Many years ago now, when I was in college, I spent a couple of summers working as a camp counselor at Camp Carol Joy Holling. I remember my very first summer at camp; I was a nervous wreck.  I just wanted so badly to do a good job and to make the experience as special as I possibly could for these kids.

One of my first weeks at camp, I was placed with a very special little tribe of seven campers, whom I counted like this: three girls, three boys, and Kenny.  Kenny was a sweet boy who had some attention and learning difficulties. He tried to stay focused and sit still, but it was hard for him, especially during bible study and worship. But Kenny brought two important gifts to camp with him: immense creativity, which he liked to express through drawing, and a passionate, undying love for the Lego story franchise Bionicle.

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Sermon: Who Isn’t My Neighbor?

Sunday, July 14, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
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Okay, show of hands: who here has heard this gospel story before?  Haha, that’s what I thought.  The story of the good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories in all of scripture. There are congregations and organizations named for this parable.  We even have laws called “good Samaritan” laws to protect people who are trying to help other people.  We know this story well.  But I think the very familiarity of this story can actually hinder us from hearing how radical and even upsetting it actually is.  So let’s take some time this morning to really dig into it.

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Sermon: Barefoot and Bagless

Sunday, July 7, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
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The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  It might be a little harder than usual this year for us to relate to the harvest image that Jesus uses here.  In the wake of the floods and heavy rains this spring, so many fields have been planted late or not planted at all that it’s hard to know what this year’s harvest will even look like.

But of course, that’s not the kind of harvest that Jesus is talking about in our gospel reading for today.  Instead of a harvest of corn or beans, Jesus is talking about gathering in people; he’s talking about those who are ready to receive God’s word and be gathered into the kingdom.  He sends his followers out into the field – the mission field – to bring this harvest in. And you’ll notice that he gives them some unusual tools for doing this.  What does he send them out with?

That’s right – basically nothing!  No purse, no bag, no sandals.  They are barefoot, with no money, no food, no change of clothes, nothing – they have to be totally reliant on the hospitality of others.  They have nothing to give people in return – nothing except for the peace of Christ and the word of God.  And without a bag, they can’t even receive anything from these people either, except for their hospitality and their open ears.

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Sermon: Choices

Sunday, June 30, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday after Pentecost

I was flying home one time to visit family, back when I lived in the Dominican Republic.  My flight had a six hour layover in Miami, and the Miami airport isn’t exactly the most fun place to spend six whole hours (not that any airport is!).  So I decided I’d call an old Peace Corps friend of mine who lived in Miami to come pick me up.

I had been living in the Dominican Republic for about three years at this point, and I found that being back in American culture was a little overwhelming.  Between the heat and the sensory overload, I stepped out of the Miami airport with a massive headache.  So my friend and I headed to the nearest Walgreens to pick up some aspirin.

Now, in the DR, I had gotten used to just going down the street to the little corner store whenever I needed something for a headache.  I could usually count on having one or maybe two options for painkillers.  But the painkiller aisle in that Miami Walgreens seemed to stretch all the way to the horizon, painkillers as far as the eye could see.  They had aspirin and ibuprofen and acetaminophen and naproxen; they had tablets and capsules, bottles and packets and boxes of every size and quantity imaginable.  It was ridiculous.  I just wanted to feel better – but by the time I finally picked something out, I felt like my head was literally going to explode.

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Sermon: The Devil You Know

Sunday, June 23, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday after Pentecost
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As I was first reading our gospel lesson for this morning, there were a couple of moments in this story that stuck out to me as being kind of odd.  Despite the fact that this is a wonderful story of Jesus performing a miraculous healing, it is filled almost from beginning to end with fear.  In fact, the stage is already set with fear right before we even get to this particular passage. Before this encounter with the Gerasenes, in the same chapter of Luke, the disicples get into a boat with Jesus to cross the Sea of Galilee – and what do you suppose happens?  A massive storm comes up – and just as they are all preparing to die, Jesus wakes up from his nap and tells the storm to cool it.  In response, the disciples are amazed and afraid.

Then they reach the other side of the sea and step out of the boat into Gentile territory.  And literally just as they are stepping out of the boat, they are accosted by a naked man, with iron shackles clanking on his wrists; he falls down before Jesus and starts shouting wildly.  After a brief confrontation, Jesus casts many demons out of the man.  And when the people of his city come running – all his neighbors and family – they find this man clothed and in his right mind and sitting calmly with Jesus.  And then they are afraid.  And when the story is told again of what Jesus has done for this one man, the entire country of the Gerasenes is seized with such great fear that they ask Jesus to leave.

It’s not exactly the reception you would expect for such an incredible miracle of liberation!  You’d think people would be lining up around the block to have Jesus heal their own maladies.  So what is everyone so afraid of??  Is it just that people were so awed and amazed by Jesus’ incredible power over demons that they were afraid of him?  I mean, maybe.  But it seems like maybe there’s more than that going on here.

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Sermon: Images of Love

Sunday, June 16, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Trinity Sunday
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Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday – one last white Sunday before a long season of green.  We celebrate the nature of God as three-in-one and one-in-three – the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Now, here’s your pop quiz for the day: does anyone know how many times the word “trinity” actually appears in the bible?

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Sermon: Potlucks of Epic Proportions

Sunday, June 9, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Day of Pentecost

Before I went to seminary, I lived in Lincoln for a few years.  I had just gotten back from the Peace Corps, and I was trying to readjust to life back in the US.  Because of my experience teaching English as a foreign language, I quickly got a job with an organization called Lincoln Literacy.  At Lincoln Lit, we worked with refugees and asylum-seekers and other immigrants – with and without documents – we taught them English and helped them find jobs and adjust to their new life in the US.  I loved working there.  Almost everyone I worked with – students and staff alike – seemed to feel in some way like fish out of water, just like I did.

We had students from all over the world: from Mexico and Guatemala and Venezuela, from Iraq and Afghanistan, from Bosnia, Sudan, Congo, China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, all over.  In our classes, you would see people of every color, people dressed in hijabs and blue jeans and saris and intricately woven fabric. During one particularly hot summer, one of my colleagues even showed up to work a few times wearing his wife’s skirts to keep cool – and no one so much as batted an eye.  Everyone belonged, just as they were.

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Sermon: Lights, Camera, Ascension!

Sunday, June 2, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Ascension Sunday

You may have noticed something kind of unusual about our readings this morning – and that is that we actually read the same story twice. Both our first reading from Acts and our gospel reading from Luke tell the story of Jesus’ ascension. Acts was actually written by the very same author as the book of Luke – which means that Luke is the only gospel that comes with its very own sequel!

And, like any good sequel, the story of Acts picks up “where we last left our heroes.”  We read about Jesus’ ascension in the last chapter of Luke, and then we pick up the story again right away in the very first chapter of Acts. The ascension is sort of the hinge between the two books that connects one to the other.  But there are some differences in the stories.

At the end of Luke, the ascension is presented as this mystical, mysterious event; Jesus is taken up just as he is blessing his disciples, and they are filled with joy and start worshiping God, and the credits roll, and they all live happily ever after. But in Acts, this story doesn’t feel like as much of a happy ending.  We have anxious disciples and mysterious strangers and an even more mysterious Jesus. And we get the sense that the ascension isn’t really the end of the story at all – in fact, it’s only the beginning.

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Sermon: Beyond the Pericope

Sunday, May 26, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixth Sunday of Easter

When you go to seminary, you get to learn a whole world of new vocabulary words; words like:  kerygma… hermeneutics… homiletics… epiclesis… eschatology!  As I was reading our gospel for this morning, I kept thinking of one of these five dollar words that I learned in seminary: “pericope.”  Anyone heard the word pericope before?  It’s a good one.  Pericope is a word that’s sometimes used to talk about a passage taken from the bible – it’s basically like how we use the term “reading” or “lesson.”  But “pericope” comes from the Greek for “a cutting-out” and I find that image of cutting out helpful for talking about a pericope like this one that we read this morning.

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

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Sermon: Us and Us

Sunday, May 19, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday of Easter

During my first few months in the Dominican Republic, I lived with a host family.  They were very nice people and I got along great with them for the most part.  But my host mom, Doña Nicia, never thought I ate enough – she was always trying to get me to eat more.  The trouble was that, after a while, I had gotten really tired of eating rice and beans all the time.  It was always the same thing every day: rice and beans, stewed meat, mashed plantains, and a big mug of fresh milk in the morning and in the evening – the milk part sounds really nice until you find yourself actually having to peel your milk twice a day (I never thought I’d appreciate the word “homogenized” so much).

One day, Doña Nicia’s daughter-in-law, Moraima, made a great big pot of a rice dish called chofán and brought a bowl over for me.  It was basically fried rice with a mix of vegetables and some chicken – and I completely devoured it.  Seeing this, my host mom was like, “Aha!  She likes chofán!”  So the very next day at lunch, Doña Nicia proudly set before me a big, heaping bowl of “chofán”; except, instead of rice and a mix of different vegetables, this was rice with a mix of different meats: chicken, pork, goat, and – I swear to you this is true – hot dogs, all chopped up into little pieces.  I knew she was so excited to make it for me, so I ate as much of it as I could stomach.  But to be honest, I felt a lot like I imagine Peter did in our reading from Acts.  In Peter’s case, he has a vision of some kind of bizarre picnic descending down out of the clouds – and a voice tells him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” and Peter takes one look at that picnic and is just like, “Uhhh… pass.”

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Sermon: Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd

Sunday, May 12, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday of Easter

In case our readings for this morning didn’t already give it away, today is the Sunday in the church calendar when we celebrate “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  We celebrate that God in Christ is our good shepherd.

And even though most of us have little or no experience with actual, real-life sheep or sheep-herding, we have at least some idea of what a shepherd does.  We know that shepherds are responsible for the wellbeing of their sheep, which is a 24/7 job.  Shepherds guide their sheep to food and water, they protect them from predators, and they find shelter for them when things start to get stormy.  They help the sheep to survive and flourish.  It’s a position of trust; like Jesus says in our gospel reading, the sheep learn to recognize the voice of their shepherd and they follow it.

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Sermon: Not Done Yet

Sunday, May 5, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday of Easter

Our gospel reading for this morning picks up right on the heels of the gospel reading we read last week, which is actually kind of odd.  Last week, we read the story of “doubting” Thomas from John 20, a story that ends with Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  John then goes on to write,

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

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

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Sermon: When in Doubt

Sunday, April 28, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday of Easter
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Thomas is in the wrong place at the wrong time in our gospel reading for this morning.  Or, at least, he’s not in the right place at the right time. The rest of the disciples had gathered in fear following Jesus’ crucifixion, probably to talk about the rumors they had heard that Jesus had somehow risen from the dead – when Jesus himself suddenly appears among them!  Only Thomas isn’t there to join in the rejoicing or to hear Jesus speak peace to them.

We have no idea what Thomas was off doing, but we do know that when he came back, he definitely did not expect to hear that everyone else had gotten to see Jesus while he was out.  Thomas reacts to this news with disbelief – and he flat out refuses to believe the testimony of the other disciples. Instead, he insists that he will only believe if he sees Jesus with his own eyes and touches his wounds with his own hands.

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Sermon: All the Feels

Sunday, April 21, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Easter Sunday

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

This joyful greeting is the same one that Christians have used for centuries to greet each other on Easter morning.  This is indeed a day of great joy!  For many of us, that joy is obvious – the joy of gathering with family, of seeing children and grandchildren, the joy of a time to rest and a time to celebrate with the people we care about.

But of course, the true joy of Easter goes much, much deeper than these things.  Today we celebrate the fact that the fundamental order of the cosmos has been shifted.  When Christ was killed and then rose from the dead, he broke death itself. On Easter, we remember that we have been freed from slavery to sin and death; we have been joined to Christ forever in both life and death, and we too will rise again to eternal life in God’s kingdom.  Surely this is a cause for boundless joy!

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Sermon: To Love and Be Loved

Thursday, April 18, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Maundy Thursday

About a month before my 24th birthday, I was starting my second year of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic.  I got sent to the next town over from mine to spend the night with a family there, to see whether I thought they would be a good host family for the new volunteer who was coming.  They turned out to be really sweet, lovely people who welcomed me with open arms.  Esmeralda, the mom, made a delicious meal for us, while her husband Manyango told me all about their community, Jánico.  They were curious to get to know me as well – and when they found out that my birthday was less than a month away, they insisted that I come back and celebrate with them.

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Sermon: As You Wish

Sunday, April 14, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Palm / Passion Sunday

This is a story we have heard so many times before.  Many of us grew up hearing it.  Year after year, we follow Jesus on a Lenten journey to Jerusalem.  And every year it leads us here, to the threshold of Holy Week.  We read the story of his triumphant entry into the city, and we read again how the crowd’s shouts of “hosanna in the highest!” quickly turn into chants of “crucify, crucify him!”  We follow Jesus all the way from a stable in Bethlehem to the cross and to the empty tomb.

This story is so well known and so familiar to the church that it’s hard to add much to it.  Some friends of mine even asked me a couple of weeks ago: how do you preach on stories that people have heard so many times?  How do you find something new to say?  And I told them honestly: the Spirit works!  But also, I can’t help but think of how many thousands of years we have been telling ourselves and our children these stories.  Humanity has a long term relationship with the story of salvation in Jesus Christ.  And so, as old as this story is, it somehow keeps being new.  Each year that we tell it again, it seems to speak to us in a new and different way.

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Sermon: No Going Back

Sunday, April 7, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday in Lent

As most of you – or probably all of you – know, I used to be a Peace Corps Volunteer once upon a time.  I served for four years in the Dominican Republic.  And as you might expect, there is a lot of training and preparation that goes into becoming a Volunteer.  In training, you learn the skills that you will need to do your project work; and you also study the language and the culture of your assigned country to try to prepare yourself to live and work for two years – sometimes more – in a different country.

But one aspect of Peace Corps that doesn’t get talked about very often is the fact that they also actually train us for how to come back.  We actually spend time in Close of Service (or CoS) training before coming back to the US.  They help us update our resumes and teach us how to condense our years of service into concise stories – literally, we had to practice that.  But even more than these practical bits of training, they tried to prepare us for the strange reality of reverse culture shock.

Most people know what regular culture shock is – you move to a new place and find yourself constantly bumping up against a different culture with different values and different ways of doing things than what you’re used to.  Reverse culture shock, on the other hand, is when you come back again and the culture is the same one you’re used to, but you are a different you.

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Sermon: Missing the Point

Sunday, March 31, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday in Lent
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Whenever I read the story of the prodigal son, it always reminds me of a Lenten bible study I was in at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln several years ago now.  We had been getting together every Wednesday for midweek worship and following worship with a group bible study in the fellowship hall.  It was already getting fairly late into Lent when we read the prodigal son story together, and I had started to notice that the conversations we were having kept going flat.  People had naturally started to group themselves together at tables with like-minded people, and so the discussions generally seemed to go something like this:

“Well, this is what I think about this text.”

“Well, I agree!  That’s what I think about this text too.”

“Yeah!”

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