Service of Lament and Hope

Sunday worship, August 1, 2021
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

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Sermon: A Tale of Two Feasts

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

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

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

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Sermon: Risking Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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Sermon: God of the Deep

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

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

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

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

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

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Sermon: The Holy Gamble

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

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

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

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

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Sermon: Spirit Is Thicker than Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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Sermon: Pete and Pete and Pete

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

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

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

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

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Becoming New

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

2 Corinthians 5:17

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

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

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

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

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Sermon: Choosing Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 15:12
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Sermon: God’s Love Is for Us. For ALL of Us.

Sunday, May 2, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday of Easter
watch this service online (readings start around 13:06; sermon starts around 21:27)
image source

I was in eighth grade when Holly moved to town.  Holly was outgoing and fun and super pretty – and she quickly made friends with all the most popular kids in our class.  I think all the girls wanted to be her and all the guys wanted to date her.  I, on the other hand, had never been one of the popular kids (shocking, I’m sure).  I was always bookish and chubby, and I’d take art class over sports any day of the week, which in my home town made me a bit of an outcast and a weirdo.  So I never really bothered to try to make friends with Holly – she seemed to be fitting in just fine with the popular crowd and had no reason to want to hang out with the likes of me.

You can imagine my surprise when one afternoon Holly showed up at my back door along with one of the most popular girls in our class.  Holly lived just a block north of us, so she knew that we had a trampoline in our back yard, and she and this other girl had come over to ask if they could jump on our trampoline.  I remember thinking to myself, “Well, that makes more sense – they just want to jump on the trampoline.”  So I told them, sure, that’s fine; go ahead.  But then Holly just stayed there standing in the doorway, looking at me expectantly.  And finally she said, “Well, aren’t you coming?”

I was totally floored by that.  I’d never imagined that the popular girls would want to hang out with me.  But I said yes to her invitation, and the three of us had a great time.  And it was far from being the last such invitation that I would receive from Holly.  She didn’t seem to care at all about our school’s rigid social hierarchy – Holly made friends with everybody.  And she hosted the most amazing parties.  Nerds, jocks, cheerleaders, band geeks, people from across many classes and social cliques – she brought us all together into one joyful community in her backyard.  Her parents would have these massive grill outs and we’d all eat hamburgers and hot dogs together and run around the backyard playing soccer and tag, and then we’d build a bonfire and roast marshmallows and sit with our feet stretched out around the fire until the soles of our shoes started melting. 

I will never forget those times, nor how good it felt to be included.  Holly had to have noticed how unpopular I was and how unwelcome I felt in most of the social circles at our school.  But she didn’t care.  She sought me out and made me her friend.  She made me feel like I was welcome.  Like I belonged.  

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Sermon: Shepherd in the Shadows

Sunday, April 25, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday of Easter
watch this service online (readings start around 14:11; sermon starts around 20:25)

I don’t know what kind of a week you all had last week, but I had the kind of week where I unexpectedly found myself crying in the card aisle at Walmart.  I’m okay – I think it’s just a combination of feeling really exhausted and burnt out, and the fact that Mothers Day always seems to catch me by surprise every year.  For some reason, this year it seems to be hitting me a little harder than usual – and, apparently, a couple weeks ahead of schedule.  

I have been thinking about my mom a lot lately, though.  She was a really cool person.  She was a second grade teacher and an avid reader, known for her sense of imagination and for her big laugh.  I was about six years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  And I remember how enthusiastically and optimistically we all prayed for her to get better.

That was what I had learned to do in Sunday school.  I had learned about God from texts like the ones we read today.  I learned that God was the Good Shepherd, who loves us like we’re all God’s own fuzzy little sheep.  I learned that God would lead us to nice places like green pastures and still waters, and that God would fill our cups to overflowing – which sounded messy, but, you know, nice.  And I learned that God would give us whatever we pray for – as long as we’re good and obey the commandments and stuff.  

So when Mom got sick, we prayed – hard.  And we had a whole community of people behind us, praying their hearts out that she would get well.  We did everything that we were supposed to do.  After all, my mom was barely 40 years old; she was a beloved teacher, a wife, and a mother to three young kids.  We needed her.  And I certainly thought, there’s just no way that the nice God that I learned about in Sunday school would ever let someone like her just die.

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Sermon: The God of Surprises

Sunday, April 18, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday of Easter
watch this service online (readings start around 16:32; sermon starts around 22:50)
image source

In the ELCA, anyone who is going through seminary and working toward becoming a pastor is required to complete at least one unit of something called Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE for short.  Basically what this usually looks like is a few months where you work full time as a chaplain, usually at a hospital.  And along with the chaplaincy work, you also meet regularly with a small cohort of fellow students to process your experiences together.  It’s one of the more intense parts of our formation.  

I decided to go a slightly different direction with my CPE.  I applied for this great program in Chicago called the Urban CPE Consortium.  In Urban CPE, you do a lot of the same kind of chaplaincy work as regular CPE – accompanying people and their families through illness and grief and difficult times – but instead of being in a hospital setting, you’re placed in some kind of ministry in urban Chicago.  That might be with a food pantry or kitchen ministry, or a halfway house for HIV+ teens, or a homeless shelter, or something else along those lines.  And at the time it was also pretty much the only option in the Chicago area for doing CPE in a Spanish-speaking site, which is something I was really interested in.

I was so excited when I got accepted to the program.  I was going to get to do ministry that was totally up my alley – getting to use my Spanish and do ministry with people living in the margins.  Totally my jam.  But then I got the list of ministry sites and found out that – for some unknown reason – none of the sites that summer were with ministries in Spanish-speaking communities.  Bummer.

So I ended up doing some interviews at some of the sites on the list, but I had kind of lost a little bit of my enthusiasm for the program.  And on top of that, it was getting close to the end of the school year and I have kind of a tendency to procrastinate anyway – so the interviews just kind of kept getting pushed off.  With only like a week or two to go before the program started, I had still only interviewed at one or two sites, so I started looking frantically down the list for places to go.  I saw that one of the sites was a suburban hospital – which to me seemed like an odd choice for Urban CPE – but I was desperate to find a site, so I went.

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Sermon: This Is (Still) the Day

Sunday, April 4, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Easter Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 16:07; sermon starts around 23:16)

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

It’s one of my favorite bible verses – partly because of the obvious: you know, “this is the DAY” and all.  But it’s also because this verse reminds us that today is indeed a day of great joy.

I’ve gotta say, though – if the only thing you read today was our gospel reading from Mark, you might not be left with the impression that this is a joyful day at all.  While the author of Psalm 118 is jubilant, joyously extolling the wondrous things that God has done, Mark goes in a bit of a different direction.  Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead begins with grief and confusion and then ends abruptly with terror and fear.  “Praise to you, O Christ”?

And this isn’t just the end of Mark’s telling of the resurrection – these verses are the end of Mark’s gospel, period.  If you look, your bible probably includes a shorter and a longer ending of Mark that were added in later, but the original ending of Mark’s gospel ends with this: the young man tells the women, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here… But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”  But instead of going to find Jesus and spread the good news, Mary and the others freak out and run away and they say nothing to anyone.  We don’t get to see Jesus after his resurrection – there are no encounters in the garden or lovely brunches by the sea or walks to Emmaus, or any of those stories in Mark’s gospel.  

Instead, it’s an ending that just kind of leaves us hanging.  The stone is rolled away, and there are rumors that Jesus has been raised from the dead, but that’s really about it.  There’s not the sense of resolution or satisfaction that we get with the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. 

Yet even so, this is the day that the Lord has made – and we know that eventually everyone will get to rejoice and be glad in it.

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Easter Proclamation

The Easter proclamation is an ancient song of the church, traditionally sung on the great Vigil of Easter. We decided to forego a formal Easter Vigil service at my congregation this year, but the singing of the proclamation is one of my favorite moments in the entire church year, so I decided to sing it and share it with you all from my back yard. As I sang, I was accompanied by lots of chattering birds, accelerating vehicles, and the strains of a neighbor’s lively ranchera music — a lovely reminder that all creation together celebrates the great good news that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

Watch the video and read the text of the proclamation below. (Or click here to watch the video on Facebook.)

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Sermon: Laying Down the Sword

Friday, April 2, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Good Friday
watch this service online (readings start around 2:24; gospel starts around 12:56; sermon starts around 26:58)
(full disclosure, this is a reworking of a sermon I preached while on internship)
image source

The Passion of Jesus according to John

We’ve read and heard this story so many times that I wonder whether it still sounds as shocking to us as it should.  “Crucifixion” is a word that belongs to ancient history and church rituals; it doesn’t evoke for us the same kind of visceral reaction as “electric chair” or “firing squad” or “hanging.”  And yet it is also a method of execution by the state, one that is a hundred times more bloody, torturous, and painful.  Even before we get to the cross, there is an unbelievable amount of violence in this story.  Jesus Christ is struck across the face multiple times.  He has sharp thorns jammed down onto his head; this was after he was flogged, a practice in which one’s bare back is whipped with a whip that has small pieces of metal or bone embedded at the ends, to inflict the most damage possible.  This story is a horrifying testament to the creativity of human cruelty.

I can’t even imagine how terrified Peter and the other disciples must have been in the garden, when an angry mob armed with torches and weapons came looking for Jesus.  They already knew what was coming next.  But in his fear, Peter acted quickly.  He drew his sword and struck first.  Peter knew how things work in this world.  It had been wonderful and eye-opening studying the ways of peace and love with Jesus, but this was real life.  He knew that people who didn’t have weapons would just be sitting ducks for people who did have weapons.  He knew that only a good guy with a sword could stop a bad guy with a sword.

(Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

Jesus was also very much a part of this world, and he also knew how things worked – he knew what the consequences of his actions would be.  Jesus was well aware of the kind of gruesome violence the Roman Empire was capable of inflicting on him.  And so it must have come as a shock to Peter when Jesus rebuked him, and told him to put his sword away.  Instead of engaging in violence and fighting for the kingdom, Jesus peacefully submits to the violent crowd, and no one else gets hurt.  

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Sermon: Jesus Christ Superhero

Thursday, April 1, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Maundy Thursday
watch this service online (readings start around 6:07; sermon starts around 14:57)

One of the beautiful things about having four different gospel accounts of Jesus’ life is that it gives us glimpses from four different perspectives into who Jesus really was (and is).  It would be impossible for any one piece of writing to truly capture the fullness of Jesus.  But the gospel writers help us to see different sides of Jesus.  For example, Matthew often emphasizes how Jesus is rooted in Hebrew scripture and Jewish traditions (like the Passover which is being celebrated this week!).  Luke focuses on the political context of Jesus’ ministry and on his deep concern for justice for the poor.  And Mark shows how urgently and intensely Jesus is focused on his mission for the kingdom. 

Tonight, we encounter Jesus through John’s eyes.  In John’s gospel, we see Jesus at his most divine and heavenly and all-knowing.  Jesus is practically a superhero in John – his only weakness, his kryptonite, is that he loves so much – and even that, in the end, turns out to be his strength!  In John, Jesus knows exactly what’s happening, he knows exactly what’s coming, and he knows exactly who the people he’s dying for truly are, warts and all.  And Jesus chooses the way of the cross with both eyes wide open, never doubting for even a second that the outcome is in God’s hands.

John was actually Martin Luther’s favorite gospel, and I can kind of see why.  I mean, who doesn’t love a Superman?  I have to confess, though, that, personally, I sometimes find it hard to relate to Jesus in John’s gospel.  John’s Jesus often speaks at length about mysterious, divine, heavenly realities far beyond the daily realities of life of this earth.  His mind is always on the kingdom and glory of his Father, and he marches with confidence through his ministry, always completely certain of what he needs to do and of where this all is going.

It’s such a stark contrast with our gospel reading from Sunday, when we read Mark’s account of the Passion.  In Mark, Jesus grieves and suffers; he begs God to take away the cup of suffering that has come to him; and even though he accepts what he has to do, we see him struggling with what this ministry is demanding of him.  As an imperfect person who often struggles in ministry and in the path of discipleship, I find this side of Jesus a lot easier to relate to.  Jesus is perfect, but he’s also fully human; he experiences temptation and he wrestles with doing the hard things that he has been called to do.  I can definitely identify a lot with that struggle.

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Sermon: Beneath the Cross

Sunday, March 28, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday
watch this service online (processional gospel starts around 5:37; readings start around 12:08; Passion narrative starts around 16:26; sermon starts around 33:48)
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The Passion of Jesus according to Mark

I’m gonna try to keep the sermon pretty short today.  Partly, that’s because we just read two entire chapters of the gospel of Mark.  But mostly it’s because these verses already speak so much for themselves, and there’s not really a whole lot more that I can add to them.  Today is the beginning of Holy Week, and it is all about the story.  Jesus’ remarkable life of teaching and preaching justice and mercy, of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and leading with love has led him here – has led him to the cross.  

Jesus ends up on the cross not because of anything one single person did.  When we talk about Jesus dying for our sins, I think all too often we imagine Jesus dying because of our individual shortcomings – because we yelled at our spouse that time or because we told a lie that other time, or because we cheated on a test or on our taxes.  But what we actually see in this story is how the whole human enterprise has become so broken and corrupt that it rejects Jesus and his ministry outright.  Jesus comes into this world full of love, with unfailing grace and mercy toward the people he encounters, even as he calls them to account.  And in return, he is met with violence and dishonesty from the religious and political establishment, with derision from the general public, and even with betrayal by the people who were closest to him.  He is peaceful and unresisting to the end, allowing himself – love made flesh – to be crucified by human hate.  

The cross casts a long shadow – a shadow that, paradoxically, shows us, humanity, for who we really are.  It’s in this shadow that we are called to dwell this week especially.  Today’s hymn of the day – “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” – poetically reminds us that, as followers of Christ, we are called to stand always in the shadow of the cross.  It’s one of my favorite hymns – and one I’m sure many of you also know well – and it serves as a wonderful invitation into Holy Week as we live into the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection once again.

Continue reading “Sermon: Beneath the Cross”

Arising Green

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been;
love is come again like wheat arising green.

In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,
thinking that he would never wake again;
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen,
love is come again like wheat arising green.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
he who for three days in the grave had lain;
raised from the dead, my living Lord is seen;
love is come again like wheat arising green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
your touch can call us back to life again;
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
love is come again like wheat arising green.

Now the Green Blade Rises
Evangelical Lutheran Worship #379

Back in March, at one of our Tuesday text studies, some of my area clergy colleagues and I were talking about the end of winter – giving thanks for warmer weather especially after all the frigid cold we got in February.  However, a couple of my colleagues were a little less thankful that the warming temperatures were melting the sparkling white blanket of snow that had covered their yard – because what the melting snow revealed beneath was not very pretty.  Not only did it reveal the dingy, drab muddiness that is the hallmark of early spring, but it also revealed what a popular – ahem – rest stop their yard is for a number of the neighborhood dogs.  Put plainly, they were discovering that the end of winter had revealed a lot of crap.

Continue reading “Arising Green”

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