Sermon: Battle of Wills

Sunday, October 1, 2017
Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey, El Paso, TX
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

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El texto del evangelio que nos toca hoy presenta un encuentro casi cómico entre Jesús y los líderes del templo. Ellos se acercan a Jesús para engañarle y cuestionar su autoridad. Pero en vez de ser atrapado, Jesús les hace una pregunta que los deja en pánico. San Mateo describe la escena entre bastidores de los sacerdotes y los líderes frenéticamente discutiendo entre si cómo responder a Jesús sin reconocer su autoridad ni tampoco ofender a la gente.

Estos líderes han sido los guardianes de la historia y la fe de Israel por generaciónes. Están acostombrados a ser respetados por la comunidad. Pero sus intrigas contra Jesús demuestran que ya se preocupan más por preservar su privilegio social que por abrirse a las cosas nuevas que hace Dios. Son como el segundo hijo en la parábola, él que dice que sí va a hacer la voluntad de su padre, pero luego no lo hace.

Leyendo la historia en estos días, es fácil pensar mal de aquellos sacerdotes y líderes. Pero la verdad es que demostraban una tendencia muy humana: la de confiar más en la autoridad humana que la autoridad divina. Tampoco somos nosotros inocentes de hacerlo. Somos criaturas sociales, y sentimos la presión de conformarnos con las expectativas de nuestra sociedad humana. Y a veces eso nos hace perder la vista de las expectativas de nuestro Dios.

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Our gospel text for today presents one of those moments in which Jesus’ interaction with the chief priests and leaders is almost comical. These leaders have come to trick Jesus and question his authority. But instead of falling into their trap, Jesus answers their question with another question, leaving them in a panic. Matthew gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of them frantically whispering and plotting among themselves, trying to figure out how to denounce Jesus without offending the crowds.

These leaders have been the keepers of Israel’s history and faith for generations, and they are used to having the respect of the community. But this scheming against Jesus shows that they are more concerned with holding onto their social privilege and position than they are to opening themselves to what new things God might be doing. They are like the second son in the parable, who says he will do what his father asks, but then doesn’t.

Reading this story today, it’s easy to look down on the chief priests and leaders for their hypocrisy. But the truth is that it’s a very human tendency: we tend to trust more in human authority than in divine authority. We are often guilty of it as well. We are social creatures, and we feel the pressure to live up to social expectations. And sometimes that pressure can make us lose sight of what God expects of us. Continue reading

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Folks and Yokes

Today was the last day for my friend Erin and me at our Ministry in Context — “MIC” — site.  We bid a fond farewell to the bilingual congregation we’ve been serving part-time in the western suburbs of Chicago for most of the last nine months.  Even though we only got to spend seven or eight hours a week in the church, we really started getting to know people and building relationships with members of the congregation.  It was bittersweet to leave when it feels like we’ve barely begun.

Probably my favorite moment of the day was a part of the special sending they did for us at each of the three services.  The pastor had congregants come forward and lay hands on us, while he prayed, blessed us, and anointed us with oil.  It never ceases to amaze me just how powerful the ministry of touch is.  Just as much as the very kind words of affection and affirmation that we heard from parishioners, the warm, loving touch of their hands on our backs and shoulders was a palpable sign of their care and blessing.

At one of the services, as I stood there before the altar, feeling the light pressure of their hands on my shoulders, I was suddenly reminded of Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew 11: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  This is the vocation to which I have been called: to be “yoked” to the church, “burdened” with love for this community and for its Lord.  And I am so grateful for it.

My eighth sermon / mi octavo sermón: Wisdom from Above / Sabiduría de lo Alto

(El sermón en español sigue el sermón en inglés)

James 3:13-4:3, 4:7-8a
Mark 9:30-37
St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago
Sunday, September 20, 2015

Good morning! I have to say, it’s a little intimidating to be standing up here after that tongue-lashing from last week’s reading from James: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for those who teach are judged with greater strictness. And all of us make many mistakes.” Well, I can promise you I’ll make at least a few of those, haha.

All throughout James’ letter, he is very straightforward in pointing out our human brokenness and our tendency to sin. That’s not the kind of stuff that’s always very pleasant to read or hear. But James isn’t writing these things in order to make us feel bad about ourselves. Neither is James writing to give us a reason to think better of ourselves than others. Rather, James is trying to inspire us to live more deeply into relationship with God. Continue reading

Please help me go to seminary!

Well, folks, I made it unscathed through the first stage of Candidacy in the ELCA — I’ve officially been “Entranced.”  Since then, I’ve been setting about finding a way to fund my seminary education at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.  While I have been granted a full tuition scholarship along with generous support from my church, Grace Lutheran in Lincoln, I still find myself coming up way short for living expenses; and am also finding that scholarship opportunities are incredibly slim for first year seminary students.  For that reason, I have started a gofundme.com page, hoping to cover more of the deficit I anticipate in my living expenses in Chicago.  I’ve received my first donation of $20 and am grateful for any contribution of any size.

As I’ve written many times in this blog, I am so excited to be part of the future of this church, and I really do feel like I have been blessed with many gifts that I will put to good use in ministry.  Please consider helping me fund my education so that I may become a more effective leader in the ELCA.  Thank you.

My fifth sermon (ish): Do. Love. Walk.

January 19, 2014
Middle School Gathering closing
Micah 6:8

All this weekend, you’ve all been getting to know each other and getting to do some really great stuff.  I heard about some of the service projects you did yesterday and about some of the really neat people you’ve gotten to talk to.  I hope it’s been a wonderful, and maybe eye-opening experience for all of you.

The theme of this weekend has centered around the verse Micah 6:8 and has been about exploring what it means to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.  This is really important stuff!  And the reason why we focus on it isn’t just that we all want to be nice people — it’s more than that.  These are the things that make us who we really are — they’re the things that set us apart as children of God. Continue reading

Fear? Not!

Alleluia!  Sing to Jesus; his the scepter, his the throne; Alleluia!  his the triumph, his the victory alone. Hark!  The songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood: “Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by his blood.”

This is the first and last verse of hymn #392 in the ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship), which we sang last night at the observation of Christ’s ascension into heaven.  I like hymns that use this convention of repetition; the text strikes you a certain way when you sing it the first time, then the two or three verses in between expand and explore the theme and give the text a greater depth when you repeat it in the final verse.  More than anything, though, with this particular hymn, I was captivated by the last line:  “Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by his blood.”  What a beautifully inclusive vision!  It speaks of grace that transcends the artificial boundaries of nations, politics, denominations, etc.  We are all one to Christ.  We are all one in Christ.  This is our calling as a church. Even our Gospel reading for this Sunday, John 17:20-26, reflects this call to universal oneness and love:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me…”

Following worship last night, I hung around in the atrium for a little while and found myself reading the bios of our 11 new members, posted on the bulletin board.  I was gratified and a little taken by surprise to see that over half of them specifically mentioned our refugee resettlement project as something they wanted to be involved with.  In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, since I’ve been working with these folks on the refugee resettlement committee, but it had never dawned on me that the committee is made up of new members, attracted to Grace by our sense of mission. This, to me, is an example of the very best kind of evangelism — in truth, the only kind of evangelism — the spreading of good news about something you truly believe in.  It goes much deeper than just trying to convince people that they should come to your church.  It’s inviting people to be a part of something that really matters, inviting them into works that reflect Christ’s glory and victory, like in the words of the hymn.   Continue reading

Things That Matter x 2

One really exciting project that I have helped start through my church is a young adult faith discussion group in Lincoln’s Near South neighborhood, called Things That Matter.  We have a diverse group of folks that is by no means limited to church-goers, or even to Christians — our participants have included atheists, practicing Jews, spiritual-but-not-religious folks, Christians of many flavors, and others who wander in.  We meet every Sunday evening at 5:00 at the Meadowlark Cafe to talk about a variety of topics.  From our facebook page:

“Things That Matter” is an open forum for young adults to talk about just that — the things that matter — especially where these things intersect with faith and religious expression. All are welcome here, regardless of faith, background, gender, orientation, disorientation, or whether you’re an innie or an outie.  Bring your questions and your conversation!  Invite your friends!

As it turns out, we are not the only (or the first) “Things That Matter” floating around in the area.  “Things That Matter” is also the name of a podcast produced jointly by Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministries and the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA.  When the other Things That Matter folks got wind of our group and its allegedly stolen name, they decided to investigate further by interviewing my pastor and me on the podcast.  You can listen to the result here.