What We’ve Got Is Good Indeed

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 2:1-4

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”  There is some snarky, dad-joke-loving part of me that reads the beginning of the Pentecost story and thinks, “Wow, that’s amazing that they all knew to get together for a Pentecost celebration before they even knew Pentecost was going to be a thing!”* 

But of course, it wasn’t just coincidence that the first believers were all gathered in one place where the Holy Spirit could conveniently find them.  They were actually gathered to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Weeks, called Shavuot.  Shavuot is a celebration of the giving of the law to the ancient Israelites on Mount Sinai.  It takes place fifty days after the Passover – a week of weeks, plus a day – and “pentecost,” which comes from the Greek for “fiftieth,” takes its name from this fifty days, since Pentecost likewise occurs fifty days after Easter Sunday.  

Continue reading “What We’ve Got Is Good Indeed”

Have Mercy on Us

Every year we go through the great Three Days at the end of Holy Week, I find it speaks to me in different ways. Though I’ve heard these words a hundred times, each time I hear it, there’s some new detail, some new connection, that somehow makes the story new again.

At worship tonight, as I was reading the Passion story from John 18-19, a few verses near the end of chapter 19 grabbed my attention:

…they did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

John 19:31b-33
Continue reading “Have Mercy on Us”

Holy Week & Easter services

Looking for a place to worship this week? You’re more than welcome to join us at St. John’s! All of our services will be in person and live-streamed; details are below for our Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday services. All services are live-streamed from our public Facebook page (no need to have a Facebook account in order to watch); visit the Virtual Church page on our website for more info.

Wherever or however (or whether) you worship this week, I wish you many blessings and Easter joy! ☀️💐🌈✝️

Watch now!

Maundy Thursday: April 14, 6:30pm; in person and online
Good Friday: April 15, 6:30pm; in person and online
Vigil of Easter: April 16, 6:30pm; in person and online
Easter Sunday: April 17, 9:30am; in person and online

Retelling the Story

In the recent life of the church, there has been a renewed interest in one of the most ancient services/rituals of the church: the great Vigil of Easter. People gather — as they have done for millennia — around the lighting of a fire to tell stories. At the Easter Vigil, the stories we share are the stories of God’s saving acts of love, from the beginning of creation to the death and resurrection of Christ.

If you’ve ever attended a candlelight Christmas Eve service, there’s a lot about the Easter Vigil that may feel familiar. Held on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday (since, biblically, the new day begins at sunset), the Vigil certainly has some similarities, a kind of “Easter Eve” service, if you will — though practices like remembering and creatively retelling parts of the story of Christ’s life, and even the lighting of small, handheld candles, actually originated with the Vigil of Easter.

There are a whopping fourteen readings appointed for the Easter Vigil service: twelve readings from the Hebrew scriptures, or Old Testament, a reading from Paul’s letters, and a gospel reading. At St. John’s, we usually do no more than six or seven of the readings total, which means a lot of really great stories get left out.

In my ruminations on how we could find some way to work these stories into our shared life of faith, I was blessed with one of those wild ideas the Spirit loves to come up with, and this is the result: a two week daily video series in which I read one of these stories each day, praying an accompanying prayer. The Spirit also gave me the goofy idea to do these videos in different places in and around the Schuyler community that are meant to somehow connect thematically to the text.

I’ll keep updating this list as I do more videos, but I wanted to extend the invitation to join me on this journey through the story — as together we make our way once again to Jerusalem, through the waving of palm branches, through the shadow of the cross, to the joyous news of the empty tomb.

This Is How You Stand

There is an excellent article written by Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor that has been making the rounds this week. She writes movingly about this week’s gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary, in which Jesus laments over Jerusalem, wishing he could gather her people like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings. I quoted a lengthy chunk of the article in my sermon from this Sunday — but there was more I could have shared, so much more I would have liked to say if the sermon hadn’t gone in a different direction.

Continue reading “This Is How You Stand”

A Season for Prayer

[Jesus] came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” 

Luke 22:39-42

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Philippians 4:6-7

Prayer was absolutely crucial to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ when he physically walked upon the earth. Throughout the gospel witness, there are mentions of Jesus stealing away to a quiet place in order to pray, often taking his disciples with him.  Here in these verses from Luke 22, we find Jesus on the very eve of his betrayal, arrest, and brutal execution fervently praying for God’s will to be done.  And Jesus continually urged his followers to be constant in prayer – teaching that is eloquently summed up by Paul in his letter to the Philippians, in which he urges them: Don’t worry about anything, but take everything in prayer to God.

I know it’s the sort of thing you expect a pastor to say, but prayer is absolutely central to the path of discipleship.  And I’ll be the first to admit that I mostly know that this is true because of how much I find myself struggling to stay centered and grounded when my own prayer life is inconsistent – which it usually is.  But prayer is central to discipleship for many reasons:

Continue reading “A Season for Prayer”

All Aboard the Struggle Bus

It feels like I’ve seen an increase lately in posts from friends of mine who are struggling. The long months of winter in NE after the festive season is over tend to drag and leave everyone in kind of a blah mood.

If you are someone who is struggling right now — especially with addiction or trauma or mental health — let this be a reminder to extend yourself some grace. Healing is not linear. One relapse, one bad day, does not erase growth or negate the work you’ve done; it doesn’t automatically set you back to square one.

Be kinder to yourself. If it helps, imagine how you would feel and speak toward a dear friend struggling with the same issues and then direct that same patience and compassion inward. And, heh, if this advice sounds hypocritical to you, well, you might be right! I also struggle to have patience with myself in my own journey.

I’ve spent the last several years in therapy working on some complex PTSD, prompted by a series of anxiety attacks (pre-pandemic, if you can believe that!). I’ve struggled with depression my whole life and last month I was diagnosed with ADHD. I’m still recognizing and processing the many, many ways that this has made my life more challenging; I’ve been getting easily frustrated when I notice it derailing my day despite my best efforts; and I’ve been trying to keep myself from getting overwhelmed and paralyzed by the hoops to jump through to get appropriately medicated. I try to accept with grace that adequate self-care is more important than some measure of productivity. And I try to maintain perspective and remember that, at the end of the day, I am still me; and I — like you — am loved and worthy of love, kindness, and compassion.

It’s all a work in progress — but I’m still trying.

Let’s both keep at it. Deal?

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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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.  

Continue reading “Becoming New”

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.)

Continue reading “Easter Proclamation”

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”

Heart Gunk

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12

A couple weeks out of the summer, when I worked out at Camp Carol Joy Holling, a few of us counselors would get assigned to ‘work crew’ to do some of the more maintenance type jobs around the camp.  If you drew the short straw, this meant scrubbing down the fleet of camp vehicles – not only the buses and vans, but also the regular maintenance guys’ filthy pickup trucks.  You could easily spend a solid twenty minutes or more with a power washer on those trucks just trying to chisel off all the caked on mud.  It was a dirty, grody job – though I’ve got to admit that it was pretty satisfying whenever you managed to send a big ol’ clod of mud flying.  

It probably sounds kind of odd, but this is an image I think of fairly often in my prayer life.  Over the past couple of months, I have been cultivating a habit of praying at sunset every day, in different ways – sometimes meditating, sometimes journaling or drawing, sometimes singing hymns or reading scripture – the practices vary, but the time is always that half hour between sunset and nightfall.  Although I’ve managed to actually be pretty consistent about it, I have to confess that it’s often something I have to make myself do.  All too often I get to the hour of sunset full of stress and frazzled by a to-do list that seems bottomless, and I think to myself that I’m too busy to pause, that I must use that time to be “productive” instead.

But then I think of the old Zen proverb – “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour” – and I think about power washing those grimy pickups.  I can imagine that many people, when they read the psalmist’s plea in Psalm 51 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God” – might think of being gently bathed as by a mother, or perhaps of the water washing over their forehead at baptism.  But I know my crusty old heart – and how much gunk can get built up in it, even over the course of a single day – and so I find it more true to my prayer life to imagine God power washing the gunk out of my heart instead, like mud clods off a truck.

Continue reading “Heart Gunk”

Christmas Eve

In case you’re looking for a place to worship this Christmas Eve, I’d like to extend to you an invitation to worship with us! Some clergy friends and I got together to record a service at a church in the area and we’d love for you to join us. There will be music and scripture and candlelight and — God willing — a bit of sacred space to encounter anew the wonder of the incarnation.

The video premieres here on our public Facebook page at 6pm Central on December 24, 2020 (no need to have an account to be able to watch it).

And you can follow along with the digital bulletin here on our website.

Merry Christmas to you! And blessings to you and yours this holiday season.

Longest Night

The Longest Night service — along with the similar “Blue Christmas” service — is a tradition in the church that seems especially relevant this year. It’s a service traditionally held on the winter solstice — the shortest day and longest night of the year — to recognize that the holidays are not a joyful time for everyone, to make space for the feelings of grief and loneliness and longing we may be carrying, and to proclaim that Christ is every bit as present in the darkness as in the light and celebration.

There are probably many more slickly produced versions of this service available online, especially this year. But here’s my humble offering — a simple little service of song, scripture, and poetry at sunset in my backyard with some candles and a smoky little fire. May it be a moment of peace and blessing for those who could use it.

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Festus Interruptus

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:6-7

Every year, I see the bright, sparkling lights and beautiful decorations starting to appear around this time; Christmas-themed variants of popular candies start chasing Halloween-themed candies off of store shelves; holiday movies start appearing by the dozens on Netflix; and it seems I hear the strains of Christmas carols just about everywhere I go.  This year especially, after such a long, dark, difficult year, it seems like folks started bringing out their holiday trappings even earlier than usual – small wonder, with so many of us stuck at home!  And while I am still – and will probably always be – a staunch defender of the season of Advent, I’m also feeling the desire for a little extra festivity this year myself.  I think it’s important this year to celebrate (safely!) in the ways we can, to distract ourselves and take a break from carrying all the stress we’ve been carrying, if only for a little while.

Yet there is deeper goodness to be found beyond these things.  Every year, in the midst of all the nice, shiny, pretty holiday things we love, we also read this story from Luke 2 – a story which, despite being depicted in countless adorable Christmas pageants, is actually not very nice or shiny or pretty at all.  More likely, it was dark and dirty and loud and crowded and confusing.  Back in Luke 1, Mary received an angelic visit, announcing that she will give birth to the savior of all humankind; she celebrates with her cousin Elizabeth, who is also expecting an angel-announced miracle baby; Mary and Zechariah both have musical numbers; it’s all very exciting.  

But in Luke 2, Mary and Joseph are abruptly forced to make a 90 mile journey from their home on foot while Mary is in her ninth month of pregnancy, about ready to pop, and she ends up giving birth in a strange city while more than likely holed up in a crowded house with her in-laws and all their animals.  It’s impossible to know what Mary had planned or envisioned it would look like giving birth to the savior of all humankind, but I’m guessing that this was not it.

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Hope and Longing

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, 

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”  I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 

“The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:9-10, 13-14, 17

One of the best decisions I’ve made this year was to take advantage of the Nebraska Synod’s Seeking the Spirit Within Spiritual Institute and start meeting monthly with a Spiritual Director.  Spiritual direction can sometimes feel a little bit like counseling, but what a spiritual director is really trained to do is to help you be attentive to where God is at work in your life and to help you strengthen that relationship.  (I highly recommend it!)

In our meeting this month, my spiritual director and I ended up in a really great conversation about prayer.  I confessed to her that prayer is kind of a mystery to me.  I definitely think it’s important to talk with God (rather than just about God), and I think that prayer often opens up our own hearts to learn and be transformed.  But I struggle sometimes when it comes to asking God for things in prayer.

Continue reading “Hope and Longing”

The Gifts of Gratitude

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

Colossians 3:15

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

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

Continue reading “The Gifts of Gratitude”

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