Sermon: Anchored in Hope

Sunday, November 18, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Our texts for today are full of chaos and trouble.  There are times of anguish, conflicts with cosmic enemies, destruction, war, earthquakes, famine, and pain.  These are texts that point us ahead toward the future unraveling of creation – the end of all things.

These seem like kind of jarring themes for us to be focusing on now.  Right now, the rest of the world is gearing up for the bright season of Christmas – with candy canes and silver lanes already aglow! In contrast, the end of the Christian liturgical year – which actually ends next Sunday – is a bit darker and a lot more apocalyptic.  As the days get shorter, we are preparing ourselves to begin a new year with the season of Advent.  We are still waiting in the darkness for a light to shine.

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Sermon: Beyond Charity

Sunday, November 11, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

I joined the Peace Corps when I was fresh out of college.  I wanted to travel and see a different part of the world.  And I also genuinely wanted to help others, to give some of the abundance of what I have received to other people.

What I didn’t expect about this experience was how much I would receive in return.  Over the four years that I spent in the Dominican Republic, I got to meet lots of amazing people.  And I found that, more often than not, the person receiving the generosity and help of others was me!  I almost had to laugh one time when my community received a bunch of canned food from a ministry group that had come down to the island.  I’m sure I probably thought, “Oh how nice that other people are also sending help to this poor community.” Imagine my surprise when members of the community showed up on my doorstep to give me food.  They wanted to care for me because I lived alone and didn’t have any family in the community.

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Sermon: A Circle Unbroken

Sunday, November 4, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
All Saints Sunday

When I was in seminary in Chicago, I took an intensive class with a small group of people from all different faith backgrounds.  One of my classmates was finishing his studies to become a Catholic priest and a monk. He used to describe the monastery he was going to live in to us.  It sounded beautiful, but the one thing that most stuck with me was his description of the communion rail around the table.  They had a polished wooden railing – like a lot of sanctuaries do – that ran all the way around the chancel in a big semi-circle.  All the brothers could fit around it together as they gathered for communion.  Outside the sanctuary, on the other side of the chancel wall, the circle was continued in stone, and it came together to make one big ring around the table.  On this side of the circle was the monastery’s cemetery.  Every time they gathered for communion, this circle reminded the living brothers of the monastery that they were also gathered with the dead brothers of the monastery.  And they remembered that no matter which side of the wall they were on, they were all part of the one, same community.

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Sermon: Blind Healing the Blind

Sunday, October 28, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
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Many of you know that, before I moved to Schuyler, I spent a year living in Las Cruces, New Mexico, doing my final year internship at Peace Lutheran Church.  Las Cruces is in the way south part of New Mexico, just north of El Paso, Texas, which makes it less than an hour from “old” Mexico.  It was an awesome and eye-opening experience to get to live in the borderlands for a whole year.

One of the most important things I got to do at Peace during my year there was to help develop a refugee hospitality ministry.  We welcomed some of the many, many people from Central America who have come to the US seeking safety from dangerous situations in their home countries. These folks presented themselves to Border Patrol for asylum, and after processing them – getting their information, contacting their sponsor, and giving them an ankle monitor and a court date – ICE actually would actually drop them off right at the door of the church.  And we’d take it from there. Continue reading “Sermon: Blind Healing the Blind”

Sermon: Do Not Be Afraid

Sunday, October 21, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
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Our gospel text for today seems to illustrate the old saying: There’s no such thing as a stupid question… but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots.  James and John ask Jesus to let them sit by his side “in his glory,” and even Jesus is like, “buddy, I don’t think you really know what you’re asking.”

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Sermon: Open Heart Surgery

Sunday, October 14, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

I think that this verse from Hebrews is a pretty accurate summary of all of our readings for today. From Amos’ dire prophetic warnings to Jesus’ disturbing conversation with the rich man, these are all very challenging texts.  And like a sword, our gospel text for today cuts us open to our very core.  Mark has been pulling no punches – we’ve been working our way through some very difficult passages together over the past few weeks, on hell and death and divorce, and the hits just keep on coming. Let me just say again for the record – I did not pick these texts!

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Sermon: Divorce and Division

Sunday, October 7, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twentienth Sunday After Pentecost

This morning, we continue our journey through the gospel of Mark.  We’ve been walking with Jesus and the disciples on the way to Jerusalem and the cross.  And it seems like the closer we get, the harder Jesus’ teachings become.  In the last few weeks, Jesus has told us we must be last of all and servant of all; he’s told us that we must lose our lives in order to find them; and just last week, he told us that if our eyes or hands or feet cause us to stumble, we should cut them off!

Today’s reading from Mark hits us even closer to the heart with this difficult passage about divorce.  Continue reading “Sermon: Divorce and Division”

Sermon: The Doctor Is In

Sunday, September 30, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
(Service of Healing)

This is a rough, rough gospel text for today.  With a text like this, instead of, “Praise to you, O Christ!” it kind of feels like a more fitting gospel acclamation would be just, “Wow, O Christ,” or even, “WTF, O Christ?”

And some of us may have already come to worship today carrying some pretty rough feelings.  This has been a very difficult week in our nation.  Many folks who have known the horror of sexual assault have been reliving some of their worst trauma this week.  Many people have seen in these events their own experience of not being believed, whether it be about the truth of their experiences, or about their innocence in the face of harsh accusations.  And I think all of us have probably been discouraged with the reminder of just how viciously divided our country has become.  To those of you who are struggling, who are feeling raw and vulnerable today, I see you.

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Sermon: See Me After Class

Sunday, September 23, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

As I was reading our gospel for this week, I found myself thinking back to what it was like to be in elementary school.  Do you remember your school days? (I know it was longer ago for some of us than others!)  Did any of you ever get in trouble with any of your teachers? (of course not; I’m sure you were all perfect little angels!)  I’ll admit that I sometimes got in trouble with my teachers, mostly for daydreaming and spacing off — and for doodling all over my homework.  And every once in a while, I’d get an assignment back with those four dreaded words written at the top: “See me after class.”

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Sermon: Fields of Our Hearts

Sunday, September 2, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Our gospel lesson for today starts off with kind of an odd-sounding argument between Jesus and some Pharisees. The Pharisees notice some of Jesus’ disciples eating without having washed their hands first – and so they go to Jesus to make a big stink about it.  Now, as someone reading this in the 21stcentury, it can be kind of hard to see what the big deal is.  I mean, yeah, that’s kind of gross I guess, but there’s no need to like make a federal case out of it.

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Sermon: To Whom Can We Go?

Sunday, August 26, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Today is the last Sunday of a whole month full of bread.  We’ve finally reached the end of the sixth chapter of John, yay!  I mean, it’s good stuff, all of this teaching from Jesus about the bread of life, but these are kind of tricky texts to preach on.  I have to admit that I resonate a little bit with the people in our gospel reading for today – the ones who whine to Jesus that his teaching is too difficult.  This passage starts in the same place we left off last week: Jesus is once again telling people that they need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Even if you can get past all the cannibalistic images that this brings up, it’s still painfully clear that truly being a Jesus follower is something demanding and all-consuming – no pun intended.

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Sermon: Lights on the Way

Monday, August 13, 2018
Funeral of Bill Swanda
Svoboda North Chapel, Schuyler, NE
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Psalm 23
John 14:1-6

One summer, many years ago, I drove through a terrible, terrible storm.  It was the fourth of July.  My family and I had driven down to Norfolk, about an hour from my hometown, to go watch the fireworks.  The show ended up getting cut short by a tornado warning, so we decided to hightail it out of there to try to get out of the storm’s path.  By the time we finally got out on the highway, the rain was pouring down in thick sheets and the wind howled around us as it ripped through the darkness. It was pitch black and almost impossible to see anything, even the road.  It felt like all I could do just to keep my car between the fog lines.  But up ahead of me, I realized I could just make out two little red lights in the darkness – the taillights of my dad’s SUV. As I gripped the steering wheel of my car with white-knuckled hands, I kept my eyes on those lights and followed them all the way through the darkness to home and safety.

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Sermon: Sweet Corn for the Soul

Sunday, August 12, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

Taste and see that the Lord is good!  The psalmist exults in the graciousness and generosity of God.  Today is the third of five Sundays that focus on the theme of the bread of life, as we continue our gospel journey through John 6.  All of our texts for today are full of stories of the good gifts that God has given to God’s people.  It’s a very bready Sunday!

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Sermon: Scope for the Imagination

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Sunday, July 8, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  I’m very sad to say that my time with you all is getting very short.  Next weekend will be my last Sunday as Vicar Day.  And those of you who’ve seen my anxiety over the past week know that I still have a LOT of packing left to do!

So, naturally, with so much to do, I decided this past week that I what I really needed to  do was catch up on my Netflix binge-watching.  I’ve been watching the show “Anne with an E” – have any of you seen it?  It’s really good.  The series is an adaptation of the novel Anne of Green Gables, which many of you have probably read.  The story follows an orphaned girl named Anne who is adopted by a middle-aged brother and sister.  Anne as a child is, let’s say, precocious.  She is a romantic with a free spirit, who loves to use big words. In her words, “If you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them!”

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Sermon: Get in the Boat

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Sunday, June 24, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Our gospel reading for today begins with an invitation.  Jesus says to the disciples: “Let us go across to the other side.”  Jesus had been casting out demons and healing and preaching to the multitudes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  He’d just finished preaching several parables, including the parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed.  By the time he finished, it was evening, and the disciples were probably pooped and ready for bed.  But instead of calling it a day, Jesus decides: no, we need to get in the boat right now and sail across the Sea of Galilee.  And that’s what he and the disciples do.  There is an urgency to this story that we’ve kind of come to expect from the gospel of Mark.

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Sermon: The Holy Heist

Sunday, June 10, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Third Sunday After Pentecost

I feel a lot of sympathy for Jesus’ family in our gospel reading for today.  Jesus has been wandering all over Galilee, doing God-knows-what (literally, God knows what!).  But then reports start to reach his family from other people that Jesus has lost his mind. And not only that, but that massive crowds of people have started to follow him around everywhere, just waiting to see what he will say or do next!  And on top of all that, whatever it is he’s been doing has made the religious leaders of the people absolutely furious.  So, naturally, Jesus’ family rushed off to check on Jesus, hoping to reason with him and bring him home.

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Sermon: Come Dance

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Sunday, May 27, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Trinity Sunday

I don’t know what led Nicodemus to visit Jesus in the middle of the night in our gospel story for today. The text never really makes it clear. However, I am pretty confident that that visit did not go as he expected.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, an important leader in the Jewish community; and even only three chapters into John, Jesus has already made a name for himself as a popular folk preacher who turns water into wine and hangs out with John the Baptist.  Perhaps Nicodemus came to learn from Jesus, or to try to persuade him to reconcile with the other religious leaders.  But he never actually gets to the point of his visit or even asks Jesus a question. He starts off his visit by affirming, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.”  We know.  ‘You tick all the boxes: you do signs and wonders, you definitely know your scripture, and oh man, that water into wine thing was just awesome!  Nobody could do that stuff apart from God, so God must be with you.’

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Sermon: Are We There Yet?

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Saturday/Sunday, May 12/13, 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Coleridge, NE
Ascension Sunday (/Saturday)

Good evening/morning! It seems that one of this weekend’s themes is surprises.  In case anyone hasn’t guessed yet, the “surprise preacher” for today is me! Surprise!  There are also some surprises in our readings for today.  We read a surprising story about Jesus’ ascension, how he was taken bodily up into heaven.  Most of us here have been church members a long time and we may not think about this as such a strange or surprising story.  But even in a set of scriptures full of all kinds of mystery and miracles, bodily ascension into heaven is not exactly the kind of thing that happens every day. Continue reading “Sermon: Are We There Yet?”

Sermon: What Is Love? (Seriously, though, what is it?)

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Saturday/Sunday, May 5/6, 2018
Grace Lutheran Church, Lincoln, NE
Sixth Sunday of Easter

Good evening/morning! It is such a delight to be here again at Grace Lutheran.  I have missed you all.  I bring you greetings from the people of Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, NM, and also from Pastor Mike and Kristin Ostrom, who are now at Oregon State University!

It’s so good to be here with you all again.  And it seems very fitting that love is such a prominent theme in our texts for this weekend. Grace has always been a community in which I have experienced great Christian love.

Our gospel reading from John especially highlights this theme.  This text is part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” to his disciples before he is crucified, in an ultimate act of love.  And his words about love raise for us a very important question. This question has one, immediate, right answer, so I want to see if any of you know what it is.  Are you ready?  What is love? Continue reading “Sermon: What Is Love? (Seriously, though, what is it?)”

Sermon: Roots and Fruits

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Sunday, April 29, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Fifth Sunday of Easter

This past week, we welcomed our second group of refugees: 12 families from Central America who made the long journey to seek asylum in the US. Some of them traveled for up to a month or more, some with very young children, just to get here. We have been getting a little better and more organized about welcoming them each time we’ve done it. And the volunteers we’ve had helping out have just been awesome. If you’ve helped out with this group or the previous group or have donated anything, please raise your hands. Thank you all for what you’ve been doing. Even the littlest things can make a huge difference. Continue reading “Sermon: Roots and Fruits”

Sermon: Close Encounters

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Sunday, April 15, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Third Sunday of Easter

Our gospel text for today comes right on the heels of the story of the road to Emmaus, which is one of my favorite stories in all of scripture.  You probably remember the story: two disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection and Jesus joins them, but they don’t recognize him until way later that evening, when they are breaking bread together.  I’ve always thought it was kind of a funny story.  And I see that same kind of humor in the story we read today.  The disciples had literally just been talking about this encounter on the road to Emmaus, and also about an encounter that Peter had with the risen Christ, when Jesus himself appears among them and throws them into a panic.  They were already beginning to believe that Jesus really had been raised from the dead, but when he actually showed up in their midst, they totally freaked out – and not in a good way. Continue reading “Sermon: Close Encounters”

Sermon: Unfinished Business

Sunday, April 1, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Easter Sunday

Alleluia, Christ is risen! At least… I think he is?  Our gospel reading for today leaves things a little… open-ended.

This is such a weird reading from the end of Mark.  In Matthew, Luke, and John, we get these lovely post-resurrection appearances from Jesus – dramatically appearing in the midst of his disciples, tenderly calling Mary by name in the garden, forgiving Peter for his denials over brunch by the sea, and my personal favorite, walking with two clueless disciples on the road to Emmaus and vanishing the instant they finally realize who he is — hilarious.  But in Mark, this is all the closer we get to the resurrection.*  We’re never really given a big “alleluia!” moment.  And for Pete’s sake, Jesus doesn’t even show up!  It’s an ending that almost seems designed to leave us feeling unsettled and uncomfortable. Continue reading “Sermon: Unfinished Business”

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