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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Sermon: All in the Family

Sunday, September 10, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

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If any of you grew up with siblings close to you in age, or maybe have kids who are close to each other in age, you know that kids always get along so well, right? They’re polite to each other, they share things, and they never fight.

I know – yeah right!

I grew up with a younger brother and a younger sister, all of us within a few years of each other. I even had a bonus set of siblings – several first cousins who were near my age. And I remember the way we all grew up fighting with one another.

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My sister Molly and I grew up fighting over clothes and toys and shoes, some of which ended up getting thrown at my face!

On my sixth birthday, my cousin Kenny stole one of my dolls, and after a chase, I ended up with a huge scar all across my forehead. You don’t even want to know.

And I remember one family vacation – in my teens! – where my brother Ben and I were so angry at each other we could barely even look at one another. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about anymore. I’m not even sure we knew then.
Kids, amirite?

Does this kind of family drama sound familiar to any of you? Yeah.

It’s amazing how easy it is to fight with the people closest to us, with the people we are supposed to love the most. It’s easy to forget about what holds us together, about the love we owe one another, and to focus on the small things that we may disagree on. Continue reading

Sermon: It Takes More Than Words to Build a House of Prayer for All Peoples

Sunday, August 20, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

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This has been a disturbing and difficult week for our country. I’m sure you all, like me, have been horrified by the news of the violence in Charlottesville. The hatred displayed by these groups is poisoning our nation with violence; and their white supremacy and antisemitism are sin and evil that have no place in the body of Christ.

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White supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee

In response all these things that have happened, our texts for today offer both comfort and challenge. Our first text, from Isaiah, seems like a very clear message directly from the mouth of God. God speaks, saying, “I will bring [all people] to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This inclusive vision of God’s kingdom stands in stark contrast to the division and hatred in Charlottesville. Instead of chants of “blood and soil” and “white lives matter” and “Jews will not replace us,” this vision resounds with joyful voices raised in prayer and worship: “let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.” Instead of clashes and deadly violence between protestors and counter-protestors, this vision calls all of us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity – as one people before God. It is a beautiful and life-giving vision.

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A candlelight vigil reclaims the space used for the hate groups’ demonstrations

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Sermon: Invasion of the Strawberries

Sunday, July 30, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

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Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”  And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was growing up in Nebraska, we used to have this huge garden out behind our house. My dad had very carefully laid out all of the beds and lined them with 2x4s, so there was space for corn and carrots, pumpkins and peppers, sunflowers, tomatoes, and so on. My personal favorite was the strawberry patch. I remember going down to gather strawberries with my mom in the summertime; we’d each take a one-gallon ice cream bucket to fill up, and somehow when we made it back to the house, my bucket was always only half full. Very mysterious. But the really mysterious thing about the strawberry patch was that every year, it somehow got a little bigger. First it started creeping into the pumpkin patch, and then it started gradually taking over the green beans, and before too long, over a third of the garden was being invaded by strawberries!

I thought about those strawberries as I was reading the gospel text for today. Strawberry seeds aren’t much bigger than mustard seeds. And like mustard seeds, they have the capacity to grow and spread over pretty big areas. Continue reading

Sermon: Summing it Up

Sunday, June 11, 2017
First Lutheran Church of Logan Square
Trinity Sunday

1I was never very good at math in school – in fact, math was always my worst subject. I had hoped that after I graduated from college, I’d never have to worry about anything more than just simple math ever again. But now in seminary, I’m finding myself having to do math all over again! And the problems have gotten a little more complicated.

Today, we have a very complex math problem, and I want to see if you all can guess the right answer. Are you ready? Ok, here goes. What is 1 + 1 + 1? … In our “theological math,” our faith tells us that 1 + 1 + 1 equals 1 – that is, one God in three persons, three persons in one God. Continue reading

Sermon: Lured Toward the Future

Monday, May 8, 2017
Epic of Creation Course (final project)
LSTC

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Romans 8:18-25
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

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Sermon: Eyes of Faith

Thursday, April 27, 2017
James Kenneth Echols Prize for Excellence in Preaching Event
Augustana Chapel, Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago

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My friend Anna and I were finalists for the winners of our seminary’s annual preaching prize, and we both had the privilege of preaching our sermons, based on the road to Emmaus story, in chapel last Thursday.  Here is mine, and here is Anna’s.

Manuscript follows below.

s463025724710779803_p176_i66_w600Luke 24:13-35 (The Walk to Emmaus)
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,  but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.  Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

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Sermón: Palmas y perspectivas

Domingo de ramas / Palm Sunday
9 abril, 2017 / April 9, 2017
Mateo 21:1-11 / Matthew 21:1-11
First Lutheran Church of Lutheran Square

(I also submitted this sermon as an assignment for my preaching class, so I experimented with a different approach to writing a sermon.  I hope you enjoy it!  It also preceded an action with the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance, supporting reforms of Chicago’s Welcoming Cities Ordinance.)


(sermon starts around 2:04)
(manuscript is below)

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Sermon: Truth from the Margins

Third Sunday of Lent / Tercer domingo de cuaresma
March 19, 2017 / 19 marzo, 2017
John 4:5-42 / Juan 4:5-42
First Lutheran Church of Lutheran Square

0e6ef653fa10cdcb6a77686873a70189La única cosa que le interesaba a Kenny era Bionicle – un mundo de ciencia ficción y fantasía creado por Lego, con ciborgues, robotes, y monstruos. Le conocí a Kenny durante el verano de 2006 cuando trabajaba como consejera en un campamento luterano de jóvenes. A mi me tocaba cuidar a un grupito de siete campistas: 3 niñas, 3 niños, y Kenny. Kenny era un niño muy amable. Le gustaba mucho dibujar y contar historias – mayormente sobre Bionicle – pero le costaba enfocarse en las actividades del grupo. Dentro de pocos días sus peculiaridades empezaron a molestar un poco a los demás niños, y Kenny se convirtió en un marginado.

Este cuento de la mujer samaritana, me recuerde un poco de Kenny. Como Kenny, la mujer samaritana parecía ser una marginada de su pueblo. Vino sola al pozo a sacar agua durante las horas más calientes del día. En su conversación con Cristo, revela que ha tenido cinco maridos y que ya vive con uno que no es su marido. Posiblemente era adúltera, pero no lo sabemos por seguro. Puede que fuera viuda o hasta divorciada cinco veces. Quizás le obligaron a casarse con varios hermanos de la misma familia por una práctica que se llamaba el matrimonio “levirato,” y ya se quedó sola. Sea lo que sea su historia, el hecho de que estaba sola en el pozo, conversando sobre agua viva con un hombre ajeno, probablemente indica que era un poco diferente a los demás de su pueblo.

Por lo tanto, imagino que cuando ella vino corriendo del pozo, llena de emoción, la última cosa que esperaba su pueblo era que les traía la palabra de vida de Dios. Y yo lo imagino así, porque cuando Kenny vino corriendo a nuestro grupito, lleno de emoción, yo tampoco lo esperaba. Continue reading

Sermón: Renunciando el renunciar

ash_weds_cross-1“Domingo de Ceniza” / “Ash Sunday”
5 Marzo, 2017 / March 5, 2017
First Lutheran Church of Logan Square

Mateo 6:1-6, 16-21
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Hoy, empezamos el tiempo de la Cuaresma por observar el Miércoles de Ceniza – o en este caso, el Domingo de Ceniza. La Cuaresma es un tiempo de arrepentimiento, en que renovamos nuestra devoción a la vida de fe. Pero para muchas personas, este tiempo se ha convertido en un tiempo de abnegación solamente. Ha vuelto a ser un tiempo de castigarnos a nosotros mismos y de sentirnos culpables por fallar en vivir vidas perfectas. Igual que los “hipócritas” en nuestro evangelio para hoy, muchos de nosotros pasamos la Cuaresma orando y ayunando – tal vez renunciamos al azúcar o chocolate o a otras cosas que nos gustan. Pero a veces puede ser fácil perder la razón *porque* hacemos estas cosas.

Tal vez ustedes no. Pero yo sé que para mi, ha sido difícil. Por muchos años, mi práctica cuaresmal ha sido renunciar algún tipo de comida. He renunciado al azúcar y al soda y carbohídratos. El año pasado, para la Cuaresma, comí sólo verduras crudas y nada más. Fue muy poco saludable. Y siendo honesta, lo que quería hacer en realidad era continuar mi resolución del Año Nuevo de bajar de peso.

Aunque intentaba convencerme a mi misma que lo hacía para Dios, la verdad es que lo hacía para mi y para quedar bien con los demás. Como los hipócritas en nuestro texto, me preocupaba más por lo que pensaban los demás que por lo que pensaba Dios. Para mi, la Cuaresma no era un tiempo de arrepentirme y volver a Dios, sino un tiempo de castigarme. Continue reading