Sermon: Paging Dr. Jesus

Sunday, November 26, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Reign of Christ Sunday

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I don’t know about you all, but our texts for today leave me feeling a whole mess of different feelings. On the one hand, we have these lovely images of God as the compassionate shepherd looking after the flock, and caring for the “least of these.” But then we run into all this harsh language about judgment and destruction. It’s like being handed a bouquet of roses, only to have our fingers pricked by the thorns. Our gospel text today is particularly strong. This passage from Matthew is the only detailed account of the last judgment to be found anywhere in the New Testament – but even so, it’s definitely left an impression on the popular Christian imagination. Continue reading

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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. 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. Continue reading

Waging Holy War with the DSM-5

CW: fatphobia, eating disorders, IWL/diet talk

Introduction

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”; this was the oft-repeated mantra of the doctor who once helped me lose over 30 pounds (after having already lost 40) in a little under three months by dramatically restricting my diet. Her words are symptomatic of a larger trend that is deeply entrenched in the medical industry, namely, an underexplored and oversimplified conflation of health and wellbeing with weight. The automatic attribution of poor health to body size has led to an emphasis on reducing body mass, often to the detriment of health. By identifying fatness as a problem in and of itself, the medical industry has made itself a complicit player in the size-ism and weightism that run rampant in U.S. and other developed societies, lending professional credibility to the “fatphobic” attacks of the diet, fitness, and fashion industries on fat individuals. Eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are a logical consequence of this rampant weightism and size-ism, a natural response to the medically reinforced notion that thin = good and that fat must be avoided at all costs.

The church has resources that can help heal our society’s disordered and unhealthy relationship to both food and body. These resources date back to the early centuries of Christianity; in particular, this paper will explore the relevance of the writings of Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth century Egyptian desert monk, and Gregory the Great, a sixth century Roman pope. Both of these Christian figures wrote extensively about the ancient church’s understanding of gluttony, and about how the relationship between self, neighbor, creation, and God is properly to be understood. Two other key tools in the ecclesial toolkit are a theological affirmation of the inherent goodness of creation, and a robust theology of incarnation. Together, these resources present a countercultural and life-giving alternative to our eating disordered society that is deeply rooted in God’s love and promises. Continue reading

Making Space for Mystics and Madness

Here’s another bit of writing from one of my classes this semester, this one from the Pastoral Care and Mental Illness course I’ve been taking.  This particular course has had some interesting overlap with another of my classes: Desert Discipleship, which explores the legacy of the desert fathers and mothers of the early centuries of Christianity.  In this assignment, which I conceived as an article for a church newsletter, I propose a connection between schizophrenia and the legacy of St. Anthony.  Enjoy!

st-anthony-the-great-3St. Antony, also known as Anthony the Great, was a Christian monk who lived in Egypt in the third and fourth centuries. He renounced the wealth left to him by his parents and chose to live an ascetic life in the desert, fasting and meditating on Christ. Antony became a wise and famous figure of Egyptian monasticism, but more than anything, he was known for his battles with demons.

St. Athanasius, the fourth century bishop of Alexandria, described these battles in The Life of Antony, which quickly became one of the most popular books in Christian history. Many modern readers will find these accounts more than a little odd, but there was something about Antony’s life and his battles with the demons that earlier generations undeniably found compelling. Athanasius describes how Antony withdraws further and further into the desert, at one point enclosing himself in a deserted barracks and receiving stores of food only twice a year. Athanasius writes:

Those friends who came to see him, since he would not allow them to come inside, often remained outside day and night. They heard what sounded like mobs of people creating a ruckus and crashing around inside, letting loose their pitiful voices and crying out, “Get away from what belongs to us! What are you doing in the desert? You will not be able to endure our connivings!” Those outside at first thought some people… had gotten inside by means of ladders… but when they knelt down to look through a hole in the wall, they did not see anyone. (Athanasius, 2003, p. 89)

1an33__24635_1405404609_900_900Antony instructs his followers to be wary of these demonic voices, telling them that they fill one’s head with “filthy thoughts” and cause “apparitions,” that “they pretend to frighten us by changing their shapes and taking on the appearance of women, wild beasts, reptiles…” (Athanasius, 2003, p. 113)

Hundreds of people flocked to the desert to be taught by Antony, to the point that Athanasius writes that they “forcibly tore down his door and forced him to come out.” (Athanasius, 2003, p. 91) Reading this in the 21st century, I have a hard time imagining this happening in our day. Even though the Christian church has centuries of history and tradition of mysticism and mystery, I can’t imagine people rushing out to sit at the feet of anyone who heard voices and saw apparitions and warned others about demons putting thoughts into their heads today. Can you? If St. Antony lived today, many folks would probably be pretty quick to label him a schizophrenic. They would probably say that he was crazy. Continue reading

Sermon: Faith in All the Wrong Places

Sunday, October 23, 2016uihxr6p
New Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, IL

Luke 18:9-14
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

This week’s gospel text reads a little bit like a joke – a pharisee and a tax collector walk into a bar temple. But the punchline of this joke is deceptively tricky. Nowadays, we’re used to reading pharisees as hypocritical bigots and tax collectors as humbly repentant sinners; but the twist at the end of the story where the tax collector’s prayers are justified and the pharisee’s are not would have been more surprising to Jesus’ original hearers than it is to us. In contrast to the pharisee’s prayer thanking God that he is not like the tax collector, we know that the pharisee is the person that we are glad not to be like, right?

Ha! And there’s the punchline of the joke. It’s almost impossible to hear this story and not go away thinking something along the lines of, “God, I thank you that I am not like that pharisee!” As it turns out, we are every bit as judgmental as he is.

modern-phar-tcIt’s a disturbingly easy trap to fall into, and Jesus knows it. It almost seems to be an inherent part of being human that we categorize people into “us” and “them” groups, deciding who is in and who is out. This election season – which will finally end in a little over two weeks – has shown us clearly the depth of division in our country. And that division also shows up in our churches, too – not just between rival denominations, but in and among our own congregations. In our churches, we single out “those people who don’t give enough money” or “those people who don’t take good enough care of the worship space” or “those people who sure don’t act very Christian outside of church” or “those people who hardly ever come to church at all.” We draw lines between ourselves and other groups of people without even thinking about it. But the problem with that – as Jesus illustrates in this story – is that God always ends up on the other side of that line. Continue reading

Sermón: ¿Encontrará fe?

Domingo, 23 Octubre, 2016
Iglesia Luterana Nueva Esperanza, Aurora, ILthe-pharisee-and-the-tax-collector

Lucas 18:9-14
A algunos que, confiando en sí mismos, se creían justos y que despreciaban a los demás, Jesús les contó esta parábola: “Dos hombres subieron al templo a orar; uno era fariseo, y el otro, recaudador de impuestos. El fariseo se puso a orar consigo mismo: ‘Oh Dios, te doy gracias porque no soy como otros hombres —ladrones, malhechores, adúlteros— ni mucho menos como ese recaudador de impuestos. Ayuno dos veces a la semana y doy la décima parte de todo lo que recibo.’ En cambio, el recaudador de impuestos, que se había quedado a cierta distancia, ni siquiera se atrevía a alzar la vista al cielo, sino que se golpeaba el pecho y decía: ‘¡Oh Dios, ten compasión de mí, que soy pecador!’ Les digo que éste, y no aquél, volvió a su casa justificado ante Dios. Pues todo el que a sí mismo se enaltece será humillado, y el que se humilla será enaltecido.”

La lectura del evangelio para esta semana casi parece un chiste – un fariseo y un cobrador de impuestos entran en un bar… digo, un templo. Y es chistoso porque resulta que el fariseo es el que no se justifica, jajaja! Bueno, para nosotros, no es tan chistoso. Ya estamos acostumbrados a ver a los fariseos como hipócritas y a los cobradores de impuestos como pecadores arrepentidos. Pero en sus tiempos, los fariseos eran líderes respetados, conocidos por su sabiduría y su generosidad. Al contrario, los cobradores de impuestos – llamados “publicanos” – defraudaron a la comunidad para el benificio del imperio romano. Por lo tanto, el final de este cuento fue un giro inesperado para los oyentes originales de Cristo. Pero en nuestros tiempos, entendemos mejor este cuento y damos gracias nosotros que no somos como el fariseo, ¿verdad?

Ja! Y ahí está el chiste. Porque cada vez que leemos este cuento, pensamos entre nos, “Wow, gracias a Dios, que no soy como aquel fariseo!” Lamentablamente, parecemos todos al fariseo en nuestra tendencia a criticar y juzgar a los demás.

modern-phar-tcEs muy fácil caer en esta trampa, y Cristo se lo sabe. Por eso cuenta esta parábola. Casi parece una característica inevitable de ser humano: siempre queremos clasificar a los demás por grupos de “nosotros” y “ellos”; queremos decidir quien es acceptable y quien no. Durante esta elección – que, gracias a Dios, ya va a terminar en pocas semanas – hemos visto claramente las profundas divisiónes que existen en este país. Esa división también existe en nuestras iglesias, entre denominaciónes diferentes, y aún entre nuestras propias congregaciónes. En nuestras iglesias, nos quejamos de “aquellas personas que dan poco dinero” o “aquellas personas que no cuidan al santuario” o “aquellas personas que se comportan de una manera muy poca cristiana fuera de la iglesia” o “aquellas personas que casi nunca asisten a la misa.” Trazamos líneas entre nosotros, los buenos, y los demás casi sin pensarlo. Pero como Cristo demuestra en su cuento, el problema de hacer eso es que Dios casi siempre se queda al otro lado de la línea. Continue reading

What Becomes of Boasting?: A Body Positive Reformation Sermon

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
“Encountering the Living Word” preaching course
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)

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Romans 3:19-28
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. God did this to show God’s righteousness, because in divine forbearance God had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that God themself is righteous and that God justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

I have to be honest: When I was assigned to preach a sermon for Reformation Sunday, I groaned a little on the inside. It’s not that I’m not proud of my Lutheran heritage or anything. I see the value in celebrating the dramatic ways in which God has renewed the church and more fully revealed to us God’s grace. And of course, it’s important to honor saints like Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and others who have gone before us to be agents of renewal in the church.

But I can’t help but wonder whether, in commemorating the Reformation, we are acting as though God’s most important acts of renewing the church all happened in the past. By focusing on an act of reformation that happened nearly five hundred years ago, I wonder whether we are ignoring the ways in which God is still making the world new today. I worry that focusing on the transformative change that happened so long ago may be a means for protecting ourselves from the transformative change that God would wreak on us today. Continue reading