Sermon: Birthing Joy

Sunday, December 12, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday of Advent
watch this service online (readings start around 15:05; sermon starts around 21:10)

This morning, we light the rose-colored candle in our Advent wreath – because today is known in our liturgical calendar as “Gaudete” Sunday.  Gaudete comes from the Latin word for “rejoice”; today is the Sunday of joy!  Historically in the church, Advent was once considered a kind of mini-Lent, a season of solemnity and fasting and penitence.  In fact, many of you, like me, might remember growing up with an Advent wreath full of purple candles.  The change to the blue and pink is meant to be a recognition that Advent is really more of a season of expectation and hopefulness and preparation.  And the pink candle in our wreath reminds us that what we are waiting for is actually something deeply joyful: the coming of the kingdom of God, Christ’s reign of justice, peace, and love on earth.

Fittingly, there is a lot of joy to be found in the texts that we read this morning.  Although, you have probably noticed that 🎵 “one of these texts is not like the others…” 🎵  We’ll get to that a little later on.

Our first reading is from the prophet Zephaniah. Zephaniah gets to preach the kind of joyous sermon to his people that I think preachers would love to preach all the time!  He declares to his people that their suffering will end, that God has seen their repentance and forgiven them.  He gives us this wonderful image of God rejoicing over the people; Zephaniah writes: “he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.”  

What a great image!  Just imagine God singing loudly, with great joy, over you!  And God – through Zephaniah – goes on to say, “I will deal with all your oppressors”; “I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.  At that time, I will bring you home.”  Imagine the joy of God gathering us home, changing our shame into praise!  It’s a beautiful image.

Continue reading “Sermon: Birthing Joy”

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”

The Evil I Do Not Want

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:15, 19, 22-25a

Martin Luther loved this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans – which we’ll be reading in the lectionary coming up in July.  Luther was a man tortured by his own shortcomings and failings; fearful that he would never be good enough for God, he would sometimes even leave the confessional booth only to go right back in to confess other sins that he had thought of.  He identified deeply with the struggle Paul names here: despite his best intentions and efforts to be a model Christian, Luther kept finding himself giving in to sin and brokenness.  

It was in this struggle of feeling like he would never, ever be good enough that Luther experienced the revelation of grace.  He would never be good enough to earn his own salvation.  Yet he had been redeemed by Christ’s self-giving love, once and for all time.  He had been saved by grace through faith, apart from works, for the sake of Christ.  And this revelation actually freed Luther to start becoming the better Christian he wanted to be.  His focus shifted from being directed inward toward himself to going outward toward the church and the broader world, a change that enabled him to become a powerful voice of reform in the church.  This is the legacy that we, as Lutherans, inherit.  

Continue reading “The Evil I Do Not Want”

Easter Sunday 2020

Our joint Easter service, broadcast from Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle, NE. You can find the digital bulletin here. And you can also read a manuscript of the four mini-sermons here.

We had some technical difficulties broadcasting this service — as if the coronavirus weren’t enough of a disruption, we had a winter storm with high winds and ice that kept knocking out power and reception! But Christ is still risen — Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!

Continue reading “Easter Sunday 2020”

Vigil of Easter 2020

Night three of the “Triduum Tour,” broadcast from my own congregation — St. John’s Lutheran in Schuyler. The Easter Vigil is one of my absolute favorite services of the entire liturgical year. It is a glorious celebration with fire and water, sacrament and story and song. In some ways, it’s kind of like “Easter Eve” — an Easter version of Christmas Eve — except the Vigil actually predates Christmas Eve and is the inspiration for rituals commonly associated with Christmas Eve. Click here to see the digital bulletin.

Continue reading “Vigil of Easter 2020”

Maundy Thursday 2020

A few of my colleagues and ministry and I have decided to join forces for Holy Week and Easter Sunday this year, in this time of exile. Rather than all reinvent the wheel separately, we decided to do something together that we’re starting to call the “Triduum Tour” — hehe. It has been uplifting and meaningful for us to put together; I hope others will enjoy experiencing it also. If you’d like to follow along with the service, please check out this digital bulletin as you watch the video below.

Continue reading “Maundy Thursday 2020”

Mary Stood Weeping

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

John 20:11-15a

Early on the morning of the very first Easter, Mary Magdalene stands, weeping, outside the empty tomb.  So much has happened – so much hopeful excitement, followed by so much sorrow, so much loss.  And now, when she has come to say her goodbyes to her friend, to her hope, it seems that the universe has added insult to injury and someone has taken his body, so that she cannot even mourn him properly.  

The worst thing imaginable had happened to Mary and the other followers of the Way – they had watched helplessly as the Roman Empire crucified their Messiah and Lord.  Their hopes for God’s reign were snuffed out.  

Yet God was not done.  

Continue reading “Mary Stood Weeping”

Virtual Church

This past week has marked a seismic shift for many of us in how we live our daily lives, and for those of us in ministry, it has meant drastic change in how we gather and connect as the body of Christ.

For anyone who might be looking for resources or some kind of spiritual grounding during this time, I thought I would post a link to the “Virtual Church” page I put together for my own congregation — St. John’s Lutheran Church in Schuyler, NE. On it, you will find updates and links to resources for prayer and meditation, as well as links to participate in our live-streamed worship and bible study.

May God’s peace be with you during these uncertain days.

Be safe, and wash your hands!

Sermon: Potlucks of Epic Proportions

Sunday, June 9, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Day of Pentecost

Before I went to seminary, I lived in Lincoln for a few years.  I had just gotten back from the Peace Corps, and I was trying to readjust to life back in the US.  Because of my experience teaching English as a foreign language, I quickly got a job with an organization called Lincoln Literacy.  At Lincoln Lit, we worked with refugees and asylum-seekers and other immigrants – with and without documents – we taught them English and helped them find jobs and adjust to their new life in the US.  I loved working there.  Almost everyone I worked with – students and staff alike – seemed to feel in some way like fish out of water, just like I did.

We had students from all over the world: from Mexico and Guatemala and Venezuela, from Iraq and Afghanistan, from Bosnia, Sudan, Congo, China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, all over.  In our classes, you would see people of every color, people dressed in hijabs and blue jeans and saris and intricately woven fabric. During one particularly hot summer, one of my colleagues even showed up to work a few times wearing his wife’s skirts to keep cool – and no one so much as batted an eye.  Everyone belonged, just as they were.

Continue reading “Sermon: Potlucks of Epic Proportions”

Sermon: Lights, Camera, Ascension!

Sunday, June 2, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Ascension Sunday

You may have noticed something kind of unusual about our readings this morning – and that is that we actually read the same story twice. Both our first reading from Acts and our gospel reading from Luke tell the story of Jesus’ ascension. Acts was actually written by the very same author as the book of Luke – which means that Luke is the only gospel that comes with its very own sequel!

And, like any good sequel, the story of Acts picks up “where we last left our heroes.”  We read about Jesus’ ascension in the last chapter of Luke, and then we pick up the story again right away in the very first chapter of Acts. The ascension is sort of the hinge between the two books that connects one to the other.  But there are some differences in the stories.

At the end of Luke, the ascension is presented as this mystical, mysterious event; Jesus is taken up just as he is blessing his disciples, and they are filled with joy and start worshiping God, and the credits roll, and they all live happily ever after. But in Acts, this story doesn’t feel like as much of a happy ending.  We have anxious disciples and mysterious strangers and an even more mysterious Jesus. And we get the sense that the ascension isn’t really the end of the story at all – in fact, it’s only the beginning.

Continue reading “Sermon: Lights, Camera, Ascension!”

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!

Continue reading “Sermon: Open Heart Surgery”

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.

image 2 Continue reading “Sermon: Fields of Our Hearts”

Sermon: Scope for the Imagination

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

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!”

Continue reading “Sermon: Scope for the Imagination”

Internship Project Report

 

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This is the report from my internship project, which I actually submitted a few months back, but there’s some good stuff in here, I think, and some resources that other folks might be able to use.  In a nutshell, the goal of my project was to start laying some of the groundwork for bilingual ministry at my internship congregation, Peace Lutheran in Las Cruces, NM.  Overall, it was very successful!

• • •

Continue reading “Internship Project Report”

Sermon: Path of Life

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Sunday, March 4, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Third Sunday in Lent

I have to confess, dear congregation, that one of my first reactions to the texts for this week was a very human one: “Ah, the ten commandments… hmmm… rules… yaaaay.” All of you are probably much better Christians than me and didn’t have that kind of reaction, haha. But still, there is definitely something about reading the commandments that makes us brace ourselves to be reprimanded. We anticipate all those finger-wagging thou-shalt-nots almost as a kind of public scolding. And I mean, come on, we’re three weeks into Lent – we’ve already admitted that we are dust and we’ve heard the call to rend our hearts and to repent of our wicked ways and to return to God with fasting and weeping and mourning. At this point, reading the ten commandments almost seems like the lectionary is just rubbing our noses in how much we have fallen short. Continue reading “Sermon: Path of Life”

Sermon: Rightness and Reconciliation

Sunday, January 28, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany / Reconciling in Christ Sunday

To eat meat, or not to eat meat – that is the question! Our passage for today from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians probably sounds kind of strange and antiquated to our 21st century ears. We don’t really talk much about religious dietary restrictions nowadays, or worry that the food we eat will somehow impact our relationship with God. But for the Christian inhabitants of first century Corinth, Paul was addressing a very serious concern, one that went well beyond the question about food. Continue reading “Sermon: Rightness and Reconciliation”

Sermon: Mirror Mirror

Sunday, January 14, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Second Sunday after Epiphany

We have three wonderfully rich readings to dive into this morning: the call of Samuel and his faithful response, Paul’s somewhat difficult word to the Corinthians about fornication and the body, and the call of Nathanael to follow Jesus. So, naturally, with so many great texts to choose from, I actually want to start out by talking about the one text we didn’t read this morning.  Continue reading “Sermon: Mirror Mirror”

Sermon: Paging Dr. Jesus

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

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 “Sermon: Paging Dr. Jesus”

Sermon: Battle of Wills

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

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: Battle of Wills”

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

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

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 “Waging Holy War with the DSM-5”

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 “Making Space for Mystics and Madness”

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