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

header fighting fire with fire

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

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

Brooding on Vipers: An Out of Season Advent Sermon

Wednesday, April 6, 2016
“Encountering the Living Word” preaching course
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)

Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.Haiti-elsaiah-johnthebaptist

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

The violent language of wrath and destruction in this text is kind of surprising and off-putting. Unquenchable fire and axes are not themes we usually associate with our God of love. Less so during Advent. During Advent, the secular world is usually already in full-blown Christmas mode, and we – in our quiet Christian way – are preparing ourselves for the birth of sweet little baby Jesus.

What is John even so mad about in this text anyway? He’s hanging out in the wilderness, baptizing the huge crowds of people that are coming to him from every which way. I mean, he’s baptizing everybody. Why is it so shocking and upsetting then that the Pharisees and Sadducees are among the crowd as well? Why are they singled out and separated as being somehow worse or more sinful than the rest? Continue reading