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: Costly Journeys

Sunday, September 4, 2016 / Domingo, 4 Septiembre, 2016
First Lutheran Church of Logan Square

Luke 14:25-33 / Lucas 14:25-33

walk-2021_1920

Classes are starting up again this week at my seminary, LSTC. And to get ready, I’ve been busy calculating loans and scholarships and the cost of another year in school. It’s a lot to consider.

Estoy por empezar mi tercer año de clases en mi seminario, la Escuela Luterana de Teología en Chicago. Para prepararme, he calculado prestamos y becas y el costo de tomar otro año de clases.

Before I first came to Chicago, I had to sit down – like the man wanting to build a tower in today’s gospel text – and estimate the cost of seminary, to see whether I had enough to complete it: the tens of thousands of dollars to cover tuition, books, rent and utilities, food and gas, and all the moving around I would have to do. Following a call to seminary is an expensive undertaking, and not one to take on without first considering the cost.

Antes de mudarme a Chicago, tenía que sentarme a calcular el costo del seminario – igual que el hombre en nuestro texto que quería construir una torre – para ver si tuviera suficiente para terminarlo: decenas de miles de dolares para cubrir la matrícula, libros, renta, utilidades, comida y gas, además de tres mudanzas. Es caro seguir una llamada al seminario, y por lo tanto hay que considerar primero el costo. Continue reading “Sermon: Costly Journeys”

Rule of Life

As I prepared to make my final oblation as an oblate of St. Benedict, back in November 2013, one of the things I was required to do was to write a rule of life, adapting the principles of the Rule of St. Benedict to my own life.  I was pleased to see that one of the final projects for a spiritual formation class I’ve been taking this semester was composing just such a rule!  So much in my life has changed since I composed my first rule of life, and it was refreshing to sort of lay out some of the tangled strings of my being and make lists of things I want and don’t want in my life.  As I did so, I began to see patterns emerge, and five major components or paths or whatever began to solidify — Time, Health, Joy, Relationship, and Responsibility — so I decided to organize my rule around them, as centering principles of how I want to live my life.  And because I’m a creative, artsy type, it felt truest to myself to draw it out!  So here it is.  Perhaps it will be inspiration for you to draw (or write, or whatever) your own rule of life!

One thing that I love about this activity is that, although there is no specific branch dedicated to “spirituality,” faith, or religion, I can see the way my own spirituality flows all throughout it:  sabbath time, dance, care and love for my body, creativity, worship, community organizing, and even study are all fertile soil for meaningful encounter with the divine.

Day Hefner Rule of Life

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 “Brooding on Vipers: An Out of Season Advent Sermon”

Sermon 10: Little Seeds of Love / Semillitas de amor

(Se encuentra el texto en español más abajo)

Sunday, November 22, 2015
Christ the King Sunday
St. Andrew Lutheran Church, West Chicago, IL
John 18:33-37
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters[a] again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

11248945_10154335031654348_3395363386277357293_nYou can hear Pilate getting frustrated with Jesus in their conversation in today’s gospel reading. Jesus is dragged into Pilate’s office by an angry mob who demand his death. Yet, despite this, after hearing the case, Pilate can’t seem to find anything that Jesus has done wrong. He questions Jesus about why the chief priests of his own people have handed him over, but Jesus’ answers are maddeningly unhelpful. Jesus talks about his kingdom, but refuses to admit whether he is really a king or not. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus says. Pilate must have wondered to himself, “Just what kind of a king is this guy?”

Today, we ask ourselves the same question, as we celebrate this Christ the King Sunday. Just what kind of king is this Jesus that we follow? Continue reading “Sermon 10: Little Seeds of Love / Semillitas de amor”

My ninth sermon / mi novena sermón: Breaking up with Stuff / Para Dios, Todo es Posible

(Both English and Spanish sermons can be found here)

Marcos 10:17-31
Iglesia Luterana San Andrés en West ChicagoSábado, 10 de octubre; domingo, 11 de octubre

PART_1444519311655_IMG_20151010_123014“Gloria a ti, Señor Jesús.” Creo que esta semana, más bien quiero decir, “¡Pero caramba, Señor Jesús!” ¿Qué hacemos con esto? Hoy nos toca leer otra enseñanza de Jesús que es un poco difícil, igual que su enseñanza sobre el divorcio en la semana pasada. “Anda, vende todo lo que tienes,” dice Jesús al hombre rico. Nosotros ni somos tan ricos, pero también nos cuesta imaginar deshacernos de todas nuestras posesiónes.

¿Por qué diría Jesús a este hombre que venda todas sus cosas? No vemos en el cuento que es una persona mala, y podemos presumir que ganó sus riquezas honestamente. Además, conoce bien los mandamientos de Dios y dice que ha cumplido con ellos desde que era joven. Le pregunta muy sinceramente a Jesús que debe de hacer para heredar la vida eterna. Pero la respuesta de Jesús es que será muy difícil para él entrar en el reino de Dios. ¿Qué tan difícil? Dice Jesús que le resulta más fácil a un camello pasar por el ojo de una aguja, que a los ricos – incluso este rico – entrar en el reino de Dios. ¡Caramba, Señor Jesús! Continue reading “My ninth sermon / mi novena sermón: Breaking up with Stuff / Para Dios, Todo es Posible”

My eighth sermon / mi octavo sermón: Wisdom from Above / Sabiduría de lo Alto

(El sermón en español sigue el sermón en inglés)

James 3:13-4:3, 4:7-8a
Mark 9:30-37
St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago
Sunday, September 20, 2015

Good morning! I have to say, it’s a little intimidating to be standing up here after that tongue-lashing from last week’s reading from James: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for those who teach are judged with greater strictness. And all of us make many mistakes.” Well, I can promise you I’ll make at least a few of those, haha.

All throughout James’ letter, he is very straightforward in pointing out our human brokenness and our tendency to sin. That’s not the kind of stuff that’s always very pleasant to read or hear. But James isn’t writing these things in order to make us feel bad about ourselves. Neither is James writing to give us a reason to think better of ourselves than others. Rather, James is trying to inspire us to live more deeply into relationship with God. Continue reading “My eighth sermon / mi octavo sermón: Wisdom from Above / Sabiduría de lo Alto”

My seventh sermon: You Are What You Eat

11880528_1059250310766591_6314628572254871134_nGrace Lutheran Church
Saturday 8/15/15, Sunday 8/16/15

John 6:51-58
Ephesians 5:15-20
Psalm 34:9-14
Proverbs 9:1-6

I had to kind of chuckle a little bit when I read through the texts for today. You all lovingly sent me away to seminary so that I could gain some of the wisdom talked about in the lectionary for today. Now I feel like God has called me home to give you a report on how all that wisdom-acquiring is going!

Well, I have been learning a lot. This past summer in particular has been very formative for me. I just finished eleven weeks of CPE – Clinical Pastoral Education. Basically, I interned as a hospital chaplain on the north side of Chicago. I spent a lot of time sitting at the bedsides of cancer patients and palliative care patients and patients entering hospice care. I listened to their stories and their struggles and their fears about dying. I also had several opportunities to provide them with the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Remembering these experiences, it’s very poignant for me to read Jesus’ words about living bread in today’s gospel reading – “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” In the context of the hospital, the “living bread” of the Eucharist was very often juxtaposed with death and dying. In fact, many of the patients to whom I fed the Eucharist have since died. Jesus himself spoke these words about living bread on the eve of his own death. It makes me wonder a lot about this life that Jesus has promised and about this living bread that he tells us to eat. Continue reading “My seventh sermon: You Are What You Eat”

Here is the fruit of my latest songwriting efforts:  “Daughter.”  It was inspired by a verse that I recently rediscovered, one that both haunted me and gave me hope during my transition from the Jehovah’s Witnesses to what ended up being a couple of mostly secular years:

“How long will you waver, O faithless daughter?  For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth…”  Jeremiah 31:22

It’s a verse that seems to fit all my wanderings in and out of organized religion, but it also seems timely given the conversations happening across the modern day church about the challenges it faces.  The verse preceding it even makes plain that the question is directed not at a single person, but to God’s people on earth:  “Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities.”

These are tough times for a model of organized religion that was built around a set of social assumptions that are no longer remotely accurate.  For those that cling to the outdated loveliness of this sinking ship, the future seems full of fear — emptying pews, mounting bills, and the looming end of church as we know it.  But we must learn to see through the fog of all these worries, and to see the church as God sees it — as the body of Christ, constantly being made new.  We are passing from one season to another and being renewed together — change is coming, whether we want it or not, but we have the choice to either shrink from it with fear and trepidation, or to seize it eagerly as a light of hope and a bright new chance to dive deep into God’s restorative work in the world.

Lyrics are below:

“How much longer will you wander
O proud and faithless daughter?
Your steps have carried you far
But around you, this world changes
While a war inside you rages
To remember who you are

Continue reading “Daughter”

Wit and witness

I’ve been reading the book “Christianity After Religion” by Diana Butler-Bass — a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in religion or religious trends — and among the many things that have struck me so far is the following quote: “…some Christians are very comfortable defining themselves as adherents to a way of life modeled by Jesus rather than adherents to a particular doctrine or creed.”

It brings to my mind something I’ve alluded to previously but never really written about: my time with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I think it’s something I’m finally ready to start writing about. Despite the many, many issues I take with their theology, I think that there are many things about their religious community — and, more to the point, their way of life — really worth contemplating.

To give a brief bit of background, I encountered a group of JW missionaries during my years in the Dominican Republic. The small pueblo where I spent the first two years of my time there was home to a fledgling JW congregation being developed by a number of missionaries, mainly from the US and Canada, also England, Denmark, and perhaps another European country or two I’m forgetting now. Right off the bat, we found lots of common ground in our respective experience and worldviews and quickly became friends. I was already immersed in a personal study of the Bible and grew particularly close to two young women — one from Canada and another from England — who graciously offered to open their studies to me.

I was fascinated by the things they had to say and by the new perspectives they brought to the study of scripture. They encouraged me to consider scriptural passages and many of the basic ideas of faith I’d absorbed over the years in a very different light. The result was enlightening, unsettling, and even disturbing, and the questions the experience raised have taken me a long while to digest, but ultimately, I think that this sort of uprooting of my faith was beneficial to me, as it freed me to re-pot myself in much more fertile soil.

What most drew me to their community is something for which I still hold them in deep respect; namely, that they embodied precisely what Butler-Bass describes in the quote above: adherence to a way of life modeled by Jesus. (They are, of course, also adherents of a very strict set of doctrines and creeds, to a degree that becomes un-Jesus-like in its implementation. I wish to make clear that I am decidedly not a proponent of becoming a Jehovah’s Witness.) What I mean by this is that they take the Gospel very seriously. The message it contains of a new kingdom of love and salvation is one that — if allowed — must necessarily change the way we live and the way we see our place in the world. Continue reading “Wit and witness”

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