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”

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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: No Going Back

Sunday, April 7, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday in Lent

As most of you – or probably all of you – know, I used to be a Peace Corps Volunteer once upon a time.  I served for four years in the Dominican Republic.  And as you might expect, there is a lot of training and preparation that goes into becoming a Volunteer.  In training, you learn the skills that you will need to do your project work; and you also study the language and the culture of your assigned country to try to prepare yourself to live and work for two years – sometimes more – in a different country.

But one aspect of Peace Corps that doesn’t get talked about very often is the fact that they also actually train us for how to come back.  We actually spend time in Close of Service (or CoS) training before coming back to the US.  They help us update our resumes and teach us how to condense our years of service into concise stories – literally, we had to practice that.  But even more than these practical bits of training, they tried to prepare us for the strange reality of reverse culture shock.

Most people know what regular culture shock is – you move to a new place and find yourself constantly bumping up against a different culture with different values and different ways of doing things than what you’re used to.  Reverse culture shock, on the other hand, is when you come back again and the culture is the same one you’re used to, but you are a different you.

Continue reading “Sermon: No Going Back”

Sermon: Holy Sh*t

Sunday, March 24, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday in Lent

Many of you have probably noticed the paper chain that’s starting to spread across the back of our sanctuary.  For those of you who haven’t made it to our Wednesday evening services yet, this chain is part of what we’ve been doing on Wednesday nights.  Each link of the chain is a prayer, and every week the chain grows as we add more and more prayers.  Every week, there are different interactive prayer stations around the sanctuary, as a different way of engaging with the text and with the practice of Lent.  The prayer chain is meant to be a community practice of prayer that shows how our prayers connect us to each other – and how what we do together here leads out into the world. 

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This idea of interactive prayer stations for Lent was actually part of the project work I did at my internship congregation down in New Mexico.  Each week at the midweek service, at least one of the stations we had set up would be some kind of activity to help people to dig into the text for that week in a more tangible, hands-on kind of way.

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Sermon: All Hands (and eyes and ears and pancreases and pinkie toes) on Deck

Sunday, January 27, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday after Epiphany

Many of you know that I was a music major in college at Nebraska Wesleyan – and as part of that, I got the chance to sing and play in a whole bunch of different music ensembles, including the university symphonic band.  I played flute in the band for four and a half years. Now, there were a LOT of flute players in the band.  We easily outnumbered many of the other sections, especially the percussion section. And every once in a while, we would play a piece that needed a lot more percussion players than it did flute players, so our director would make some of us switch.

I was second or third chair flute for most of my time in the band, so I usually didn’t get tapped to play percussion – but one time, we played this really unusual and just bizarre-sounding kind of modern piece of music, and I got sent to the back to the percussion section.  The part I was given for this piece was to bow the vibraphone. Yes.  I had to bow the vibraphone – I was just as confused about it as you look now, haha.  Literally, I had a bow like you would use to play a violin or a cello, and while I pedaled the vibraphone, I had to run the bow along the edge of the right keys at just the right angle and it gave off this kind of weird, spooky, resonant sound.

You probably already guessed this, but I was really, really bad at it.  I could not bow the vibraphone to save my life.  And adding to my trouble, I never had any idea when I was supposed to play.  I’d have rests for like 50 measures and then I’d have to play like two notes on the vibraphone.  I mean, I can barely count to begin with, so to keep track of where we were over 50 measures of really weird-sounding music was basically impossible.  So I just kind of went rogue and played it whenever I felt like it – whenever it seemed to me like, “Oh, this part could maybe use some vibraphone.”  Half the time I couldn’t even actually get a sound out of it.  It was pretty terrible.  After we played that piece, I asked the director, “Please don’t ever make me do that again” – and I played flute in the band for the rest of my time there!

Continue reading “Sermon: All Hands (and eyes and ears and pancreases and pinkie toes) on Deck”

Sermon: Recipe for the Kingdom

Sunday, January 20, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday after Epiphany

I watch a fair bit of Netflix when I’m at home, and one of my favorite shows to watch is the Great British Bake Off.  Any other fans of the show here?  It’s a great show – it’s shot in Britain, as you might have guessed.  Twelve amateur bakers from around the country gather together and, over several weeks of baking challenges, the show’s judges narrow down their numbers until they’re left with one winner.  It’s amazing to see the stuff they come up with – fantastic creations made with intricate combinations of flour, eggs, sugar, water, yeast, and all kinds of other baking ingredients.  And what I find even more amazing about the show is how the judges evaluate all the different bakes.  They’ll just look at something someone’s made, or maybe slice it open, and just by looking at it, they’ll say, “Oh, that needed 5 more minutes in the oven,” or “You should have added one more egg,” or “You should have added the sugar at such-and-such stage.”  It’s amazing to watch.  They’re like baking wizards.  And it really underscores how every single component of that recipe is needed – it’s needed in the proper amount and at the proper time.  When you do it wrong, it’s a mess, but when you get it right, these ordinary ingredients become something much greater than just the sum of their parts.

Continue reading “Sermon: Recipe for the Kingdom”

Sermon: Surprising Revelations

Sunday, January 6, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Epiphany

Today we celebrate the feast day of Epiphany.  What comes to your mind when you think about what an epiphany is?

The word epiphany comes from ancient Greek and means something along the lines of a sudden appearing or revelation.  An epiphany is often a sudden moment of insight, an “aha!” moment.  In a moment of epiphany, things suddenly become clear, especially when before there has been darkness and doubt.

The Christian festival of Epiphany celebrates God’s revelation in the midst of darkness and doubt.  Even though Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season, it carries forward a lot of the same themes of Christmas.  We continue to celebrate the incarnation of Christ – who is, in himself, the revealing of God in human flesh. On Christmas Eve, we read in Isaiah that “the people who walked in great darkness have seen a great light”; and today we read, “Arise; shine, for your light has come!” Epiphany is the revelation to all people that God faithfully keeps God’s promises.

Continue reading “Sermon: Surprising Revelations”

Sermon: Divorce and Division

Sunday, October 7, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twentienth Sunday After Pentecost

This morning, we continue our journey through the gospel of Mark.  We’ve been walking with Jesus and the disciples on the way to Jerusalem and the cross.  And it seems like the closer we get, the harder Jesus’ teachings become.  In the last few weeks, Jesus has told us we must be last of all and servant of all; he’s told us that we must lose our lives in order to find them; and just last week, he told us that if our eyes or hands or feet cause us to stumble, we should cut them off!

Today’s reading from Mark hits us even closer to the heart with this difficult passage about divorce.  Continue reading “Sermon: Divorce and Division”

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!

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Continue reading “Internship Project Report”

Sermon: What Is Love? (Seriously, though, what is it?)

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Saturday/Sunday, May 5/6, 2018
Grace Lutheran Church, Lincoln, NE
Sixth Sunday of Easter

Good evening/morning! It is such a delight to be here again at Grace Lutheran.  I have missed you all.  I bring you greetings from the people of Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, NM, and also from Pastor Mike and Kristin Ostrom, who are now at Oregon State University!

It’s so good to be here with you all again.  And it seems very fitting that love is such a prominent theme in our texts for this weekend. Grace has always been a community in which I have experienced great Christian love.

Our gospel reading from John especially highlights this theme.  This text is part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” to his disciples before he is crucified, in an ultimate act of love.  And his words about love raise for us a very important question. This question has one, immediate, right answer, so I want to see if any of you know what it is.  Are you ready?  What is love? Continue reading “Sermon: What Is Love? (Seriously, though, what is it?)”

Sermon: Roots and Fruits

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Sunday, April 29, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Fifth Sunday of Easter

This past week, we welcomed our second group of refugees: 12 families from Central America who made the long journey to seek asylum in the US. Some of them traveled for up to a month or more, some with very young children, just to get here. We have been getting a little better and more organized about welcoming them each time we’ve done it. And the volunteers we’ve had helping out have just been awesome. If you’ve helped out with this group or the previous group or have donated anything, please raise your hands. Thank you all for what you’ve been doing. Even the littlest things can make a huge difference. Continue reading “Sermon: Roots and Fruits”

Sermon: Close Encounters

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Sunday, April 15, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Third Sunday of Easter

Our gospel text for today comes right on the heels of the story of the road to Emmaus, which is one of my favorite stories in all of scripture.  You probably remember the story: two disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection and Jesus joins them, but they don’t recognize him until way later that evening, when they are breaking bread together.  I’ve always thought it was kind of a funny story.  And I see that same kind of humor in the story we read today.  The disciples had literally just been talking about this encounter on the road to Emmaus, and also about an encounter that Peter had with the risen Christ, when Jesus himself appears among them and throws them into a panic.  They were already beginning to believe that Jesus really had been raised from the dead, but when he actually showed up in their midst, they totally freaked out – and not in a good way. Continue reading “Sermon: Close Encounters”

Sermon: Saints and Citizens of the Kingdom

Sunday, November 5, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
All Saints Day

I brought some of my own saints with me today. This is one of the most precious pictures I have. This is my great-grandma Martha, my mom, Becky, and my grandma Orpha – we always called her Grandma Ziggy. And that’s little, tiny, baby me in the middle. I’m so grateful to have this photo, because all three of these women died by the time I was ten years old. Continue reading “Sermon: Saints and Citizens of the Kingdom”

Sermon: Property of God

Sunday, October 22, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost

In our gospel reading for today, we find Jesus still teaching in the temple and the religious leaders still trying to find some way to trip him up. The Pharisees have decided that it’s time to play another round of “Stump Jesus,” and this time, they’ve thought up a clever question to catch him in a trap: Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Continue reading “Sermon: Property of God”

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”

Promises, Promises: An All Saints of los Muertos Reformation-Ween Sermon

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New Hope’s beautiful Day of the Dead altar

All Saints Sunday
(according to the preacher)

Reformation Sunday
(according to the music director)

24th Sunday after Pentecost
(according to the secretary/liturgist)

Sunday, October 30, 2016
(according to everyone)

New Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, IL

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

The next couple of weeks are packed with momentous and exciting events. Tomorrow, the Lutheran church marks the 499th anniversary of the Reformation. The day after that, the global church marks All Saint’s Day, and the day after that, we celebrate the Day of the Dead. And next week, our country will hold a historic presidential election in which we will decide our leaders for the next four years or more. There’s a lot going on!

But I’d actually like to start off today talking about an upcoming day you probably didn’t expect to hear about from the pulpit: Halloween. Continue reading “Promises, Promises: An All Saints of los Muertos Reformation-Ween Sermon”

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