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.

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Sermon: Us and Us

Sunday, May 19, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday of Easter

During my first few months in the Dominican Republic, I lived with a host family.  They were very nice people and I got along great with them for the most part.  But my host mom, Doña Nicia, never thought I ate enough – she was always trying to get me to eat more.  The trouble was that, after a while, I had gotten really tired of eating rice and beans all the time.  It was always the same thing every day: rice and beans, stewed meat, mashed plantains, and a big mug of fresh milk in the morning and in the evening – the milk part sounds really nice until you find yourself actually having to peel your milk twice a day (I never thought I’d appreciate the word “homogenized” so much).

One day, Doña Nicia’s daughter-in-law, Moraima, made a great big pot of a rice dish called chofán and brought a bowl over for me.  It was basically fried rice with a mix of vegetables and some chicken – and I completely devoured it.  Seeing this, my host mom was like, “Aha!  She likes chofán!”  So the very next day at lunch, Doña Nicia proudly set before me a big, heaping bowl of “chofán”; except, instead of rice and a mix of different vegetables, this was rice with a mix of different meats: chicken, pork, goat, and – I swear to you this is true – hot dogs, all chopped up into little pieces.  I knew she was so excited to make it for me, so I ate as much of it as I could stomach.  But to be honest, I felt a lot like I imagine Peter did in our reading from Acts.  In Peter’s case, he has a vision of some kind of bizarre picnic descending down out of the clouds – and a voice tells him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” and Peter takes one look at that picnic and is just like, “Uhhh… pass.”

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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.

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Sermon: See Me After Class

Sunday, September 23, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

As I was reading our gospel for this week, I found myself thinking back to what it was like to be in elementary school.  Do you remember your school days? (I know it was longer ago for some of us than others!)  Did any of you ever get in trouble with any of your teachers? (of course not; I’m sure you were all perfect little angels!)  I’ll admit that I sometimes got in trouble with my teachers, mostly for daydreaming and spacing off — and for doodling all over my homework.  And every once in a while, I’d get an assignment back with those four dreaded words written at the top: “See me after class.”

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Sermon: To Whom Can We Go?

Sunday, August 26, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Today is the last Sunday of a whole month full of bread.  We’ve finally reached the end of the sixth chapter of John, yay!  I mean, it’s good stuff, all of this teaching from Jesus about the bread of life, but these are kind of tricky texts to preach on.  I have to admit that I resonate a little bit with the people in our gospel reading for today – the ones who whine to Jesus that his teaching is too difficult.  This passage starts in the same place we left off last week: Jesus is once again telling people that they need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Even if you can get past all the cannibalistic images that this brings up, it’s still painfully clear that truly being a Jesus follower is something demanding and all-consuming – no pun intended.

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Sermon: Get in the Boat

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Sunday, June 24, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Our gospel reading for today begins with an invitation.  Jesus says to the disciples: “Let us go across to the other side.”  Jesus had been casting out demons and healing and preaching to the multitudes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  He’d just finished preaching several parables, including the parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed.  By the time he finished, it was evening, and the disciples were probably pooped and ready for bed.  But instead of calling it a day, Jesus decides: no, we need to get in the boat right now and sail across the Sea of Galilee.  And that’s what he and the disciples do.  There is an urgency to this story that we’ve kind of come to expect from the gospel of Mark.

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Sermon: Are We There Yet?

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Saturday/Sunday, May 12/13, 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Coleridge, NE
Ascension Sunday (/Saturday)

Good evening/morning! It seems that one of this weekend’s themes is surprises.  In case anyone hasn’t guessed yet, the “surprise preacher” for today is me! Surprise!  There are also some surprises in our readings for today.  We read a surprising story about Jesus’ ascension, how he was taken bodily up into heaven.  Most of us here have been church members a long time and we may not think about this as such a strange or surprising story.  But even in a set of scriptures full of all kinds of mystery and miracles, bodily ascension into heaven is not exactly the kind of thing that happens every day. Continue reading “Sermon: Are We There Yet?”

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: Even Now

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Friday, March 30, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Good Friday

The Passion of Jesus according to John

We’ve read and heard this story so many times that I wonder whether it still sounds as shocking to us as it should.  “Crucifixion” is a word that belongs to ancient history and church rituals; it doesn’t evoke for us the same kind of visceral reaction as “electric chair” or “firing squad” or “hanging.”  And yet it is also a method of execution by the state, one that is a hundred times more bloody, torturous, and painful.  Even before we get to the cross, there is an unbelievable amount of violence in this story.  Jesus Christ is struck across the face multiple times.  He has sharp thorns jammed down onto his head; this was after he was flogged, a practice in which one’s bare back is whipped with a whip that has small pieces of metal or bone at the end, to inflict the most damage.  This story is a horrifying testament to the creativity of human cruelty. Continue reading “Sermon: Even Now”

Sermon: Rude Awakening

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Sunday, March 25, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Palm/Passion Sunday

Keep awake! Enough! The hour has come! At once! Immediately! Now! Now! Now!

There is no time to waste in Mark’s telling of the passion story. Even the language he uses is full of movement and urgency. After Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem, greeted with palm branches and shouts of “hosanna!” things go downhill in a hurry. He teaches in the temple about the kingdom and the true worship of God, but it makes the leaders of the people so angry that, at the beginning of our reading for today, they are already looking for a way to arrest him and kill him. Jesus had only been in Jerusalem for a few days! Continue reading “Sermon: Rude Awakening”

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