Sermon: Choices

Sunday, June 30, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday after Pentecost

I was flying home one time to visit family, back when I lived in the Dominican Republic.  My flight had a six hour layover in Miami, and the Miami airport isn’t exactly the most fun place to spend six whole hours (not that any airport is!).  So I decided I’d call an old Peace Corps friend of mine who lived in Miami to come pick me up.

I had been living in the Dominican Republic for about three years at this point, and I found that being back in American culture was a little overwhelming.  Between the heat and the sensory overload, I stepped out of the Miami airport with a massive headache.  So my friend and I headed to the nearest Walgreens to pick up some aspirin.

Now, in the DR, I had gotten used to just going down the street to the little corner store whenever I needed something for a headache.  I could usually count on having one or maybe two options for painkillers.  But the painkiller aisle in that Miami Walgreens seemed to stretch all the way to the horizon, painkillers as far as the eye could see.  They had aspirin and ibuprofen and acetaminophen and naproxen; they had tablets and capsules, bottles and packets and boxes of every size and quantity imaginable.  It was ridiculous.  I just wanted to feel better – but by the time I finally picked something out, I felt like my head was literally going to explode.

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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.

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A Painfully Candid Lenten Reflection

CN – anxiety, depression

Christians around the world began their observation of Lent yesterday on Ash Wednesday.  Lent is a season of repentance and return to God. It’s a season in which we confess that we have not lived up to being the people God created, redeemed, and called us to be.  We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.  We have been neglectful in our care of creation.  We have been selfish and have hardened our hearts to the suffering of the vulnerable around the world.

We read the words of the prophet Joel, who implored his people, “Return to the Lord your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” We are called to turn back to God with our whole heart, to experience God’s grace and love anew – not unlike the prodigal son returning home to his father’s joyous welcome.

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

Sunday, January 27, 2019
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!

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Sermon: Blind Healing the Blind

Sunday, October 28, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
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Many of you know that, before I moved to Schuyler, I spent a year living in Las Cruces, New Mexico, doing my final year internship at Peace Lutheran Church.  Las Cruces is in the way south part of New Mexico, just north of El Paso, Texas, which makes it less than an hour from “old” Mexico.  It was an awesome and eye-opening experience to get to live in the borderlands for a whole year.

One of the most important things I got to do at Peace during my year there was to help develop a refugee hospitality ministry.  We welcomed some of the many, many people from Central America who have come to the US seeking safety from dangerous situations in their home countries. These folks presented themselves to Border Patrol for asylum, and after processing them – getting their information, contacting their sponsor, and giving them an ankle monitor and a court date – ICE actually would actually drop them off right at the door of the church.  And we’d take it from there. Continue reading “Sermon: Blind Healing the Blind”

Sermon: Do Not Be Afraid

Sunday, October 21, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
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Our gospel text for today seems to illustrate the old saying: There’s no such thing as a stupid question… but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots.  James and John ask Jesus to let them sit by his side “in his glory,” and even Jesus is like, “buddy, I don’t think you really know what you’re asking.”

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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!

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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: Unfinished Business

Sunday, April 1, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Easter Sunday

Alleluia, Christ is risen! At least… I think he is?  Our gospel reading for today leaves things a little… open-ended.

This is such a weird reading from the end of Mark.  In Matthew, Luke, and John, we get these lovely post-resurrection appearances from Jesus – dramatically appearing in the midst of his disciples, tenderly calling Mary by name in the garden, forgiving Peter for his denials over brunch by the sea, and my personal favorite, walking with two clueless disciples on the road to Emmaus and vanishing the instant they finally realize who he is — hilarious.  But in Mark, this is all the closer we get to the resurrection.*  We’re never really given a big “alleluia!” moment.  And for Pete’s sake, Jesus doesn’t even show up!  It’s an ending that almost seems designed to leave us feeling unsettled and uncomfortable. Continue reading “Sermon: Unfinished Business”

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: Costly Journeys

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

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

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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”

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