Sermon: That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

Sunday, February 10, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Many of you have probably noticed that I have a couple of tattoos on my arm here.  This one here was my very first tattoo; it’s probably hard to see from where you’re sitting, but the design is a rose sitting in the center of a cross.  I got this tattoo the day after I turned in my candidacy paperwork to start the process of becoming an ordained pastor. It has a lot of meaning for me.

I took the inspiration for this image from my time out at Camp Carol Joy Holling, both as a camper and later as a counselor.  There was a beautiful confessional rite that we would do sometimes, especially for our evening worship.  We had this big, wooden cross that had a nail hammered into it so that the pointy end faced outward.  And the way it worked was that everyone was given little slips of paper and invited to write their confession – whatever sins or troubles were on their heart – and then stick it up on the cross on that big nail.  Then, once everyone’s confessions were on the cross, they would light the little bits of paper on fire.  And as we watched everyone’s confessions go up in smoke – almost like incense to God – the edges of the papers curled inward and formed the shape of a flaming rose.  It was beautiful, all ashy gray and fiery orange – such a powerful image.

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Sermon: Over the Cliff

Sunday, February 3, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Our gospel reading for this morning picks right up where we left off last Sunday. If you remember, last week, we saw Jesus just beginning his ministry in Galilee and making his public debut in his hometown, Nazareth.  We heard the very first words that Jesus speaks as an adult in the gospel of Luke – and he reads these words from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And at the beginning of our gospel text for today, we hear him say again, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  That’s a pretty bold claim!  Like we talked about last Sunday, Jesus is laying out the scope of his mission: he has come to bring good news to the poor, to liberate captives and the oppressed, to give sight to the blind, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And the people are all for it – Luke says that “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”

But then this story takes a really unexpected twist.  Jesus predicts that the people will reject him and what he has to say. And sure enough, by the end of this story, he manages to make them so angry that they actually grab him and try to throw him off a cliff!  What happened??

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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!

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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.

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Sermon: You Are Mine

Sunday, January 13, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Baptism of Our Lord
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When I was in college, I struggled a lot with depression.  It impacted my studies; I just felt really overwhelmed sometimes, and then I felt guilty because I wasn’t getting all the things done that I was supposed to be doing, including my coursework.  I would know things had gotten really bad when I started actively avoiding my advisor.  She was a lovely woman whom I admired very much – but when I was falling behind, I just couldn’t bear to bring myself to go talk to her, especially because I was usually doing particularly badly in her classes.  I knew I should be doing better and I knew that she expected more from me – and I was just so afraid that she would think less of me.

But then something would happen: I would run into her unexpectedly or I would be required to schedule a meeting with my advisor for some reason, so I would see her. She’d call me into her office and every time, I braced myself, expecting to get a well-deserved chewing out or, worse, that she would just look at me with profound disappointment.  But instead, each time, she was unfailingly kind and understanding.  She listened to me and heard my feelings of anxiety and worthlessness and guilt and she helped me make a workable plan to get through the rest of the semester. She reminded me that I was more than the work I did or didn’t get done.  I always left those meetings with her feeling better and freer, feeling like I’d gotten another chance to try again.

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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.

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Sermon: Perfect

Sunday, December 24, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas!

In my sermon a few weeks ago, I shared a little bit about what Christmas was like with my family when I was growing up.  To me, it was always a magical time.  I told the story of how my brother and sister and I always had to wait at the top of the stairs with our mom while Dad went downstairs to “get his camera” – I still remember the thundering sound of our feet on those creaky old stairs with their ugly brown carpet as we raced down to see what “Santa” had brought us.

My parents always made Christmas special. My mom in particular had a way of making the holiday magical – it seemed like our house was always full of cutout Christmas cookies and felt Christmas crafts and the sound of Christmas carols. And on Christmas Day, we would all gather at my grandma’s house – a whole motley crew of cousins and aunts and uncles, all celebrating and feasting together.  It was perfect.

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Sermon: Mary — Mother, Outcast, Prophet

Sunday, December 23, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Our gospel reading this morning contains one of the most famous – I’d even say infamous – texts in all of scripture.  In this passage from Luke, right off the bat, we get the sense that something unusual is coming.  This is a story about two women – the whole passage, all seventeen verses, details their conversation – and when you consider the time that it was written, it’s amazing that it was written down at all!  Luke tells us that Mary traveled to the “house of Zechariah,” but Zechariah doesn’t even show up in this story.  If you were here a couple of weeks ago, you can probably guess why that is!  (Exactly right!  Zechariah was stricken mute when Elizabeth’s pregnancy was announced).  This story is about Elizabeth and Mary – not about Zechariah and not even about Joseph.

In this passage from Luke, Mary sings a song we could arguably call the very first Christmas carol.  You have probably heard these words before.  If you’re familiar with Holden Evening Prayer, then you have definitely sung these words before!  This is the song that we call the Magnificat.  Magnificat means “magnify” in Latin – it’s the first word of Mary’s song in Latin.

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Sermon: Axes, Unquenchable Fire, and Joy

Sunday, December 16, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday of Advent

Last Sunday, as you might remember, we spent some time talking about the season of Advent.  We talked about how Advent is intended to be a season of hopefulness and of joyful expectation.  In retrospect, I realized that the sermon I preached last week might actually have been even more fitting to preach today!  Today is Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice.”  It’s the Sunday of joy.  Today we lit the rose candle in our advent wreath.  Historically, Advent has been considered a kind of mini-Lent – a season of solemnity and fasting and penitence.  And even though the church has moved more toward seeing this as a season of expectation and preparation, it’s still good to be reminded that we are waiting for something joyful: the coming of the kingdom of God, Christ’s reign of justice, peace, and love on earth.

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Sermon: A Well-Lived Faith

Thursday, December 13, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Elaine Wolta
Romans 6:3-9     Psalm 23     Matthew 11:28-30

Psalm 23 is an old favorite psalm for many of us.  I’d say of all the psalms it’s by far the most popular choice for funerals – and for good reason.  The image of God as a shepherd leading us is very comforting.  And the poetic reassurance that God is with us – even in the valley of the shadow of death – makes days like this one easier to bear.

But I think that Psalm 23 is a particularly fitting psalm for us to read today as we remember our dear sister Elaine – because, in many ways, Elaine perfectly embodied this psalm.

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Sermon: Wait for It

Sunday, December 9, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday of Advent

When I was a little girl growing up, the time leading up to Christmas was my favorite time of year.  Like most kids, I was excited at the prospect of getting a long break from school, and most of all, I was excited to get presents!  My family always had a very strict protocol about the proper time for opening presents.  We waited until Christmas morning.  My brother and sister and I would wake our parents up at an ungodly early hour and be told to go back to bed a few times before they finally got up.  My dad would then shuffle downstairs to get his camera while the three of us waited with Mom at the top of the stairs, until Dad was ready for us to come down.  I have no idea what all Dad was actually doing downstairs – but I do remember that it always took foreeeeeeever for him to give us the go-ahead to come down.  Maybe it just seemed like an interminably long time because I was so small and impatient (as opposed to large and impatient, like I am now).  But I vividly remember sitting at the top of that long, narrow staircase in my pajamas, waiting with my brother and sister, our little butts scooched right to the very edge of the top stair.  I remember the electric feeling of excitement in my whole body, like a coiled up spring, just waiting to bounce down those stairs as fast as my little legs could go.

This waiting, this excitement and expectation, is what the season of Advent is all about.  We are waiting with bated breath – not knowing yet what exactly we will find at the bottom of the stairs, but trusting that it will be marvellous and worth the wait.

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Sermon: Feast of Love

Sunday, November 25, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Reign of Christ Sunday
Wedding of Joshua Kenge and Esperance Sudi
First reading     Psalm     Second reading     Gospel

Today the church celebrates the festival day of the Reign of Christ – or Christ the King Sunday, as it’s also known.  Hopefully by now you’ve noticed that we’re also celebrating a wedding today! These are actually themes that go together very well.  Today we celebrate that Christ is our one true ruler.  We remember that our true citizenship is as citizens of his kingdom – we are all citizens of the kingdom here.

The kingdom of God is spoken of throughout scripture as a place where there is no more mourning or crying or pain, where there is no more death, where the poor and the lowly are lifted up, and where all creation lives in perfect harmony and love.  And one of the most common images used in scripture to talk about the kingdom is the marriage feast.

Today, we celebrate the marriage feast of Joshua and Esperance.  Today they make their vows of love and faithfulness to one another in the presence of this assembly.  And the celebration of their marriage actually has a lot to teach all of us about God’s kingdom of love.

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Sermon: Don’t Worry; Be Thankful

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Thanksgiving Eve

Once upon a time, there was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and noticed that she only had three hairs growing on her head.  “Well,” said the woman to herself, “I think I’ll wear my hair in a braid today.”  So she carefully braided the three hairs together, got dressed, and went out and had a wonderful day.

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Sermon: Anchored in Hope

Sunday, November 18, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Our texts for today are full of chaos and trouble.  There are times of anguish, conflicts with cosmic enemies, destruction, war, earthquakes, famine, and pain.  These are texts that point us ahead toward the future unraveling of creation – the end of all things.

These seem like kind of jarring themes for us to be focusing on now.  Right now, the rest of the world is gearing up for the bright season of Christmas – with candy canes and silver lanes already aglow! In contrast, the end of the Christian liturgical year – which actually ends next Sunday – is a bit darker and a lot more apocalyptic.  As the days get shorter, we are preparing ourselves to begin a new year with the season of Advent.  We are still waiting in the darkness for a light to shine.

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Sermon: Beyond Charity

Sunday, November 11, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

I joined the Peace Corps when I was fresh out of college.  I wanted to travel and see a different part of the world.  And I also genuinely wanted to help others, to give some of the abundance of what I have received to other people.

What I didn’t expect about this experience was how much I would receive in return.  Over the four years that I spent in the Dominican Republic, I got to meet lots of amazing people.  And I found that, more often than not, the person receiving the generosity and help of others was me!  I almost had to laugh one time when my community received a bunch of canned food from a ministry group that had come down to the island.  I’m sure I probably thought, “Oh how nice that other people are also sending help to this poor community.” Imagine my surprise when members of the community showed up on my doorstep to give me food.  They wanted to care for me because I lived alone and didn’t have any family in the community.

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Sermon: A Circle Unbroken

Sunday, November 4, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
All Saints Sunday

When I was in seminary in Chicago, I took an intensive class with a small group of people from all different faith backgrounds.  One of my classmates was finishing his studies to become a Catholic priest and a monk. He used to describe the monastery he was going to live in to us.  It sounded beautiful, but the one thing that most stuck with me was his description of the communion rail around the table.  They had a polished wooden railing – like a lot of sanctuaries do – that ran all the way around the chancel in a big semi-circle.  All the brothers could fit around it together as they gathered for communion.  Outside the sanctuary, on the other side of the chancel wall, the circle was continued in stone, and it came together to make one big ring around the table.  On this side of the circle was the monastery’s cemetery.  Every time they gathered for communion, this circle reminded the living brothers of the monastery that they were also gathered with the dead brothers of the monastery.  And they remembered that no matter which side of the wall they were on, they were all part of the one, same community.

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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: 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”

Sermon: The Doctor Is In

Sunday, September 30, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
(Service of Healing)

This is a rough, rough gospel text for today.  With a text like this, instead of, “Praise to you, O Christ!” it kind of feels like a more fitting gospel acclamation would be just, “Wow, O Christ,” or even, “WTF, O Christ?”

And some of us may have already come to worship today carrying some pretty rough feelings.  This has been a very difficult week in our nation.  Many folks who have known the horror of sexual assault have been reliving some of their worst trauma this week.  Many people have seen in these events their own experience of not being believed, whether it be about the truth of their experiences, or about their innocence in the face of harsh accusations.  And I think all of us have probably been discouraged with the reminder of just how viciously divided our country has become.  To those of you who are struggling, who are feeling raw and vulnerable today, I see 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: 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”

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