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
Today, we mark the beginning of Lent, the long, slow march toward Christ’s death on the cross. As I’ve been reflecting on these texts once again this week, I’ve found myself noticing just how many words we encounter this time of year that start with “re-”: repentance, regret, reconciliation, remission, return. Among these words, one word in particular grabbed my attention: the word “remorse.” When I read the word in Spanish – remordimiento – it occurred to me that the literal definition of “remorse” is actually “to bite again.” As it turns out, much like my cat, Lent is a season that bites. Continue reading
To eat meat, or not to eat meat – that is the question! Our passage for today from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians probably sounds kind of strange and antiquated to our 21st century ears. We don’t really talk much about religious dietary restrictions nowadays, or worry that the food we eat will somehow impact our relationship with God. But for the Christian inhabitants of first century Corinth, Paul was addressing a very serious concern, one that went well beyond the question about food. Continue reading
We have three wonderfully rich readings to dive into this morning: the call of Samuel and his faithful response, Paul’s somewhat difficult word to the Corinthians about fornication and the body, and the call of Nathanael to follow Jesus. So, naturally, with so many great texts to choose from, I actually want to start out by talking about the one text we didn’t read this morning. Continue reading
I don’t know about you all, but our texts for today leave me feeling a whole mess of different feelings. On the one hand, we have these lovely images of God as the compassionate shepherd looking after the flock, and caring for the “least of these.” But then we run into all this harsh language about judgment and destruction. It’s like being handed a bouquet of roses, only to have our fingers pricked by the thorns. Our gospel text today is particularly strong. This passage from Matthew is the only detailed account of the last judgment to be found anywhere in the New Testament – but even so, it’s definitely left an impression on the popular Christian imagination. Continue reading
This is a truly joyous festival day in our calendar. The work of this year’s harvest is over and now we can celebrate the bountiful, abundant gifts that God and the good earth have given us. Where I grew up in rural Nebraska, my little hometown was surrounded by a patchwork of of cornfields and soybeans and alfalfa, and around this time of year, the air was always filled with the warm, golden scent of freshly harvested crops. At my family’s house, this was always salsa-making season. Our garden produced fruits and vegetables by the bucket load, and our house would be filled with the aroma of roasting tomatoes, and freshly chopped onions and garlic, and spicy jalapeños. Continue reading
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
“Encountering the Living Word” preaching course
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. God did this to show God’s righteousness, because in divine forbearance God had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that God themself is righteous and that God justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
I have to be honest: When I was assigned to preach a sermon for Reformation Sunday, I groaned a little on the inside. It’s not that I’m not proud of my Lutheran heritage or anything. I see the value in celebrating the dramatic ways in which God has renewed the church and more fully revealed to us God’s grace. And of course, it’s important to honor saints like Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and others who have gone before us to be agents of renewal in the church.
But I can’t help but wonder whether, in commemorating the Reformation, we are acting as though God’s most important acts of renewing the church all happened in the past. By focusing on an act of reformation that happened nearly five hundred years ago, I wonder whether we are ignoring the ways in which God is still making the world new today. I worry that focusing on the transformative change that happened so long ago may be a means for protecting ourselves from the transformative change that God would wreak on us today. Continue reading
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
“Encountering the Living Word” preaching course
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)
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.
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
(Both English and Spanish sermons can be found here)
“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
Grace Lutheran Church
Saturday 8/15/15, Sunday 8/16/15
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