Sermon: Beyond the Pericope

Sunday, May 26, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Sixth Sunday of Easter

When you go to seminary, you get to learn a whole world of new vocabulary words; words like:  kerygma… hermeneutics… homiletics… epiclesis… eschatology!  As I was reading our gospel for this morning, I kept thinking of one of these five dollar words that I learned in seminary: “pericope.”  Anyone heard the word pericope before?  It’s a good one.  Pericope is a word that’s sometimes used to talk about a passage taken from the bible – it’s basically like how we use the term “reading” or “lesson.”  But “pericope” comes from the Greek for “a cutting-out” and I find that image of cutting out helpful for talking about a pericope like this one that we read this morning.

The group of people who put together the three year series of readings that we follow – the lectionary – are responsible for cutting out the texts that we read together each Sunday.  Most of the time, it’s pretty obvious why they chose to cut texts where they did – perhaps there’s a story or a parable with a clear beginning and ending or a section all on the same theme.  But sometimes, like today, the place they chose to cut something doesn’t make much sense to me at all.

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Sermon: Not Done Yet

Sunday, May 5, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday of Easter

Our gospel reading for this morning picks up right on the heels of the gospel reading we read last week, which is actually kind of odd.  Last week, we read the story of “doubting” Thomas from John 20, a story that ends with Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  John then goes on to write,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Now, that really sounds like it’s the end of the story, doesn’t it?  It sounds like it should be the end of the book of John.  All it’s missing is “and they lived happily ever after, the end.”  So it’s kind of surprising then to turn the page and realize that John actually goes on for a whole other chapter.

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Sermon: When in Doubt

Sunday, April 28, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday of Easter
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Thomas is in the wrong place at the wrong time in our gospel reading for this morning.  Or, at least, he’s not in the right place at the right time. The rest of the disciples had gathered in fear following Jesus’ crucifixion, probably to talk about the rumors they had heard that Jesus had somehow risen from the dead – when Jesus himself suddenly appears among them!  Only Thomas isn’t there to join in the rejoicing or to hear Jesus speak peace to them.

We have no idea what Thomas was off doing, but we do know that when he came back, he definitely did not expect to hear that everyone else had gotten to see Jesus while he was out.  Thomas reacts to this news with disbelief – and he flat out refuses to believe the testimony of the other disciples. Instead, he insists that he will only believe if he sees Jesus with his own eyes and touches his wounds with his own hands.

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Sermon: As You Wish

Sunday, April 14, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Palm / Passion Sunday

This is a story we have heard so many times before.  Many of us grew up hearing it.  Year after year, we follow Jesus on a Lenten journey to Jerusalem.  And every year it leads us here, to the threshold of Holy Week.  We read the story of his triumphant entry into the city, and we read again how the crowd’s shouts of “hosanna in the highest!” quickly turn into chants of “crucify, crucify him!”  We follow Jesus all the way from a stable in Bethlehem to the cross and to the empty tomb.

This story is so well known and so familiar to the church that it’s hard to add much to it.  Some friends of mine even asked me a couple of weeks ago: how do you preach on stories that people have heard so many times?  How do you find something new to say?  And I told them honestly: the Spirit works!  But also, I can’t help but think of how many thousands of years we have been telling ourselves and our children these stories.  Humanity has a long term relationship with the story of salvation in Jesus Christ.  And so, as old as this story is, it somehow keeps being new.  Each year that we tell it again, it seems to speak to us in a new and different way.

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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: Missing the Point

Sunday, March 31, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday in Lent
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Whenever I read the story of the prodigal son, it always reminds me of a Lenten bible study I was in at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln several years ago now.  We had been getting together every Wednesday for midweek worship and following worship with a group bible study in the fellowship hall.  It was already getting fairly late into Lent when we read the prodigal son story together, and I had started to notice that the conversations we were having kept going flat.  People had naturally started to group themselves together at tables with like-minded people, and so the discussions generally seemed to go something like this:

“Well, this is what I think about this text.”

“Well, I agree!  That’s what I think about this text too.”

“Yeah!”

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Sermon: Ups and Downs

Sunday, March 3, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Transfiguration Sunday
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Our gospel reading for today is, objectively, kind of a weird story.  The transfiguration is one of those moments in Jesus’ life that always seems mysterious to me and a bit beyond my comprehension.  As best as I can understand it, Jesus walks up a mountain with some of his disciples, glows for a bit, has a brief conversation with a couple of ancient Old Testament prophets (as one does), and then they all walk back down the mountain together.  It’s weird.

But, as strange as this story is, it’s got one of my favorite Peter moments in all of scripture.  Peter has a very human reaction to Jesus’ transfiguration.  When Jesus is revealed in all his heavenly glory and Moses and Elijah show up, Peter’s first reaction is, “Uhh, uhh…. tents! Yes, that’s it, we must build tents! One for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah…”  And I love how Luke is like, “he did not know what he was saying.”  And even God Almighty is like, “What are you talking about?  Tents??  This is my son, my chosen.  Shut up and listen to him!”

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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: 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.  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: 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: 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: Lights on the Way

Monday, August 13, 2018
Funeral of Bill Swanda
Svoboda North Chapel, Schuyler, NE
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Psalm 23
John 14:1-6

One summer, many years ago, I drove through a terrible, terrible storm.  It was the fourth of July.  My family and I had driven down to Norfolk, about an hour from my hometown, to go watch the fireworks.  The show ended up getting cut short by a tornado warning, so we decided to hightail it out of there to try to get out of the storm’s path.  By the time we finally got out on the highway, the rain was pouring down in thick sheets and the wind howled around us as it ripped through the darkness. It was pitch black and almost impossible to see anything, even the road.  It felt like all I could do just to keep my car between the fog lines.  But up ahead of me, I realized I could just make out two little red lights in the darkness – the taillights of my dad’s SUV. As I gripped the steering wheel of my car with white-knuckled hands, I kept my eyes on those lights and followed them all the way through the darkness to home and safety.

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Sermon: Scope for the Imagination

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Sunday, July 8, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

I’m very sad to say that my time with you all is getting very short.  Next weekend will be my last Sunday as Vicar Day.  And those of you who’ve seen my anxiety over the past week know that I still have a LOT of packing left to do!

So, naturally, with so much to do, I decided this past week that I what I really needed to  do was catch up on my Netflix binge-watching.  I’ve been watching the show “Anne with an E” – have any of you seen it?  It’s really good.  The series is an adaptation of the novel Anne of Green Gables, which many of you have probably read.  The story follows an orphaned girl named Anne who is adopted by a middle-aged brother and sister.  Anne as a child is, let’s say, precocious.  She is a romantic with a free spirit, who loves to use big words. In her words, “If you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them!”

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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: The Holy Heist

Sunday, June 10, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Third Sunday After Pentecost

I feel a lot of sympathy for Jesus’ family in our gospel reading for today.  Jesus has been wandering all over Galilee, doing God-knows-what (literally, God knows what!).  But then reports start to reach his family from other people that Jesus has lost his mind. And not only that, but that massive crowds of people have started to follow him around everywhere, just waiting to see what he will say or do next!  And on top of all that, whatever it is he’s been doing has made the religious leaders of the people absolutely furious.  So, naturally, Jesus’ family rushed off to check on Jesus, hoping to reason with him and bring him home.

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