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.
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”
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.”
In order to dig into our gospel reading for today, I want to first start out with a little history lesson. Please don’t fall asleep! This is kind of a puzzling story that we have before us – and I think that digging into the context a little will help us to better understand it.
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.
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 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!”
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.
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.
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”
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”
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”
Saturday, December 9, 2017
Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey, El Paso, TX
First Sunday after Christmas / Primer Domingo después de la Navidad
Nuestra lectura del evangelio para hoy está llena del movimiento del Espíritu Santo. Se ve como el Espíritu ha movido a cuatro personas a venir al templo para tener un encuentro divino con Dios encarnado. Hoy, quiero ofrecer una pequeña reflexión sobre cada uno de estas personas. Y también quiero ofrecerles unas preguntas meditativas para ayudarnos a buscar el movimiento del Espíritu Santo en nuestras propias vidas.
Our gospel lesson for today is full of the movement of the Holy Spirit. We can see how the Spirit has moved these four people to come to the temple for a divine experience of the incarnate God. Today, I want to offer a brief reflection about each of these people. And I also want to offer a few questions for meditation to help us look for how the Holy Spirit might be moving in each of our own lives. Continue reading “Sermon: Caution – Spirit at Work”
I brought some of my own saints with me today. This is one of the most precious pictures I have. This is my great-grandma Martha, my mom, Becky, and my grandma Orpha – we always called her Grandma Ziggy. And that’s little, tiny, baby me in the middle. I’m so grateful to have this photo, because all three of these women died by the time I was ten years old. Continue reading “Sermon: Saints and Citizens of the Kingdom”
In our gospel reading for today, we find Jesus still teaching in the temple and the religious leaders still trying to find some way to trip him up. The Pharisees have decided that it’s time to play another round of “Stump Jesus,” and this time, they’ve thought up a clever question to catch him in a trap: Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Continue reading “Sermon: Property of God”