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”
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!
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.
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.
Taste and see that the Lord is good! The psalmist exults in the graciousness and generosity of God. Today is the third of five Sundays that focus on the theme of the bread of life, as we continue our gospel journey through John 6. All of our texts for today are full of stories of the good gifts that God has given to God’s people. It’s a very bready Sunday!
Good morning! It is such a delight to be here with you all on our first official Sunday together!
We have some really good texts to dig into this morning. But I have to admit that one of them in particular just really reached out and grabbed me by the collar as I was preparing my sermon this week.
I don’t know what led Nicodemus to visit Jesus in the middle of the night in our gospel story for today. The text never really makes it clear. However, I am pretty confident that that visit did not go as he expected. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, an important leader in the Jewish community; and even only three chapters into John, Jesus has already made a name for himself as a popular folk preacher who turns water into wine and hangs out with John the Baptist. Perhaps Nicodemus came to learn from Jesus, or to try to persuade him to reconcile with the other religious leaders. But he never actually gets to the point of his visit or even asks Jesus a question. He starts off his visit by affirming, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” We know. ‘You tick all the boxes: you do signs and wonders, you definitely know your scripture, and oh man, that water into wine thing was just awesome! Nobody could do that stuff apart from God, so God must be with you.’
Good evening/morning! It is such a delight to be here again at Grace Lutheran. I have missed you all. I bring you greetings from the people of Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, NM, and also from Pastor Mike and Kristin Ostrom, who are now at Oregon State University!
It’s so good to be here with you all again. And it seems very fitting that love is such a prominent theme in our texts for this weekend. Grace has always been a community in which I have experienced great Christian love.
Our gospel reading from John especially highlights this theme. This text is part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” to his disciples before he is crucified, in an ultimate act of love. And his words about love raise for us a very important question. This question has one, immediate, right answer, so I want to see if any of you know what it is. Are you ready? What is love? Continue reading “Sermon: What Is Love? (Seriously, though, what is it?)”
This past week, we welcomed our second group of refugees: 12 families from Central America who made the long journey to seek asylum in the US. Some of them traveled for up to a month or more, some with very young children, just to get here. We have been getting a little better and more organized about welcoming them each time we’ve done it. And the volunteers we’ve had helping out have just been awesome. If you’ve helped out with this group or the previous group or have donated anything, please raise your hands. Thank you all for what you’ve been doing. Even the littlest things can make a huge difference. Continue reading “Sermon: Roots and Fruits”
Our gospel text for today comes right on the heels of the story of the road to Emmaus, which is one of my favorite stories in all of scripture. You probably remember the story: two disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection and Jesus joins them, but they don’t recognize him until way later that evening, when they are breaking bread together. I’ve always thought it was kind of a funny story. And I see that same kind of humor in the story we read today. The disciples had literally just been talking about this encounter on the road to Emmaus, and also about an encounter that Peter had with the risen Christ, when Jesus himself appears among them and throws them into a panic. They were already beginning to believe that Jesus really had been raised from the dead, but when he actually showed up in their midst, they totally freaked out – and not in a good way. Continue reading “Sermon: Close Encounters”
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”
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 “Sermon: Bitten Again”
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 “Sermon: Rightness and Reconciliation”
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 “Sermon: Mirror Mirror”
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”
(Se encuentra el texto en español más abajo)
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Christ the King Sunday
St. Andrew Lutheran Church, West Chicago, IL
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters[a] again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
You can hear Pilate getting frustrated with Jesus in their conversation in today’s gospel reading. Jesus is dragged into Pilate’s office by an angry mob who demand his death. Yet, despite this, after hearing the case, Pilate can’t seem to find anything that Jesus has done wrong. He questions Jesus about why the chief priests of his own people have handed him over, but Jesus’ answers are maddeningly unhelpful. Jesus talks about his kingdom, but refuses to admit whether he is really a king or not. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus says. Pilate must have wondered to himself, “Just what kind of a king is this guy?”
Today, we ask ourselves the same question, as we celebrate this Christ the King Sunday. Just what kind of king is this Jesus that we follow? Continue reading “Sermon 10: Little Seeds of Love / Semillitas de amor”