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: Us and Us

Sunday, May 19, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday of Easter

During my first few months in the Dominican Republic, I lived with a host family.  They were very nice people and I got along great with them for the most part.  But my host mom, Doña Nicia, never thought I ate enough – she was always trying to get me to eat more.  The trouble was that, after a while, I had gotten really tired of eating rice and beans all the time.  It was always the same thing every day: rice and beans, stewed meat, mashed plantains, and a big mug of fresh milk in the morning and in the evening – the milk part sounds really nice until you find yourself actually having to peel your milk twice a day (I never thought I’d appreciate the word “homogenized” so much).

One day, Doña Nicia’s daughter-in-law, Moraima, made a great big pot of a rice dish called chofán and brought a bowl over for me.  It was basically fried rice with a mix of vegetables and some chicken – and I completely devoured it.  Seeing this, my host mom was like, “Aha!  She likes chofán!”  So the very next day at lunch, Doña Nicia proudly set before me a big, heaping bowl of “chofán”; except, instead of rice and a mix of different vegetables, this was rice with a mix of different meats: chicken, pork, goat, and – I swear to you this is true – hot dogs, all chopped up into little pieces.  I knew she was so excited to make it for me, so I ate as much of it as I could stomach.  But to be honest, I felt a lot like I imagine Peter did in our reading from Acts.  In Peter’s case, he has a vision of some kind of bizarre picnic descending down out of the clouds – and a voice tells him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” and Peter takes one look at that picnic and is just like, “Uhhh… pass.”

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Sermon: Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd

Sunday, May 12, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday of Easter

In case our readings for this morning didn’t already give it away, today is the Sunday in the church calendar when we celebrate “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  We celebrate that God in Christ is our good shepherd.

And even though most of us have little or no experience with actual, real-life sheep or sheep-herding, we have at least some idea of what a shepherd does.  We know that shepherds are responsible for the wellbeing of their sheep, which is a 24/7 job.  Shepherds guide their sheep to food and water, they protect them from predators, and they find shelter for them when things start to get stormy.  They help the sheep to survive and flourish.  It’s a position of trust; like Jesus says in our gospel reading, the sheep learn to recognize the voice of their shepherd and they follow it.

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Sermon: You Are Mine

Sunday, January 13, 2019
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: 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: 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: 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.

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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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