Uplift – June 9, 2017

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In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

This has been a week.
There is a lot of stuff out there trying to cause trouble.
Life stuff.
Death stuff.
Relationship stuff.
Just hard stuff.
People I love are sick, are dying, are struggling, and it’s hard to trust that God wins.
Really hard.
Because sometimes it doesn’t feel that way at all.
Sometimes it feels like cancer is winning.
Or hate is winning.
Or prejudice and injustice are winning.
And in the midst of those really hard things, hearing LOVE WINS isn’t all that helpful.
At. All.
But it is.
It is true, I mean.
Even in the moments where it feels the LEAST true,
It’s true.
It’s truth.

The last time I used this verse was almost exactly a year ago.
July 8th 2016.
There were protests and shootings and it felt pretty dark.
This year, the tension almost feels heavier, if that’s possible.
And somehow it feels like the hits just keep on coming.
More people getting sick.
More people struggling.
So what are we supposed to do with this exactly?
How are we supposed to trust the truth we have in front of us?
You guys.
I wish I knew.
I wish I could give you a magic phrase or activity that would magically solve all the doubts and fears and struggles. But I don’t have it.
All I know is that God has promised that we are not alone, and that love wins.
That’s what I have.
And even for me, some days that doesn’t feel like it’s remotely true.

This verse from John 16 is a part of what is commonly referred to as the farewell discourse.
Jesus is talking about his leaving, and the disciples were confused and scared.
They did not like the world within which Jesus was leaving them.
And they were not confident that they had everything they needed to make it.
And Jesus reminded them that he isn’t going to leave them alone, and that even though the world is going to give them trouble
(I like to think this is the Jesus way of saying crap happens)
they should “take heart.”
The Greek there is actually tharseo, which is often translated as “have courage” but the literal meaning of this word is “to be emboldened from within.”
I LOVE this.
And you know what is within us? The spirit.
This past weekend was Pentecost where we celebrate the movement of the spirit and the recognition and celebration of how we are NOT left alone and how through the Spirit God is always with us as we are sent into the world.
The messy, crap-happening filled world.
So when we are tharseo – emboldened from within – it is the movement of God within us, reminding us that we are children, and beloved and not alone.
And then Jesus says that he will overcome the… wait for it – WORLD.
The same place that gives us trouble? Overcome.
The scary, confusing, dark, heavy, difficult, world is going to be overcome.
And then Jesus goes and shows us what he means.
He Dies AND rises.
Reminding us all once and for all that love really does win.
Shows us that love, when it’s right up against the hate and destruction of this world, always wins.
The things that are not of God,
those things that bring us down and cause us to struggle, they will not stay.
They cannot stand.
They do not win.
It’s true.
I watched it happen this week.
More than once even.
It’s still happening.
Even now. Even in you.
Love wins.
That’s the truth.

June 2, 2017

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For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’m sure a lot of you have heard this scripture before.
Since it was made more famous by the band “the Byrds” most of us can recite this scripture from memory without knowing that we knew:
(sing it with me)
To everything turn turn turn
There is season turn turn turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven
(If it’s not ringing a bell yet, listen here.)

They actually sang eight verses from Ecclesiastes 3, though not quite as written.
Since these lyrics DO come from scripture, here they are, from the Bible, and not the Byrds:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Lovely poetry isn’t it?
No wonder the Byrds used it.
In early Greek translations of this originally Hebrew text, there are two different words used for time and season: chronos and kairos.

Chronos is where we get our words for chronological and chronology and it means actual literal time. It’s quantitative.
(“525600 minutes to measure a year” for example)
(and you’re welcome for that song now also being in your head)

Kairos, in contrast is qualitative. It’s about time, yes, but measures moments instead of minutes. This kind of time is used for those moments when everything is just as it should be, even if it’s not perfect, it feels right, holy even. Kairos is sometimes referred to as God’s timing. I once heard someone say that kairos is those times no matter how fleeting, that make you realize there isn’t one thing you’d change in the moment.

So, going to back Ecclesiastes 3 verse 1, both words are used, so it reads:

for every thing there is a chronos, and a kairos for every matter under heaven.

I know I’m geeking out a bit but this is so cool right?
Yes, there are physical, actual times where things that are horrible and wonderful happen.
We count them by days and hours and dates that we remember and honor and even celebrate.
Like birthdays and good and bad anniversaries.
But there are kairos moments in all of those chronos moments too.
And we see this in verses 2-8, which in the text only uses the word kairos.
There is going to be good stuff and bad stuff in our lives, it’s gonna happen.
But there are moments of holiness in all of it.
Yes really.
Because God is in all of it.
Don’t mishear me – God isn’t orchestrating good and bad, but God is IN good and bad.
So when you are laughing and everything feels sparkly and golden for just that one moment – that’s kairos.
And when you are full on grieving, I mean heave crying lying on the floor grieving – that is kairos too.
Kairos doesn’t mean happy.
It doesn’t mean perfect.
It doesn’t even mean you love what is happening,
it simply means a recognition that no matter WHAT is happening and no matter how you feel, God is present in it with you, and somehow, even the worst moments can be holy moments.
It means God has broken in to the chronos a bit more clearly at that moment.
So then I can have a kairos moment dancing around the living room with my daughter,
and I can have another one at the doctor’s office as they tell me news I wasn’t hoping to hear.

Somehow, for me, this changes everything.
It changes how I see and feel and experience both good and bad moments.
It opens my eyes and heart to the places where God is found in them.
And they turn from just minutes ticking by,
to moments of profound holiness,
where the passing of time is not even felt.
So open your eyes this week uplifters, for those kairos moments breaking into the monotony of our chronos lives.
It’s happening right now.
There is a time for everything, and God is in it all.


Uplift – May 26, 2017

Posted on Posted in Friday Uplift

but he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,
so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ;
for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Cor 12:9-10

Last week I talked about how we’re strong and unstoppable with God’s armor covering us and protecting us …it’s what helps us stay standing in the world.
And that’s still true.
But this week, I want to talk about weakness.
Specifically, how we don’t like it, but how God does.
When you think about your life, when are/were the times you turned to God?
When everything was great?
When you got that dream job or married your person?
When you had a healthy result at your physical?
I’m guessing not right?
Most of us, if we’re honest, don’t call on God during the good times.
The times we call on God most often are the opposite usually.
When we aren’t feeling the strongest.
When we’ve gotten bad news,
When we’ve lost a loved one.
We turn to God in the hardest moments of our lives.
Or, if you’re like me, you turn to God when you’ve tried ALL the other options and none of them have worked out.
Tried to fight on my own? Yep.
Pretending everything was fine? Done that.
Talked about it with anyone who would listen? That too.
Blamed God and ignored God as my punishment for what was happening? Oh yes.
We don’t like to be weak.
We honor those who power through and get over and muscle in.
We say things like “Pain is weakness leaving the body” and “weakness is a choice” to encourage people to fight harder and do more.
But in the life of faith, weakness has a place. An important place.
Also, pain isn’t weakness leaving the body, it’s a feeling you get when things aren’t the way they are supposed to be.
Pain is the result of injury, physical or emotional. And, sure, after the pain heals, strength usually follows, but sometimes it’s just pain. So stop. (Ok, let me just climb down off of my soapbox here)
And I think God wants us to know weakness is ok.
That it can be as celebrated as strength.
It’s when we’re weak, when we’re suffering, when we’re at the bottom,
that’s when we tend to come to God for help.
And while God doesn’t like that we’re feeling this way,
God also knows that it’s just in these moments where God’s grace and love and strength can be felt best.

Paul writes in this letter to the Corinthians that he had this pain that wouldn’t go away, and God told him that God’s grace is enough. God’s grace is what makes us strong.
Paul’s response?
It is in weaknesses that I am strong.

Oooof that is so hard and so amazing.
Because God said that it is OUR weakness that makes GOD’S power perfect.
A more literal translation of the Greek there says that God’s power isn’t complete until it is joined with our weakness. Isn’t that so beautiful?
It is in our weakness that we see God’s grace is enough.
See, in these verses, even though he had been complaining and struggling to understand why his pain didn’t go away, Paul finally understood that God does the best work when we don’t have the strength to do any more.
When we think we’re at the end of our rope, God gives us something to hang onto.
When we think we can’t possibly see in all the darkness within us and around us, God sheds a little light.
We’ve all got things in our lives that can only be overcome with God.
Sure, we’ll keep trying to get it handled by ourselves, I mean, we’re still US,
but the good news,
maybe the best news for those of us exhausted from the fight,
is that the moment we give up on doing it on our own is the moment God is just getting started.

Uplift – May 19, 2017

Posted on Posted in Friday Uplift

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day and, having done everything, to stand firm.
Ephesians 6:13


As a person who hasn’t ever really liked violent or war-like images around God, I have long ignored verses in scripture about fighting or going to battle for God.  
They just make me uncomfortable.
I’m not a fighter.
Sure, I’m passionate and I’ll stand up for what I believe is right, but I’m not someone who jumps into the fray fists first.
It’s why I’ve found myself drawn to Gandhi and MLK Jr and the many other non-violent protesters in our history. It’s like they’re my people.
So this verse, about putting on the armor of God, has always been a tough one.
I’m not a soldier.
I value those who are, I think they are incredibly selfless to put their lives on the line for me and my freedoms, but I find it hard to relate to this image.
Especially when there are images of what this armor of God looks like:
A roman soldier looking man with a suit of armor on…

(Usually the question on these pictures says “Are you ready for battle?”… Um. nope.)
So this suit of armor, the armor of God, includes a belt of truth and a breastplate of righteousness.

A shield of faith and a helmet of salvation.

It has shoes of peace and a sword of truth.
The pictures usually are the suit of armor and then there are just WORDS on the armor, like having the word on there makes it the thing.

You guys.
That it NOT what Paul is saying.
Not at all.

Paul was writing this in his letter to the newly born church in Ephesus to help them live into their new identity in Christ.  What does it mean that they’ve been given a new life? How does that life look different than their old one?
The people in this new church knew that the city in which they were living wasn’t suddenly without problems or temptation just because they began following Jesus.
(to which we all say, DUH)
But Paul wanted the people to know that with Jesus on their side, they could withstand anything.
Any temptation.
Any evil.
Any illness.
Any struggle.
Any doubt.
Not that they wouldn’t come, but that our faith is what helps us stay standing.
So he uses this metaphor.
Of armor.
Which let’s be honest, is not all that relatable for us today.
A suit of armor is pretty impractical actually.
But to the people in Ephesus – this probably made a lot of sense.
They knew what an actual suit of armor was supposed to do.
It was supposed to keep them alive in battle.
That’s what the armor of God does too.
It protects our new life.
But it’s not an actual suit of armor.
God’s armor is different.
And it doesn’t look a thing like battle gear.
We have truth surrounding us, like a belt.
Instead of a breastplate, we have righteousness protecting our hearts.
Instead of a shield, we have faith protecting us from the barbs and arrows sure to come our way.
We have salvation covering our head, like a helmet would.
Instead of sword or other weapon, we have the word of God to help us fight against injustice.
And we have shoes (Paul says, any shoes will work, as long as they are peaceful) that help us take the Gospel out into the world.
I mean. Dang.
Doesn’t that seem better than a whole bunch of metal armor covering you?
When life gets tough, when things don’t go the way we hope,
When temptation surrounds us and we want to give up.
When we think we aren’t going to survive whatever battle we find ourselves in,
Then we remember the armor that God gives us.
The world tells us over and over again we are in danger, imminent danger, and we need to take care of ourselves and protect ourselves with metal cages that insulate us from the world outside.
But that’s not what a life in Christ is about.
We don’t need a metal suit protecting us, but faith and truth and peace.

Paul is reminding the followers of Christ, reminding us, that when we feel like we’re under attack, like either the world, or those around us, or even our own bodies are trying to pull us under… we have Jesus, and he has promised to be with us.
And then Jesus gives us all these tools to help us in the battle to just stay upright.
So remember this the next time you struggle.
Remember that Jesus has given you gifts that cover you from head to toe.
Yes you.
You’re not alone.
And you’ve got this.

Uplift – May 12, 2017

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Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he went to a desolate place and prayed.
Mark 1:35

I’m not a morning person.
I want to be a morning person, really, I do.
But oof.
It’s just so darn hard to get out of bed.
I used to be anti-snooze, but now I’d say I’m a snooze aficionado.
But a few times a week, I manage to get myself out of bed before the sunrise.
And honestly, there is something kind of magical about that time.
As the horizon gets lighter and lighter.
As the sky changes colors as it brightens.
It’s peaceful and calm and holy.
Even though I’m tired and often wish I were still in bed, it’s still a holy place.

So it’s no wonder that when the Gospel authors recorded Jesus praying, they almost always noted the time of day – that it was early, very early, as Mark says today,
There is something that happens early, before our day really gets going,
before things ramp up.
That’s when Jesus prayed.
I notice they don’t say he prayed at the end of the day,
Or in the middle of the day.
And though I’m sure that Jesus prayed more than once a day,
It’s interesting that if the time was noted, it was the morning.

I think it’s because of this same thing I’ve experienced before the sun rises.
It’s holy.
So calm and peaceful.
There aren’t kids awake.
The neighbors haven’t started working in the yard.
No one is calling or emailing.
You haven’t had time to regret things or worry about things to come.

Very early, while it was still dark.

Also, in Mark’s gospel, notice how Jesus goes to a desolate place to pray.
In the dark, in the early morning, to a desolate place.
The Greek word used here is erēmos
And it means a place without people, solitary, or deserted.
I like to think of the modern version of this prayer as being in a place without distractions.
How often are we really in solitude?
There’s always a way to connect with someone else right at our fingertips.
And we use it.
All the time.

So often the first thing I do in the morning is pick up my phone.
Jesus prayed.
(which is why he is Jesus and I’m not, obviously)
But what might happen if this is how we do it?
If we got up and prayed first?
If we got up, before the sun, and went to a place by ourselves and prayed first?

So here’s what I’m thinking…
Prayer can be overwhelming.
We don’t know what to say or how to do it.
So if that’s the thing holding you back,
I’d suggest to think about it like a conversation.
Ask for God to be with you in your day.
Tell God about the things that are worrying you.
Lift up the names of the people in your life that are struggling.
There’s no “right” way to pray. I promise.
But if that’s too much for you, if it feels overwhelming,
(even though I promise that it’s not)
try the Lord’s Prayer.

Or, if you’re Lutheran like me, Luther wrote a morning prayer that can be just lovely:

Whatever you pray, I’d like to challenge you to try praying this week.
Get up early. Before the sun.
And have the first thing you say be a prayer.
It’s just one week.
You can do it.

Uplift – May 5, 2017

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Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:5

There are those days where nothing goes right.
Or you’re wearing crabby pants and can’t get them to come off.
Or where you get bad news after already having bad news and bad news.
Or where some long buried grief rears it’s head once again and you just spend the day crying.
At our house, when my daughter has a moment of pushing back against the parental units, we often remind her that tomorrow is new day.
A chance to start over.
So we’re just gonna go to bed, and let tomorrow be tomorrow, and today be today.

As fixers, we like to DO something to make a day better.
We tell each other and ourselves what we need to do
Go for a walk.
Or a run. (though if you’re like me that makes it worse somehow)
Or do yoga.
Or go out with friends.
And some of that does work.
But sometimes, it’s just the day.
And the only way to make it better is to end the day.
Go to bed.
Get some rest.
And then wake up to a new day.

Sometimes, this happens.
It’s literally just a matter of letting the worst day happen, be done and moving on.
And that’s awesome.
Then you can wake up and remember this verse and embrace the joy in the moment.

But sometimes, this verse is figurative.
And the weeping filled-night lasts a long time.
More than one night.
And you are just waiting for the new day.
The morning to come.
And it feels like it never will.

It does.
Let me tell you right now.
It. Does. Come.
Joy comes.
It’s not always immediate.
But no matter how long the night, the new day, and joy, do come.

Sometimes, the joy comes because you don’t feel the pain as acutely as the day before.
Like a baby-step away from the weeping night.
That’s all it takes.
I have a friend who says that sometimes after you’re really sick, like with the flu, and you wake up that first day and think you might be able to get out of bed and maybe even eat something, and it feels amazing.
To someone else it might be just average-feeling, maybe even still pretty bad in comparison, but you know what really bad feels like so it’s time to celebrate not feeling awful.
That’s joy. 

This whole psalm (psalm 30) is a celebration of promises kept.
The author is rejoicing in the joy that has come,
while also not forgetting how bad things were.
This psalm is a reminder that yes, things might not be great right now.
They might not be the way we had hoped they’d go.
They might even be really, really bad.
But there is joy to come.
Even in the midst of the worst, there is joy to come.
I promise.

Even better, God promises.

Sermon – April 30, 2017

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Title: Burning Hearts
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24: 13-35

****Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here

If I had to pick a theme for this week, it would be centered around the three word phrase that these two disciples in today’s Gospel say to Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

We had hoped.
It’s still Easter. I know, it was two whole weeks ago already. But it’s still Easter.
Yet somehow it doesn’t quite feel like it.
We had hoped.
So much can be contained in those three words: We had hoped.
They are so powerful and heartbreaking and …familiar.
We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, they say in today’s Gospel.
We had hoped Easter would feel a little more, I don’t know… Eastery? Is that a word?
We had hoped we’d feel different. New. Better.

We had hoped for a clear scan, for a different diagnosis.
We had hoped we’d have more time.
We had hoped to have children.
We had hoped we’d be happy.
We had hoped to grow old together.
We had hoped our life would be simpler, or different, or at least easier.
We had hoped.

One of the reasons these three words are so powerful is because they are present.
There’s no silver lining or happy resolution.
It’s just hard.
We had hoped.
I know I’m generalizing a bit here, but we mostly like our grief in the past.
We don’t like to hear how bad things are until we can talk about it in the past as if it’s all better now.
And we like our comfort in the midst of suffering to be about the future – things will get better.
You will be ok.
The sun will come out tomorrow.
But these three words are none of those things.
We had hoped is right smack dab in the middle.
Not past, not future.
Right now.
Last week, during our ask the pastors, one of our brave question askers wondered about talking to someone about God in the midst of grief… and in the midst of her question she said that sometimes we can’t see God because of all the pain.
That stuck with me this week.
It stuck with me because I think it’s profound and so true.
And I think that’s right where these two guys are in today’s Gospel.
They are right in the middle of their grief and confusion. And they can’t see God for all the pain.
We had hoped.

Jesus shows up.
Just like Jesus always shows up. In the middle of the fear and confusion and sadness and anger.
Not at the destination, but right where they are.
And they don’t recognize him.
They see him, but they don’t recognize him.
I hear this story and sometimes think “how can they not have known?”
How did they not recognize Jesus walking with them?
I would know.  I would recognize him for sure.
But then someone we love dies.
Or we get sick.
Someone says something horrible about us.
A friendship ends.
We lose our job.
We see another negative on yet another pregnancy test.
And suddenly it’s not so clear.
We don’t recognize Jesus right there with us through our grief and pain and heartache.
Even though he’s there.
We see him, but we don’t recognize him.

Jesus today gives us a glimpse of what God does in the midst of suffering.
Every time we say “we had hoped…”
This story of the road to Emmaus is just a gorgeous picture of a theology of suffering.
When we ask where is God in this pain or hurt – this story is where we ought to turn.

So first.
He shows up.
Jesus is there.
On whatever road contains our disappointed hopes.
Jesus shows up.
Verse 15 says “Jesus himself came near and went with them”

He went with them, he walked alongside them.
He doesn’t say “I’m here now, it’s ok!”
And he doesn’t say “Look guys, I resurrected from the dead so no need to be sad or confused or upset anymore.” Resurrection solves all the things.
First of all, because none of that is helpful.
But also because walking on that road means that sometimes it takes a long time to see God through the pain.
Maybe longer than the seven miles we hear about today.
Maybe seven months.
Seven years.
So what does Jesus do on this road?
He walks with them.
For as long as it takes.
He doesn’t tell them to hurry up.
Or to go back to Jerusalem.
He just walks with them.
And while they walk, he asks them to name the pain they are experiencing, and then he listens.
In verse 19, Jesus says “What things?”

You guys.
Jesus knew.
The things were about him.
He knew.

But he still gave them space to talk about it as they walked.
To not ignore the pain.
To not pretend that it wasn’t there.
He says “what things” and then listens as they process all they have seen and felt.
As they say “we had hoped.”
And still, he doesn’t say it’s me!
He talks to them about all the ways scripture has prepared them to connect the dots.
But he doesn’t do it for them.
Not even when they are about to part ways does he make himself known.
He joins them for a meal, and it isn’t until they break bread together that they finally recognize him.
Notice that when they invite him to stay with them to eat, they still don’t know who he is.
They aren’t inviting Jesus to stay, but a stranger.
Their willingness to continue to engage with someone they didn’t know, to offer comfort and food to a traveler despite their own grief is such a beautiful moment.  And one that had a huge and powerful consequence.
Jesus walks with them, on their confusing and painful journey, and listens as they tell him about their disappointed hopes, and yet it is only in the breaking of the bread together, around a table, so intimate a moment, where they see Jesus for who he is.

And then, just like that, Jesus vanishes from their sight.
But this isn’t how the story ends.
No, this story is just getting interesting.
Because they look at each other and they say “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?”
Were not our hearts burning?
Last week at our second service one of the questions was about discerning God’s voice and Chad commented that often it is when we look back that we can clearly see God at work in our lives.
Looking back, after the journey we were on is over, our eyes are opened and we have that same moment… Where we couldn’t see God for our pain but then looking back we see all these ways in which God was there, walking with us, listening, giving us tools to connect the dots?
These two disciples have that same moment of hindsight.
They look back at the things Jesus had said to them while they walked and saw it for what it was.  
Saw this man for who he was.
Were not our hearts burning within us?

I love this image.
In fact, it’s one used a lot to describe the feeling of a call.  Not just to ministry but a call to do something, a call to action, a call to help or talk or be with.
When you have that moment of “I think I’m supposed to do something here” … that’s what this means.  Your heart burning within you.
Recognizing the movement and call of God around you.
It stirs up something in our hearts.
And it happens all the time.
After we recognize Jesus.
After he is made known to us.
Then our hearts burn within us.
And we have to get up and do something.

**Where do you want to go, how much you want to risk?** (Lyrics from a song at 10:30)

That’s exactly what happens next.
Even though they had been walking away from Jerusalem, even though they had made it to Emmaus, they get up and turn around and head back.
Back to the city.
Back to the place that they had left.
Back along the road filled with their hopes and confusion.
But this time, it feels different.
Like maybe everything has changed.
And they want to share it with the others.
The eleven still in the city.
Still confused.
Still wondering if maybe what the women had said was true.
Still in that place of grief.
And these two come in and say, listen – this thing happened, we saw him.
He walked with us.
Jesus is risen.
And you know what the proof was?  The thing that made it real? The thing that opened our eyes and how we figured it out?
It was in the breaking of the bread.

Oh this story.
It’s just beautiful.
A reminder of how Jesus comes to us, right where we are.
How we can talk and he will listen.
And a reminder that it is in the breaking of the bread where we will know him.
We don’t have communion today, but the next time you come forward, no matter if it’s here or somewhere else, when you come to the meal at the table, remember that Jesus is made known in that moment, to you, for you, in the breaking of the bread.
It gives me goosebumps to think of it.

I don’t know where you’re at today, or what place in this story you find yourself…

I don’t know if your heart is burning within you right at this very moment, or if you are still on that long road, struggling, saying: “I had hoped.”

But what I do know is that Jesus is here.
Jesus is with us.
Walking alongside us in the midst of our pain and confusion.
In the midst of our lives.
Not trying to solve anything, just walking with us.
Calling us into a new life right along with him.


Sermon – April 16, 2017 (Easter)

Posted on Posted in Sermons

***Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here***

He is Risen!
(he is risen indeed)
He is Risen!
(He is risen indeed)



By a show of hands, how many of you can tell me what eggs, chicks, and bunnies have to do with Easter?
Believe it or not, they are connected.
Ok maybe loosely.
But this day is all about new life.
And eggs, chicks, bunnies, flowers, they all are a part of this new life.

(Not jellybeans, which explains why they are horrible and disgusting and should be left out of Easter altogether)

Here in MN Easter often feels like the unofficial start of spring.  
Even the years where we’re wearing winter coats over the Easter dresses.
And spring, especially up here, is all about new life.
Even today, we’re starting to see bits of green pop through on the trees and on lawns.  
There are crocuses and violets popping up, and I even saw a daffodil on a walk in my neighborhood this week.
New life.

This day feels so far away in January.
When it’s 30 below and there’s snow on the ground and in the forecast.
And our winters can feel pretty dark.
But then, spring.
New life.
We were right in the middle of the darkness on Friday.
If you were with us, you know that we didn’t hold back, and we were witness to the pain and horror of the death of Jesus.
It’s not something we really like being a part of.
It’s too dark, if we’re honest.
But it’s on this day, this Easter Sunday that we’re reminded death didn’t win.

Theologian Frederick Buechner said that “Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.”

We’ve been a part of the worst thing.
We watched as Jesus was arrested, tried, beaten, and put to death.
We watched as he was taken down from the cross and buried.
We felt the weight of the worst thing.
And it’s uncomfortable.
Really uncomfortable.
Perhaps this is why attendance on Good Friday is less than the celebrations of Easter Sunday.
We don’t like to think about the worst thing.
The darkness of death.
But today – we remember the worst thing is never the last thing.
Death doesn’t win.

Early in the morning, as the sun was just beginning to rise, Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James came to the tomb.
They believed that death had won.
They weren’t there to witness a miracle.
They were there to mourn.
It’s not anything out of the ordinary, even today.  
We do this very thing.
We go to cemeteries and resting places and remember and honor and cry and pray.
The Mary’s were there alone.
The other disciples weren’t with them.
Not Peter, not John.
Just these two women.
And there was an earthquake, and the stone was rolled away by an angel and then he sat on it.
The accounts of this moment vary from Gospel to Gospel, but Matthew’s is one of my favorites.
Because that picture, of the ground shaking and and angel moving the stone and then just casually sitting on it like it’s totally normal.
And the soldiers? They faint.
I actually think that’s what most of us would do in that scenario.
But those ladies.
They don’t faint.
Oh no.
The angel says to them – do not be afraid.
Jesus is not here.  
He has been raised.
Look for yourselves.
He has been raised from the dead and is on his way to Galilee…Go.

These ladies – the ones who aren’t often counted, who aren’t seen, who aren’t listened to, are the first ones to hear the good news.
One of my favorite authors Glennon Doyle Melton says that this isn’t a mistake. She says
“Women are the first to know and to believe miraculous nonsense… and it is our faith in miraculous nonsense heals the world.”
They didn’t do anything special.
They just showed up.
Kleenex and burial spices in hand, ready to mourn.
And they witnessed a miracle.
Resurrection. New life.
Right there in front of them.

The women go, just as the angel told them, running to tell the disciples what they have seen.
One of the reasons I love Matthew’s version of this story is when the angel sends the women out – Matthew makes note of how they felt.

With fear and great joy they ran from the tomb.

I can almost see it.
These two women running back from the tomb on outskirts of town.
Talking to each other as they go.
Did that really just happen?
Did we just see what we think we saw?
Was that real?
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?  
Can it be true?
Is it even possible?
What does that mean?
Back and forth as they run.
They playing back the moments they experienced with Jesus the past few years and wondering if maybe all the things he said were really true.
Fear and great joy.
This person they loved, the teacher in whom they put their trust, he was no longer dead.
He is alive.

And that might just mean that everything changed.
Fear and great joy.

And on the way they run right into Jesus.
He says do not be afraid.
He gives them a word of comfort first – he sees their fear and joy and says do not be afraid.
And then he follows it up with a command.
Go and tell the others what you have seen.

And they do.
Obviously they do.
Because the good news has made it here.
It made it past the tomb, past the road to Galilee,
Past the room where the disciples were gathered.
It made it here.
He is Risen.
The tomb is empty and the worst thing is not the last thing.

This Easter we too have encountered the empty tomb.
We too have wondered what it means for us.
What might it mean that the things that were killing us don’t have any power over us anymore?
What might it mean that your own sin and death and pain and addiction and hopelessness and grief are no longer in that tomb?
What does it mean that you are no longer dead but YOU have been given this very same new life?
No wonder the women left the empty tomb with joy AND fear.
But just as Jesus comes to the women on the road, he comes to us.
And he says do not be afraid.
This is real.
This is really happening.
And just as it mattered to those women on that first Easter, it still matters right now, on this day, for us.
God is here.
Still giving new life to things we thought were dead.
Still bringing light into darkness.
Still creating joy amid our fear.
Still inviting us to step outside ourselves and share this good news.
And Easter is more than this one day.
It’s more than eggs, and candy and bunnies.
Easter is a promise.
A daily promise.  
A daily promise to new life.
A daily promise that the worst thing is never, ever the last thing.
And it’s a call to not be afraid, to not give into the fear, but embrace the joy, and then go and tell.

He is Risen.
(He is Risen Indeed)
He is Risen!
(He is Risen Indeed)





Sermon – April 2, 2017

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Title: All the Feels.
Scripture: Romans 8:6-11; John 11: 1-7, 17-45

***sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here***

I started my first church job in 2003. With a biology major and a handful of years of experience in veterinary medicine under my belt, I was completely unprepared for the reality of my first year of ministry. In just that first year, I had a student try to end their life, another lose a parent, and one of my small group leaders lost her husband of only 8 months to an unknown heart condition. I knew one thing for certain – I was in over my head.
And in the years since, during many moments of grief and loss, around hospital bedsides, family tables, living rooms, and Sunday morning coffee hours, I have learned a lot about what not to say. (and trust me, this is mostly because I’ve said some version of them all at some point)

Here are just a few:
I know how you feel.
It’s ok.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (I’m looking at you Kelly Clarkson)
Everything happens for a reason.
God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.
It could be worse.
It’s God’s plan.
Any phrase starting with the words “just” or “at least” … you might remember a video that made the rounds awhile ago with Dr Brene Brown talking about empathy and how it never begins with the words “at least”
A favorite author and artist of mine, Emily McDowell writes these incredible greeting cards she calls empathy cards – and they are good reminders of things not to say. 
So what are we supposed to say in these moments?
What’s the right response?

In today’s text – we have one more story of Jesus showing those around him just who he is. And in it, we get a window into what it means to be around grief and loss and all the feelings that go along with it.  And there are a lot of feelings in this one.
As miraculous as this moment is, we have all been here. We have all experienced the feelings that are expressed in this story.

When Jesus encounters Martha, the first thing she says is “if you had been here.”
And he gets the same response when he goes and finds Mary.
If you had just been here.
I mean yeah.
Who hasn’t had that moment with Jesus?
Who hasn’t turned your eyes to God and said those same words.
If you had only been here Jesus, this wouldn’t have happened.
He’d be alive.
I’d be ok.
She’d be healthy.
If you had only been here.

In the uplift devotional I write weekly, this section of John’s Gospel is the one I have reflected on the most.  
Because Mary and Martha are all of us in the midst of grief.
We have all felt what they feel.
They come each in turn and express their grief.
And what does Jesus say?
He doesn’t say “He’s in a better place”
He doesn’t say “Everything happens for a reason”
Jesus cries.
He doesn’t feel bad for them he just feels just bad.
And despite the fact that he definitely knows what he’s going to do, that he’s going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he still cries.

He doesn’t try to move them along in their grief.
Doesn’t tell them that they should believe better or more or differently.
Doesn’t even get mad at them for doubting that he could do something miraculous here.
He just cries right along with them.
This is Jesus at his most human.
He recognizes that his friend, the one whom he loves, is, in fact, dead.
And he experiences the full scope of what it means to lose someone you love.
Who among us hasn’t felt this exact moment?
Where your grief overtakes you.
Where you let it out.
Where you can’t be strong and you just can’t hold it together one minute more.
Jesus cries.
And then he gets to work.
Right there. In the middle of all of those feelings.
He tells them to take him to the tomb, has them roll away the stone, and calls out to Lazarus, “come out!”
And then, in verse 44 it says “the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.”

The dead man came out.
I think it’s the funniest phrase in this whole text.
Because for Lazarus to get up and walk out of there, he was obviously not dead, but they had no other way to describe him.
I suppose they could have called him the formerly dead man as they did in last week’s text to the man who was formerly born blind.

But this guy had really been dead.
4 days dead.
In Jewish tradition they believe the soul doesn’t leave the body until after three days, so the fact that it’s four days means that he is really dead. There is no hope of revival.
Of new life.
Again, who of us haven’t been here?
How many times have we been without hope?
Have we given up?
Have we thought someone or something was beyond reach?
We’ve all been here.

Gives a new meaning to the phrase dead man walking doesn’t it?
Lazarus, who was dead, comes back to life.
And so Jesus again reveals his power as the Son of God.
There is nothing so dead that God can’t bring it back to life.

So Lazarus is alive.
We next hear from him in John’s Gospel, sitting at the table with Jesus, eating a meal together and reclining on him. Leaning on him.
And it’s not like they became friends after this moment, no – they have a close relationship before this moment, which is likely why the death of his friend is so difficult for Jesus when he comes faces to face with the fact that Lazarus has died.
So then their friendship continues.
He will watch his friend die, and rise.
And eventually, Lazarus will die again too.
But now he knows.
This is not the end.
There is nothing, not even death, that can’t be overcome by the love of God we see in Jesus.

Jesus tells Mary that he is the Resurrection and the life.
I love this part of this story.
It’s the verse I find myself coming back to over and over again when I read it.
Earlier manuscripts used to leave “and the life” off of this phrase because they thought it was a mistake.
But Jesus isn’t being redundant.
He is BOTH Resurrection AND life.
The AND is important.
It’s here AND now.
It’s new life now, today, AND life after death.
Jesus brings us BOTH.  

We have heard this kind of resurrection preached over and over again these past few weeks, as Jesus finds a woman, a Samaritan woman who had been rejected by her own community and brings her into new life, as Jesus finds a blind man and gives him new vision to see the Son of God, and we hear it today as Lazarus hears his name called by the God who loves him and brings him back from the dead into life.
Resurrection AND life.
And it’s not just hearing about it either… we’ve seen this kind of resurrection time and time again here as well.
We’ve seen it in the moments of hope when all hope had been lost.
We see it as we cry together during and support each other in our hardest moments.
We’ve seen it week after week this Lent as people in our community of faith have shared their wilderness moments and how God somehow keeps finding them there.

We’re going to experience it again this morning as we come forward, hold out our hands and hear that this new life is FOR YOU.

Given. A gift.
Resurrection AND life.