Sermon – January 1, 2017

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Sermons are meant to be heard, not just read – so listen along HERE.

Scripture: Isaiah 63:7-9, Matthew 2:13-21
Title: Be it Resolved

Happy New Year!

I don’t know what brought you here this morning – maybe, like me, you no longer stay up to watch the transition between years, and so since you were up anyway, here you are.
Maybe your last few days or weeks haven’t been the greatest for you and you needed this place on this day.
Maybe you came this morning because you’ve resolved to come to church more, and it would seem like a bad start to miss the FIRST SUNDAY of the new year.

Whatever brought you here today – welcome.  Good morning.  Happy New Year.


This morning’s texts give us a quick departure from the happiness of the holiday season.  Many of us are still right in the midst of parties and joyful gatherings, some today and tomorrow even.

So it’s difficult to come to church and hear such a dark text in today’s Gospel.
And yet – it doesn’t really feel all that out of place.
How many of you have a new year’s resolution?
Why do we resolve new things each year? To be resolved is to decide firmly on a course of action. And in a time of transition like a new year, it feels like the right time to make resolutions.
I think we like the new beginning, the feeling of a fresh start, especially after a sometimes unexpectedly tough year.   

Many of us have experienced a really difficult 2016, losing loved ones, some feeling their safety in the world is compromised, others experiencing health scares and losses of independence.

It’s 2017 today – and no matter how much we want it to, somehow a new year doesn’t just erase all of the things that have happened.  
Oh we want it to.
But it doesn’t.
So here we are, come to church with our fresh outlook on 2017, ready to begin anew with light and life and love and we hear about darkness and fear and death.

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod.

For the family of Jesus, the joy and celebrations of his birth are literally just ending, the visitors are heading home, Mary can finally get some rest, and then Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream.
The angel doesn’t bring good news this time,  doesn’t tell him to not be afraid, no, this angel tells Joseph to leave because he is in danger.

Go… flee.
The word used there implies action, and quick action.
Don’t take your time Joseph. Go. Go now.
And he does.
Joseph gets up, and in the cover of night, the family runs away to Egypt.

Do you know what word is defined as: “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster” ?  


Jesus and his family were refugees.


Last year during our Good Friday services, we read sonnets about the road to the cross written by poet Malcolm Guite.  He has written a poem called “Refugee” about this Sunday’s Gospel and I’d like to read a part of it here this morning:

Refugee – by Malcolm Guite
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Jesus, son of God, was a refugee.
I don’t think we like to think about this.
I think it actually makes us pretty uncomfortable.
We like to think of the birth of Jesus like a warm happy glowing Christmas card.
Peace on earth, goodwill toward all.
But that is not the world which Christ was born into.
No, Christ was born into Herod’s world.
And Herod was not the best guy.
He was a powerful ruler who had just heard there was a baby born that was going to rule the world.
If you were the guy in charge, and heard this, it might not be good news to you like it was to the shepherds and outcasts and those under Roman rule.
If you were the Roman ruler, this was definitely BAD news.
So Herod acts.

Christ comes into the world.
And then is run out of his home because of violence and hatred.
Jesus and his family, running for their lives, go to Egypt.

What do the Egyptians do?
When faced with the refugee crisis in today’s Gospel, what do they do?
Maybe they should legislate.
Maybe they will turn it into a political issue.
Maybe they ignore the humanity of Jesus and instead call him a foreigner.
He’s not like us, they say.
Maybe they should even ban him coming in altogether.
We need to take care of ourselves – they say – that’s what we should do.

Imagine if this is the way the people in Egypt responded.
What would we think of them?

That is the world Christ is born into.
And – and this is important – this is still the world Christ is born into.
When we gather and celebrate Christ coming into the world we can all acknowledge that even today the world is not warm and peaceful and glowing.
The world today is still broken, still angry, still fearful.
And when Christ comes into this world – the gospel today reminds us exactly where Christ is.
He is not with the person in power.
He is not helping or acting on behalf of the person in power.
His very life is threatened and he makes a run for safety.
Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, is a refugee.


We shouldn’t pick sides…Maybe that’s what you’re thinking today.
That I’ve picked a side.
And my response is you bet I have.
So should you.
Because God has already picked a side.
And it’s not here.
It’s not in this room.
It’s with those to whom his coming is good news.
And today – the good news is for the refugee.  

Anglican priest Joy Carroll Wallis once said that
“We Christians like to talk about putting Christ back into Christmas, but let’s not forget to put Herod back into Christmas. Herod represents the dark side of the gospel. He reminds us that Jesus didn’t enter a world of sparkly Christmas cards or a world of warm spiritual sentiment. Jesus enters a world of real pain, of serious dysfunction, a world of brokenness and political oppression. Jesus was born an outcast, a homeless person, a refugee, and finally he becomes a victim to the powers that be. Jesus is the perfect savior for outcasts, refugees, and nobodies.”

Today’s Gospel is messy.
It’s not warm and cozy.
It’s violent and angry and hard to hear.

But it’s a reminder that God didn’t enter a perfect world.
It’s a reminder that God isn’t just with us in the warm cozy joyful moments, but that when God came to be with us God entered a broken, violent, messed up world too.
Then and now.
God is with us in all of it.

So here we are.
Welcoming Christ into the world yet again.
As we heard on Christmas – “for unto YOU is born a savior”
Christ has come to us, for all of us.
For the whole world.
Only now we know how the story ends.
For we move from the beginning of the good news, the “for you” found in that little baby in a manger,
to the rest of it – for it was on the night on which he was betrayed, when our lord Jesus took bread, broke it, gave it to the disciples and said, take and eat, this is my body, broken for YOU.



End of worship closing:

So on this first day of 2017, as we start to think about the things we want to resolve to be or do in the coming year – I want you to try a new kind of resolution with me.
Can we try this together?

I want us to resolve to look for Jesus in the world around us…in those who are on the outside, who feel oppressed, who are fearful, who are hurting.  

I want us to resolve to try harder to understand our world is not the whole world. To understand that if we’re honest, we look for Christ where we’re comfortable going, and not necessarily where he really is.

I want us to resolve to be the love of God in the world – no matter who we are with, where we go, or who we encounter.

Christ has shown us which side he is on.
Let’s resolve to be with Christ, as Christ has already resolved to be with us.

There are a few organizations that do important and helpful and ethical work with refugees – right now, on the ground, in Aleppo. Please consider giving them your support:

* Lutheran World Relief

* Pre-Emptive Love

* White Helmets

* Doctors Without Borders

* Save the Children

* Together Rising

Sermon- November 27, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Sermons are meant to be heard – so listen along here!

I have said it before, but it bears repeating: If you’re sick of Christmas on Dec 25th, you’re not doing Advent right.
I love Advent.
Everything about it.
I love the preparing.
The anticipation.
The music. Oh the music. (just ask Nate).

Advent is a season that asks us to wait and prepare for the coming Christ.
The word means arrival.
We wait and prepare and hope for the arrival of God into the world.
Into our world.

Each year it seems like we forget.
We get distracted by the to do lists and gatherings and news cycles.

And it seems so dark.
Not just the news and the world, but literally dark.

This is the darkest time of year.
Especially in MN, we have this winter darkness thing down.
Maybe that’s why I love Advent so much. Because the darkness here is REAL.

The days are still getting shorter and will continue to get shorter until December 21st, which we sometimes call the longest night.
And it is into this darkness that Christ comes.

So we need Advent. Every year.
We need this season to stop and look and wait and watch.
We need to prepare him room.
So we come together today, on this first Sunday in Advent.
And we begin to slowly bring light into the darkness.

We lit the first candle.
Did you hear the words they said?
“Rouse us from sleep, That we may be ready to greet our Lord when he comes”

So we lit the candle of hope.

Hope – That Christ is coming.
This is the not yet, the hopeful anticipation of Advent that I love so much.
Because most of us have experienced it already.
And instead of making it boring, we just know how awesome it’s going to be.
It’s like going to bed and knowing that tomorrow is going to be the best day ever.

You know what I mean?
Your eyes pop open in the morning and you’re just full of excitement for what’s to come.
Wake up!
Wake up!
The day is finally here!
God’s promise is coming true!

And we don’t want to miss it.

This is Advent.
It’s when we wake up.
When we get ready.

I think Matthew’s Gospel today reminds us not just that Jesus is coming this Advent, but instead tells us the HOW. How Jesus arrives each Advent is important.
And he does it in two ways – one, unexpectedly – and two, as a thief.
Jesus is coming at an unexpected hour, so we have to get ready and stay awake – so that we don’t miss it.  
This can sound a little like a scare tactic one might use on a misbehaving child.

You’d better be ready because you don’t know when Jesus will come.
Now I don’t know what you picture when you hear that – but I picture this a jack in the box.

Jesus could jump out any time so be ready.

I don’t really love these things.
They put up a guard.
You know what I mean?
Where the jack in the box is about to pop and so you kind of lean away and tense up because you know it’s going to scare you but you don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen?

Jesus is not a jack in the box.
We don’t need to be scared by his coming.

But the unexpected nature of Jesus’s arrival is purposeful.  
Not to scare us, but to remind us that it will happen.
See, if we know when Jesus is coming and how He’s coming, we might not let it happen.

We like life the way it is.
We’re safe and happy.
So we might bar the doors.
If we’re honest – we don’t really want to wake up, and we don’t actually want to make room.

So this surprise of Jesus isn’t to scare us, but to remind us that the arrival of Jesus into the world is going to interrupt it.
It’s not what’s expected.
And we know this.
We know that time and time again we’ll hear Jesus say and watch him do the opposite of what is expected.
This is just the beginning of the ways in which Jesus is going to break into the world.
Even if we know it’s coming, it still has a way of surprising us.

And then Matthew says Jesus is a thief in the night.
I confess I’ve never had a great understanding of this idea of Jesus as a petty criminal.
Someone who is going to break in and take your stuff.  
How is this good news?
Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber had this same question about Jesus as a thief and how she reimagines it is just lovely – so let’s watch together:

Nadia Video 

An Advent list.
Not a Christmas list, but an Advent list.
To prepare him room.
Today we lit the candle of hope – the hope that while we wait and prepare, we hope.
Hope for this holy thief to come and break in and interrupt the status quo and steal the things that are weighing us down.

So with permission from Nadia and her community, we’re going to make Advent lists of our own today.
I knew this was coming, so I made mine already.  
I asked Jesus to come and take rid of my need to always be right.
To steal my doubt that I am enough.
To rob me of my exceptional ability to judge instead of love without boundaries.

What about you?
What is making the arrival (the advent) of Jesus difficult for you right now?
What do you need Jesus to come in and steal from your life?

The ushers handed you a piece of paper on your way in, and as Alys/Nate play a little bit, we’re going to take a little time right now and prepare him room.

(2 minute activity)

I want to end with a poem by Kelly Ann Hall – which she wrote to celebrate Advent, and the call to make room –

She writes:
Expecting Me?
I am making my way.
Leaving everything I’ve known for solidarity.
To be with you.

Can you make room?

Like Mary? Open your womb; give me refuge, make living space within?
I am growing a body
A mind
One beating heart for creation-kind.
Two arms to carry my love.
Shoulders to bear it.
Legs that will walk me to the end.

It’s believed
That it takes a divine act,
An angelic messenger, or miracle
An unwinding strong
Of unbelievable yet real circumstances
To convince and inspire real world change

and yet,
willing souls also make a difference
People courageous enough to resist death-dealing
starve fear,
and consecrate space for holiness
Life begetting life
New breath
fresh eyes –


This kind of resistance calls you with me
to offer dignity
House the refugee
Grace the infringed, the exiled, the homeless, the stranger
To become the innkeeper
Allowing just one more family
without reservation
his last bit of room

Just enough.
Just enough for me.
Light, embodied.

Grow with me, expand.
Breathe deep, welcome, make room
There is more than enough
I am, after all,
for every last one of you.

Lead one another my way
Leaving everything you’ve known for solidarity to be with me.
I am expecting you.

Make room, beloved,
there is more than enough.

Sermon – November 6, 2016

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Scripture: Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 20:27-38

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

Gotcha questions.
They are questions that you are asked that have no real clear or good answer.  
A question designed to trap someone by their words or intentionally make them stumble.
We hear these kinds of questions a lot actually … In this political climate, we hear these asked of all candidates.
Anyone who has ever gone to a job interview has been asked the worst kind of gotcha question:What’s your greatest weakness?
Is there any good way to answer this? Really?
How about – “My greatest weakness is coming up with a decent answer to the greatest weakness question.”
In the tv show The Office, main character Michael Scott was asked this question and responded with the infamous:  “I work too hard, I care too much, and sometimes I can be too invested in my job”
His weaknesses, he said, were in fact, his strengths.  

Today’s Gospel is not the simplest to hear nor is it straightforward in topic.
In fact, I know many pastors and colleagues who are choosing the typical “All Saints Sunday” selected Gospel of the Beatitudes instead.
And it was tempting.
Because today Jesus is asked a gotcha question, and it’s not an easy or comfortable one for us.
But no one ever said faith would be easy or comfortable, so here we are.
In it together.  

Before we dive in – there are a few details that are important to understanding the context of this Gospel reading today…

In the scope of Luke’s Gospel, this story takes place right after Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and right before his death on the cross. Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem, you’ve heard us say that in these last few weeks, and now he has finally entered into the great city, to great acclaim, and his very presence begins to be a threat to those in power.  
And the ones in power highlighted today are the Sadducees.  
Sadducees are the ancestral high priests, ones who have had their important positions of power in the church handed down to them by merit of their birth. They held the first five books of scripture (also known as Torah) as the only truth, and strictly adhered to the laws contained within them.  AND, most significant to today’s text, they were the primary overseers of temple life.

So when Jesus enters into Jerusalem, the location of the temple, he enters into Sadducee territory.
And the Sadducees are not having it.
As these guys are Torah experts, they use scripture to try and trap Jesus – you can tell this by the way they begin their question to Jesus with: “Moses wrote”
Well Moses said…
They want to see if Jesus will contradict Moses.
They want to try to get him to say something unpardonable.
They want to trap him with his own words… a gotcha question.
They say: “if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.”

This is a specific law in the Torah (a rather archaic one, but that’s for another sermon) to make sure that if a man dies without children, the family name can continue on.  

So the religious adherents to Torah, who don’t believe in resurrection because it’s not in the Torah, ask Jesus this question. “In the resurrection – whose wife will the woman be?”
If this woman marries this guy who then dies and the law says his brother has to marry her and then he dies and so on and so forth until she’s married seven guys who have all died. Which one is her husband in the resurrection?
WE didn’t say this Jesus – Moses did.
And if Moses said this stuff about marriage – what will that look like in this resurrection you keep talking about?
If we indeed live after we die, what happens to this woman?
Who will be her husband in the resurrected life?

It’s a gotcha question.
They may as well have asked, If God can do anything, can God make a stone even God can’t lift?
And Jesus doesn’t bite.

Because he knows what they are trying to do, and he knows that they are missing the point.
See, questions about the Resurrection almost always end up being questions about what life after death will be like.
We get it.  After all, we have these same questions.
What will the weather be like?  
Will it always be 65 and sunny?
Will there be seasons?
Will I like the same things?
Can I eat whatever I want all the time?
Will my dog be there?
Will I see everyone or just the people I love?
Where will I live?
What will I do?
What age will I be?
Will I still be me?
Will my loved ones still be them?
I could go on and on.

There’s a new show on NBC this year called the Good Place, about heaven, and in the first episode they outline a few things about what life there is like for new arrivals:

(Clip from the Good place)

There isn’t anything wrong with these kinds of questions.
They are pretty expected actually.  We just want to know.

But the Sadducees ask Jesus a question similar to these with much different motivation.
It’s the gotcha question –
What will marriage look like in the resurrection you keep talking about Jesus?

And, as one might expect, Jesus responds to this gotcha question with a typically Jesus answer.
He basically says – “You guys don’t really understand the resurrection.”

You are thinking of resurrection in terms of the way life is here.
And while that’s understandable because it’s what you know – that’s not how it works at all.
In this life we have rules and laws and the way we always do it, and Jesus looks at the Sadducees and says that in resurrection life something other than rules and law give our life shape and meaning.
Nothing looks the same.
Not even marriage will work the same way.
While Jesus’ response is true – it doesn’t really answer those detail questions does it?
It doesn’t lessen the significant questions we have about life after death.
And boy do we have them.
They are real.
Anyone who has sat at the bedside of a loved one who is dying has had these or similar questions and knows they are not gotcha questions at all.  
They are important and meaningful, especially today – on this All Saints Sunday where we ring the bell and remember those brothers and sisters we have lost this year.  

But it’s important to note that the Sadducees don’t have the same motivation we do here.  
When they ask this question, they are trying to trick Jesus.  
But when we ask resurrection questions, we are trying to figure out if what matters to us here will still matter to us there.  

We’re trying to find hope for seeing loved ones who have gone before us again.
They are asking a gotcha question meant to ridicule.
We are asking one of relationship.  

In case you missed it, which we all likely did but the Sadducees definitely did not – Jesus quotes Exodus in verse 37.  He says that Moses himself speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  He quotes Exodus back to the guys who tried to trap him with it, and uses their scripture to prove his point.

And then he adds to it.

“Now God is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for to God all of them are alive”

When we think of resurrection only in terms of life after death – we miss something.  Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. And all of us, whether alive or dead, are alive in God.

This is an incredible promise.
One that Jesus will go to extreme lengths to prove true.
He’s in Jerusalem, he’s just arrived to great fanfare, but we know how his time in this city will end.
We know that he will be put to death and rise again to defeat death and show us once and for all that death never ever has the final word.
Despite our questions about what happens.
We have this big promise that it is not the end, even if we don’t know what it looks like.
The point of today’s Gospel is not to minimize or ignore our need to understand what is next – because it’s a real thing – but Jesus’ point is to get us to a place where questions about what life after death looks like can be overridden by the fact that resurrection is a promise.

On this day, this All Saints Sunday, we are reminded of this promise.
We will hear the bell rung for those we have lost – and we will remember.
Today we will also hear the names of those we baptized this year, a stark reminder that there is hope in the midst of loss.  
There is new life in the midst of death.
And that resurrection life isn’t something that only happens when we die, but can be lived out even now.
When we are baptized we hear that we are joined into the death and resurrection of Christ and that we are reborn children of God.
And our life begins there. At the font.
It’s not just joining us to the death of Christ but to the victory over death, to the new life we are given, and to the communion of saints.
Yes there is hope for life after this life, but our new life has already begun.

Martin Luther, as Chad reminded us last week, said that every Sunday is a little Easter.  Each Sunday we have the chance to experience resurrection – to be able to die to sin and rise again to new life.
So the same is true on this day.
We have confessed our sins to God and each other – and we have been forgiven.
We will join the community of God together around the table and share in the meal and be fed the bread of new life.
Today we have in front of us a choice.
We can spend time and energy asking our own gotcha questions about life after death, or we can die to sin and death and rise to new life again and allow the resurrection promise to impact the life we are living now.

Our resurrection life is here and now.
It has already been given, freely and with great love.
What you do with it is up to you.  

Sermon – October 16, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8
Title: Hold On

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

What is justice?

Many of us hear this word and we immediately think of right and wrong, good and bad, legal and illegal.  
It’s the upholding of rules.
It’s fairness.
And in most of the ways we think of it – we think of a noun.
Like justice is a thing you hold.
Something you either have or don’t have.
Yet in today’s Gospel, the word justice isn’t a noun.
It’s a verb.
An action.

And through this parable that Jesus tells, we begin to understand exactly what kind of action it is.
For Luke, we get an understanding that justice is defined as fearing God and respecting others.
Because the unjust guy in today’s parable is defined as someone who didn’t fear God and had no respect for anyone.  

So what does that mean exactly – to fear God and to respect others?  
What would it look like if justice took into account these two things?
What does it look like in this day and age to really fear God and to really respect others?

Preaching professor and author Karoline Lewis said it powerfully this week when she asked some pointed questions to help us define just what Luke might be getting at. She asked:

Is there any fear of God left? Or have we so tamed the Almighty so that he is a mere aspect of our lives rather than the one who makes sense of our lives?

Is there any fear of God left? Or have we insisted that in order to preach or do theology, we need to have God all figured out?

Is there any fear of God left? Or have we decided that to fear God is a rather archaic phrase best left in the recesses of the Old Testament and certainly not binding on our lives now?

And, is there any respect left for the other? Or have we totally bought into the binaries of our society — that the other can only exist as our opposite?

Is there any respect left for the other? Or has fear completely crushed our compassion?

Is there any respect left for the other? Or has narcissism truly become as epidemic as it appears?

Yes, if fear of God and respect for the other were operative in our understandings of justice, justice might indeed look different.

It’s all comes down to justice.  

Not the noun, but the verb.
Fear of God and love of the other.
When those things are true – they bring about action.

As philosopher Cornel West says: “justice is what love looks like in public”

So Jesus steps into the midst of his disciples, right in between telling them he’s going to be gone soon and then going to the cross to show them what real love looks like – Jesus steps into their worry and panic and fear and tells a parable. One that Luke calls: “a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart”

And so Jesus tells a story about an unjust judge.  One that neither fears God nor respects people.
A woman comes to ask him for help.
Grant me justice. She says.
The Greek translated word for word here is grant me justice against the one who is anti-justice.
And he says no.
And really, only a jerk would say no right?
But we know this about him already so it’s not really a surprise.
But she continues.
She’s annoying him with her persistence.
And he caves.
This is the parable.
Jesus says how much more will God give justice to those who cry out to him?
This unjust jerk of a judge can do it, and he doesn’t even care.
But God cares.
So then this parable teaches us that God is bringing justice all the time to those whom he loves.


The question then becomes, who are we in this story?
That’s what we’re to do with parables right?
Are we the woman? Or are we maybe the unjust judge?

Because the parable is set for Jesus’ disciples, I thought I’d try my hand at parable writing this week, so here I have:

A new parable about our need to pray always and not to lose heart:

There once was a political system that neither feared God nor had respect for people.
There once was an education system that neither feared God nor had respect for people.
There once was an immigration system that neither feared God nor had respect for people.
There once was a legal system that neither feared God nor had respect for people.
There was once a church that neither feared God nor had respect for people.

In that system there was a person who kept coming and saying: Grant me justice.
A refugee in crisis.
A family in need of welfare.
A young black man.
A low income school district.

Grant me justice.

A homeless kid.
A Muslim man.
A single mom.
A sexual assault victim.
A gay teenager.

Grant me justice.


The systems responded: no.
I’m too busy.
You aren’t like me.
We don’t believe the same things.
I don’t have any extra.
I’m barely getting by as it is.
I don’t agree with you.
I think you’re wrong.
You got yourself into this.
Not my problem.

And yet they respond:
Grant me justice.
Grant me justice.

They keep pushing.
They didn’t give up their fight for justice.
For doing the right thing.

And eventually the systems collapsed.
They can’t take the pressure.
They get worn out trying to be what they’ve always been and do what they’ve always done.

And the parable ends there.
The parable ends with this reminder that God always fights for justice. On behalf not of the systems that have power but to the ones he loves who are being oppressed, overlooked, and forgotten. The ones hurting, crying, lost.  This is who God is working for.


And maybe at one point, that was you.
Maybe that’s you today. Maybe today you ARE the woman begging for justice.
If it is, make no mistake.
God has got you.
God is working for you, on your behalf.
Hold on. Don’t give up.
Keep asking for justice.


But if this is not you – if you don’t fall into those categories…if you aren’t being oppressed, then we have some big questions to ask ourselves.
Some hard questions.
Some questions we’d rather not have brought up at all.
If we’re not the oppressed – if it’s not us crying out, then that means we’re the unjust judge.
And if you just cringed. You’re not alone.
I really really don’t like thinking of myself as the jerk in this story.
The one who is annoyed at the people in need around them.
Because if we’re not in need of justice then we have the responsibility to use the power given to us in the system in which we find ourselves.  

We have been loved and freed and forgiven.
And now we use that freedom to work on behalf of those on the outside.
Those who aren’t being served by the systems of our world.

As Karoline Lewis wrote this week: “When you work for the Kingdom of God, the quest for justice is never over.”
The power of this story isn’t that the woman wore down the judge.  That she just tried really hard and he caved because she was annoying.
No, the power of this story is that it was someone with very little power or voice that simply asked for justice. Treat me like a human being.
She didn’t ask for money, power, or a higher place in the system, but simply to be seen and heard and treated with dignity and respect.

This woman. Who likely had none of those at her disposal, did not give up fighting for what was right.
And neither should we.
We also need to hold on. To keep fighting and pushing.
Because we’re the ones with the power in this world.
We have been given a certain amount of freedom, not just by our country, though that is true, but by our God.
We have been freed.
We no longer have to wonder if God is for us, we KNOW God has called us and claimed us.  

And yet we struggle with what to do with our freedom.  

So often, in my conversations with people of faith, I hear questions about purpose – why am I here?  What does my faith have to do with my daily life?
Sure I’ve been forgiven but now what?
This. This is what we are here for.
We are called to use our freedom on behalf of others.
On behalf of anyone who isn’t being treated as the beloved child of God that they are.
On behalf of anyone who isn’t being helped by the systems that have power in our world.

We are not the true judge. That’s God.
As Pr Chad has said before – deciding who is worthy of grace or judgement is above my paygrade.

And thank goodness it’s not our call.
Because we have a just God. A loving God.
A God who has worked on our behalf and continue to work on behalf of those who need it.

We are freed FOR the sake of justice. And we can no longer ignore it.



Sermon – October 2, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Sermon Title: Get Real

**Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here**
How many of you have ever edited a picture before putting it online?

The way of online culture is that we are able to be selective in how we present ourselves to the world.
We post pictures of outings with our family, smiling and being generally adorable, (pic)but we don’t take pictures when everyone is tired and crabby and someone is crying.  (pic)

Be honest, when is the last time you posted a picture of your kid being anything but adorable or your own life being completely put together?

Real life is more than that.  
We do this off line too –
We see someone we know, either here at church or out of context, at Target or the grocery store, and conversation usually goes something like this:

Hi, how are you?
I’m good, how are you?

(sometimes we might say busy, but my thoughts on why busy is not an answer to how are you is a sermon for another day)

We just say good.
Everything is always good.
Even if everything is not good.
Even if we’re not good.
Even if things are actually bad. Falling apart. If we’re barely holding it together.
We still say – Good.

All three of today’s Bible texts had one thing in common – they were about being together.
As we’ve been planning the fall one theme has come up over and over again, and that is why church?  
For me, this is answered in that word – together.

But not just being together, but being real together.
It’s about being not good together.
Because sometimes things ARE good.
But sometimes they aren’t.

And we need a place where we can be real together, be vulnerable together, and share together how our life isn’t going the way we thought it was going to go and how that’s not ok and how we don’t get it and we’re mad at God and we need people to sit with us and say yeah – me too.

Glennon Quote:

“We can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved. We must decide.  If we choose to be perfect and admired we must send our representatives out to live our lives.  If we choose to be real and loved, we must send out our true, tender selves. That’s the only way. Because to be loved, we have to be known. If we choose to introduce our true selves to anyone, we will get hurt. But we will be hurt either way. There is pain in hiding and pain outside of hiding.  The pain outside is better, because nothing hurts as bad as not being known.”


To be loved, she says, we have to be known.

And, I’d venture to say that when we know each other, the real each other, and not just what we share on instagram and facebook but the “real life here’s who I am knowing” – it’s too hard to put people into categories and divide ourselves by who we agree with and who we don’t.

When we show up together, when we are real together, it makes us unique.
Because this is not how the world works anymore.

But here, in this community of faith, when we gather together, any time we gather together, something happens.

The Hebrews text was read at our last Ask the Pastors two weeks ago, and it was a good reminder of what it means to be in the community of faith.  
As people who have been washed with pure water – that is, baptized – we hold fast to the promises of God, the one who keeps his promises.  

And, as the Apostle Paul says, we do this by meeting with each other, provoking each other to love, and to encourage each other.

What an amazing picture of what it means to be the church.
Any time we gather, we have an opportunity to be real with each other.
Really real.

In the Gospel text today, when Jesus was nearing the end of his life, when he knew what was coming in the night ahead – he gathered his friends around a table, and broke bread, and they ate together.

And then, as they left their meal together, he brought them along with him.
He didn’t say I’ve got this.  He didn’t say he could do it on his own, he didn’t say he was good.
He said “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow”
He was honest.

And even though his disciples didn’t know what to say in return, and even though they didn’t handle it in the best way (I mean, some of them did fall asleep), Jesus reminds us that there isn’t anything we have to do by ourselves. Jesus breaks bread with them anyway.  Jesus dies for them anyway.  
This is what we get to do together here at church.

We gather around a table, all of us, old and young, black and white, republican and democrat, happy and grieving, healthy and sick… all of us, and together we break bread, share a meal, and get real.

Where else does this happen?
Where else can you go and stand side by side with someone who doesn’t agree with you and together receive this unwarranted grace?

God welcomes all of us to this table.
No matter how broken.
No matter what we believe.
No matter what you’re going through.
No matter how real you’ve been.
God knows the real you – and invites you, the real you here.

Jesus said that where two or more come together in his name then he is present. That doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t present when we’re by ourselves but that coming together does something that being by ourselves cannot do. So we come together, and we do life together.
Real. Life.

And God meets us there.

A little while ago, a POP member wrote a post about getting real with each other on her facebook page and with her permission I’d like to share it with you here. She said:

I had forgotten how powerful it is to witness someone’s story. Too often we just answer “fine” to “how are you?” but imagine the healing that could happen if we all started sharing a bit more of what’s really going on – the good, the bad and the painful. – L.W.

So we’re going to try it together today.

For three minutes, and it’ll be on the clock, I’d like you to turn to someone near you and we’re going to ask each other, “How are you” and answer honestly.  

For the last month or so, you’ve heard us talk about GroupLife in announcements.

You’ve heard both Chad and I talk about why you should sign up for a Group.  
And maybe you’ve thought that you don’t have time, or that this isn’t for you, or that you don’t know anyone so it’s scary.  And yes, all of those might be true.  
But what I do know, is that what being a part of a Group can do for you and your faith is powerful stuff.  When we bring our real, true, honest, broken selves to each other, things happen that just don’t happen anywhere else in this world.  
And I want you to be a part of it.  
I know this is not the only way, but it is the best way to be known and real and struggle together through this life of faith we are called into.  



Sermon – August 28, 2016

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Scripture: Hebrews 13:1-3, 5-8, Luke 14:1,7-14
Title: Table Politics

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

In the next few days and weeks, kids in MN are heading back to school.
I know.
It’s joy and agony at the same time.
(Agony for kids, joy for parents)

A new school year brings with it a combination of fear, excitement, and nervousness to the minds and stomachs of most kids.
The first day of school especially.
If you’re a student, you know this already, but for you adults in the room, take a minute and put yourself back there.
That first day in a new room. Maybe a new school.
There are new people. Not all friends yet.
A new teacher.
New places to sit.
A new locker.
And in study after study, when asked what is the main source of anxiety and fear on that first day of school, the largest percentage of students answer??
Not the new teacher or classroom or locker…but… Lunch.
Where am I going to sit in the lunchroom?

And while it might seem far away in our memory as adults, if we take a moment, we can remember feeling this way too. Maybe we’ve even felt it recently…
I went to a conference a few weeks ago and on my first day there had the same thoughts – will I know anyone?  Who am I going to sit with?
I was suddenly 13 again.
What’s my place?
Where do I fit?

Meals are important.
Gathering around a table is a significant part of how we build connections with each other.
It doesn’t have to just be our friends at school, but at home, with friends… sharing a meal, gathering around the table is significant.
It’s one of the reasons why we incorporate meals into important days, like holidays and birthdays.  
Eating together does something that can’t happen anywhere else.

So it’s no mistake that so much of Jesus’ ministry happens around tables.
It’s where he does the majority of his teaching.  
Meals in that time were filled with layers of additional meaning.
Usually, if you had a meal that you invited others to be a part of, they were often of the same social class as you.
If you were the host of the party and invited someone of a higher status, and they came, it was a big deal and they were shown a lot of honor (A NT scholar once said that if you wanted people to fawn over you, you would always accept the invitations from people lower than you on the social ladder).
If you invited someone lower than you, it was understood that you would likely be called upon later for a favor of some kind to pay it back.  A quid pro quo of sorts.
In a lot of ways, this system still operates in a lot of arenas today. It’s not completely out of the realm of our understanding.

So Jesus gathers for a meal with some followers and Pharisees.  

And the guests were all asking the same question internally – what’s my place?
They were wondering where they fit in the scheme of this dinner party.
And as they looked around for their place, they all did the same thing – they all chose the highest places.
Jesus takes note of this.
And then tells a parable.
Actually, I’d call it a “parable”
Because Jesus doesn’t really hide what he’s saying in too much metaphor.

He uses the example of a wedding banquet to help explain this other meal.
So this “parable” goes like this:  When you are invited to a wedding banquet, don’t sit at the highest place, because what if you’re not the most important one there?  Then when someone higher up than you comes, you’ll have to move lower, and wouldn’t that be embarrassing? Instead, sit at the lowest place, and then if your host sees you there and thinks you should be sitting higher, he’ll move you and that will really wow the crowd.

Jesus is basically telling people to stop thinking of themselves as the most important person in the room.

And then Jesus turns to his host, the one who made all the invitations and says:
14:12 – “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.”

Next time you do this don’t invite all these yahoos. They are here for what they can get for themselves. And you’re inviting them to get something in return.

You’re all operating in the quid pro quo mindset.

Jesus takes it one step further.  
Not only does he tell them to stop inviting the people who only want something in return, or people they can get something from later – but instead, start inviting the people on the fringes.


Alabama pastor Ron Lewis talked about this kind of thinking… Video: the guest list

Start thinking about the guest list – Jesus says.
Jesus wants us to stop thinking in terms of social capital and start thinking in terms of the Kingdom of God.
The world operates (then and now) in terms of power and position.

But as successful as this might be in terms of building social collateral – it’s not how God operates in the world.
While the world is scrambling and fighting to find a place at the top, God is down at the bottom – in the depths. Not sitting with the cool kids at all, but with those on the outside, on the fringes, those usually excluded.

And for those hearing this story – then and now – the parable is heard in two ways depending on social position;
1. If you were in a position of power, this parable is a call to humility.  

  1. If you were a person on the fringes, this parable is pure hope – come on up! There’s a place for you.

In this parable today, Jesus reminds us to stop the fight to the top and instead look to the outside, the bottom of  the ladder, and it is there, in the encounters with the outcast and forgotten and stranger, it is there where we meet God.

And really this is because this is what the table is like when the host is God.
God doesn’t care where we sit.
We’re all invited, there’s a spot for everyone, and even better, God never, ever expects anything in return.
There is no quid pro quo in the Kingdom of God.

So I don’t know what brought you here today.
I don’t know if you are hurting, if you are anxious, if you are doing ok.
What I do know is that there’s a place at the table with your name on it.
No RSVP needed.
But what I do know is that not everyone in the world outside of this room knows that this table is big enough for them.
Not everyone out there knows that there’s a place at this table with THEIR name on it too.
So that’s our job.

Not to look around for the best and most beautiful to sit next to, but to find the people who don’t think they have a place here, who think they aren’t worthy or good enough or God doesn’t care or that there are some kind of steps or a certain prayer they have to say first… it’s our job to expose that for the lie it is.
All are worthy.
All are welcome.



Sermon – August 14, 2016

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Scripture: Jeremiah 23:23-29; Luke 12:49-56
Title: The Truth Hurts

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

By a show of hands – how many of you have ever responded to the question “how are you” with “good”
Now how many of you have ever responded with “good” when things weren’t good at all?

We have this tendency in the church, to put a gloss on our lives, to put our best foot forward, to say “I’m good” when inside we’re falling apart.

And I’m not sure why we’ve come to believe that being a Christian means everything gets better, that if we struggle somehow our faith is lacking, or if we don’t acknowledge our blessings (#blessed) we somehow aren’t faithful.  

Well that’s just crap.
There. I said it.
It’s total crap.
Because life is hard.
Things still go wrong every single day.
There’s still cancer, and mental illness, and violence, and hatred and division.

It doesn’t just go away because we follow Christ.  In fact, according to today’s Gospel, sometimes we are more divided than ever when Christ is breaking into our lives.  

So before I go any further, I want to be so incredibly clear that having those things as a part of our lives doesn’t mean our faith is somehow less than.

Both of our readings today remind us that when the Kingdom of God breaks into the world, it’s not always peaceful and pleasant.
The final verse that we heard from Jeremiah today set up the Gospel so well: “Is not my word like fire, and a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
The Kingdom of God is not easy or comfortable sometimes.
Jesus, who we call the Prince of Peace, who we picture as this gentle, kind, unassuming man, is the exact opposite in today’s Gospel text.

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” He asks.

And then he lists all the ways in which the world will be divided.
Two against three and three against two.
Parent against child
Neighbor against neighbor
Republican against Democrat
Black against white

This list feels familiar.
Doesn’t it?

So what is Jesus saying here?
Division is good?
That we should promote division?
That we should fight and divide ourselves even more than we’re already doing?

Jesus reminds us that the truth will set you free, but first it will probably make people mad.
Mad enough to divide and fight.
The Kingdom of God comes into the world and unseats the current powers-that-be.
And when this happens, there is ALWAYS pushback.

When Jesus says he has come to bring the Kingdom of God, we say YES – until we realize that that probably means we’re going to have to give up some things.

It means the current order of the world is going to be upset, and that does not always go over well.
What is the current order?
Power. Money. Being right at the cost of relationships.
This is the way the world works right now.
And when the Kingdom of God breaks into that, it’s not going to be sunshine and roses all the time.

Preaching professor Karoline Lewis wrote this week that

Jesus’ words name the truth of our human truth: our leanings toward suspicion and discord, toward calling every person’s value into question, toward doubt and distrust of even those to whom we thought we were close. We assume apprehension when there could be alignment. We anticipate wariness when there could be agreement. We accept skepticism when there could be loyalty. Times of division demand that we reevaluate our assumptions, our anticipations, and accepted loyalties, so as to enter into an interrogation of our own unnamed allegiances.”


Sometimes, the truth hurts.

When we look at our divided world, what if instead of holding faster and stronger to our convictions we instead look honestly at ourselves and how we contribute to the problem?

What if we’re on the wrong side?

Again, Karoline Lewis said that

“Jesus’ message this week is not fuel for discord but asks us to enter into the roots of discord itself and call it out for what it is. Jesus’ naming of our human tendency toward disagreement is not to suggest that we identify it as a value of Christian interaction and discourse, but to remind us that the creating of the community of Christ relies on our commitment to listening. Jesus’ naming of our instinct toward self-preservation over mutuality and reciprocity is not to shame us but to call us toward a different vision of what the world can be — a world that is truly committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now.

What if we’re fighting and dividing over the wrong things?
OR – what if God is working in and through both sides?

Sometimes, the truth hurts.
But still, here we are.
Gathered here today.
Coming together despite our divisions.
Confessing together, receiving grace together, singing together.
Together we are about to welcome Jack into this family of God, into this new life in Christ which we all share.
As we will say together in a few minutes – workers with us in the Kingdom of God.
New life in Christ begins here – but it doesn’t end here.
We are called to be workers with Christ and each other to help usher in the Kingdom of God.

As Lutheran Pastor Erick Thompson said “What ends in baptism is the consequence for our failure to live out those vocations. So, while joy is a fundamental emotion for baptism, it is joy because of the grace that we have been given, not because we will never experience pain again.

Life is hard.
Baptism doesn’t remove the ways that this world is broken.
But it does change us.
And with or without us God continues to break into this divided world and challenge the ways things are done and how we see each other.  

At the end of this Gospel passage today – Jesus says:
You feel the wind blow from the south and say “it’s going to be hot”
You see clouds in the west and say “rain is coming”
“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

He basically says – you can accurately predict the weather by looking at the sky but you can’t look around at the world and see if for what it is?

Jesus says it’s obvious.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s always that obvious.
The Kingdom of God is always breaking in – everywhere, every time, always.

And yes sometimes it disrupts and divides.

But sometimes it does amazing things – and when we only focus on the ways we should be afraid, the ways we are different, the ways we are broken, we miss out on the ways the Kingdom of God is at work healing, restoring, redeeming, and renewing.

And those are everywhere too.  


By now you’ve probably all heard about the Refugee Swimmer Yusra Mardini, who swam for three hours in the Aegean Sea while pulling a boat of Refugees to shore.  It’s an incredible story but to me, the Kingdom of God story in it is that the whole time she was swimming, she was making faces at the face of a little 6 year old boy in the boat, so that he wouldn’t be afraid.

Well shoot.
If that’s not the Kingdom of God breaking in, I don’t know what is.

Before we continue on in the service, we’re going to take a few moments, and write down our moments, like my accident story, where we’ve seen the Kingdom of God breaking in.

They don’t have to be flashy or spectacular or miraculous.
But they need to be shared.



Sermon – July 31, 2016

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Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Luke 12:13-21
Title: Big Barns

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

To start today – I’d like you all to take a few minutes and get out that piece of paper you were handed on your way in, and I want you to write a list:

It’s not a to do list, or a shopping list – I’m calling it a life list.
So close your eyes – and think about the times in your life when you’ve been happiest, most full of life, the most you.

Now open your eyes, and write down who, what, etc came to mind.
Now, add to that list, if you need to, anything else that you might consider the most important in your life.

What kind of things are on your list?

Anyone have a tv on there?
A phone?
A car?
A big house?

Yeah – I didn’t think so.

In my avid podcast listening, I’ve now heard a few interviews with Joshua Becker, the founder of “”

Joshua decided he had too much stuff, and wanted to do something about it.
On his website you can find his journey – but also this list of statistics that are pretty shocking about Americans and our relationship with our stuff.

Stats: (from

  • The average size of the American home has tripled in the past 50 years
  • (and yet) The fasted growing segment of commercial real estate in the past 4 decades is… storage units. (1 out of every 10 Americans has one)
  • 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them and 32% only have room for one vehicle.
  • the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily
  • 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally
  • A majority of homes have more television sets than people.
  • There are 300,000 items in the average American home
  • Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education
  • Shopping malls outnumber high schools.
  • Over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for misplaced items.The research found we lose up to nine items every day—or 198,743 in a lifetime.

We have a lot of stuff.
A lot.
And not just a lot of stuff, but a lot of stuff we don’t even use!
And, like we hear in the Gospel, we just keep buying bigger barns and storage units and the accumulation continues.
It’s kind of exhausting isn’t it?
And meaningless.
I mean, it’s just stuff.
In the text from Ecclesiastes this morning the author says “it’s all vanity” – or another way to say that is vapor.  It’s all vapor. Gone in a puff.

If you are thinking (unhappily) this is going to be a sermon about money – you are right.
I know, no one likes to talk about money. Even in the church we don’t like to talk about it.
We reserve a few Sundays in the fall to talk about it and call it “Stewardship” and then move quickly on.
And yet, the Bible talks about money more than almost any other topic.  

It’s important.
And it needs more than just a few Sundays a year.
Jesus speaks so clearly of money today – not using hyperbole or metaphors, just straight talk to make a point.  So we’re going to do the same.

But before we get into it – I want to put up three definitions that I think are important for us to have in front of us: Abundance: an extremely plentiful or over-sufficient quantity or supply
Wealth: an abundance of valuable possessions or money.
Greed: intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.

So now we have those down – let’s go.
Jesus is asked to step into a family arguement about inheritance:
(verse 13) – “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me”
And instead of saying, yes, you’re right, that’s not fair, your brother should totally share with you – Jesus says, stop being greedy – and then turns to the crowd of people listening and tells a parable about greed.
Sucks to be that guy.  

But what we know about parables is that Jesus uses them to clarify a point, to help a lesson hit home in a new way.
And right before he begins the parable, Jesus says
(verse 15) “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
Or, when we dig into the Greek a bit there, Jesus says, even when you have an abundance of possessions, that is not where life is found.
Life, Greek word Zoe. (zo-ay)
It means soul, life force, the stuff that makes us alive.
So Jesus says that the thing that makes us alive, our soul, cannot and does not exist in the stuff we accumulate.

And then he tells the parable:
Which I’m going to read from Eugene Peterson’s the message paraphrase, so you can hear it another way today:
“The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’

It’s clear from this parable that Jesus isn’t warning about wealth – that having abundance isn’t bad.  In fact, Jesus doesn’t say that the problem is storing up some of the extra.  That was actually a common thing in those days.  They were in a land that frequently had famines and droughts, so it was not a bad thing to store up some for the lean times.  

So the problem was not with wealth – but with how that wealth was viewed.
Look at verses 17 and 18.
HE thought to HIMself – what should I do for I have no place to store MY crops.
Then he said I will do this I will pull down MY barns and build larger ones and there I will store all MY grain and MY goods.
My my my
Me Me Me.

Even the start of verse 19 he says – I will say to my soul – soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years –
This guy is talking to himself.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with that)
but notice not ONE other person enters his mind.
Now there is no mention of a family (which he most definitely has), of a household (which he also definitely has), of any of the workers that helped plant, cultivate and harvest this crop (because no rich landowner is doing this on their own).
It’s all about one guy.

As a professor of mine said: He lives in a first person universe
He is all about himself.

And this is the problem.
This is the reason for Jesus’s parable.
It’s not that this guy is wealthy – but that he is greedy.
He has decided to use his financial gain for himself.
He is all about himself.
The thing he is missing, the thing that is noticeably missing in Jesus’ parable?
When Jesus says that life is not made up of the things we have – and then tells this parable with it’s shocking lack of any other people – he is making a big and clear and not at all subtle point.
Life is about relationships.
Not stuff.
We cannot and will not find life in our possessions.
But we do and can find life in God and in each other.

Now, this isn’t easy.
In fact, finding happiness and life in stuff is kind of the American way.
But that’s not God’s way.
And wooooeeee this is hard to hear.
A few years ago, when this text came up in our lectionary, David Lose said this:

“Moreover, materialism — or consumer-consumptionism or affluenza or whatever else you might want to call it — has one distinct advantage over the abundant life Jesus extols: it is immediately tangible. Relationships, community, purpose — the kinds of things that Jesus invites us to embrace and strive for — are much harder to lay our hands on. We know what a good relationship feels like, but it’s hard to point to or produce on a moment’s notice. And we know that wonderful feeling of being accepted into a community, but it’s not like you can run out to Walmart and buy it. And so we substitute material goods for immaterial ones because, well, they’re right there in front of us and we’ve got a whole culture telling us that this is the best there is.”

Earlier, we all made a list – so I want you to get that back out and take a look at it.
How many of the things on your list are possessions? Stuff?
When we think about the times in our lives that we are the most full of life – it’s rarely about the stuff.
It’s about the people, the pets, the relationships.
Sure – some might have material things attached to them.
But it’s rarely about that thing.

(story about Sonja bunny)

So many stories are wrapped up in this little bunny.
So it’s not about the bunny.
It’s about my relationship Layla
So much of my life is found there – in my kiddo.
In our life together.
And the danger is in thinking that it’s about the bunny.
Because it’s tangible. And physical.
But life isn’t there.

This is the core of what Jesus is telling us today.
That when we look to money or possessions for our life we are missing out.
And we aren’t really alive.
And God wants us to have life and have it abundantly.

That verse in John doesn’t say have stuff and have it abundantly – no – it’s have LIFE.
This parable is often called the “rich fool”
It’s a reminder that fools find their life in their stuff, and the wise know that life, abundant life is found in Christ.
God wants us to have abundant, overflowing, beautiful life.
And that kind of life is found in God and in each other.
That kind of grace-filled, love and mercy and community is found here.
And this morning we’ll gather around the baptismal font and be reminded just where that life begins.
We’ll hear those promises for Aubriella and be reminded of the time when those promises were spoken to us and for us.  
The cross placed on her forehead will remind us of the cross on our own, that we have been joined into the family of God, and given new life in Christ. Not new stuff, new life.

And for that we give thanks.




Sermon – July 24, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Col 1:15-23, Luke 10:38-42
Title: Better Thing?

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

Today we hear about a pair of sisters, Mary and Martha.
How many of you have at least one sibling?
How many of you are older? Younger? Middle? Onlys?  

 I am the middle child. I have an older sister and a younger brother. (pic)
My siblings and I grew up in the middle of nowhere, in the woods by Collegeville, MN and we were pretty far away from any neighbors.  
Yes, it sounds idyllic now, but as a kid, my only playmates were my siblings, which wasn’t always my favorite thing.
I could often be heard to say to my oldest sister – “I don’t need a mother, I already have one”
And whenever my little brother and I would fight, I’d storm off, only to realize that he was the only one within miles that I could play with so I’d have to come back and ask if he wanted to play.
And yes, there was a fair amount of sibling rivalry.
If my sister did it, I did NOT want to do anything close.  
She played tennis.  
I did theater. (again, a shock I’m sure)
She was in band, I picked up the violin.
She played piano concertos, I learned pop tunes.  

So I find myself able to relate to the Gospel text today in a unique way.
The sibling rivalry between Martha and Mary is apparent, and Jesus doesn’t seem to make it any better.
Which is frustrating, upon first read.
Therefore, I have a confession to make:
I haven’t always loved this story.
Partly because it makes me feel uncomfortable, but mostly because I know that I’m the Martha in the story.
Oh I’d like to imagine I’m Mary, taking time to just sit and be still with Jesus, but in the real world, one where I have a job and a family and a house, I’m Martha.
Running around.
Feeling kind of chaotic.
And yes, seeing people sitting calmly doing the opposite things as me makes me want to tear my hair out.


Don’t they have anything to do?!
Yeah. I’m totally Martha.
And Martha gets scolded.  By Jesus.
So I’ve always disliked this story because I don’t want to get scolded.
And I feel guilty after reading it because I’m know I’m not Mary.
I’m not a good sitter.
I don’t like being still.
Also, side note, why is it Martha that gets in trouble?
I mean, someone has to make sure that food is made and things get done.
And Jesus doesn’t say those things aren’t good, but that what Mary is doing is better.  
I’ve disliked this story because I don’t like that it has been used as a reason to not serve.
Jesus said I’m SUPPOSED to sit here.  He said it’s better.
I’ve disliked this story because it creates competition between women – and let me tell you, we lady types are doing just fine competing with each other on our own.  We don’t need words like “better” being thrown around by Jesus to make it worse.  Even though almost every Bible translation uses the word “better” here –  this sentence in the Greek says “Mary has chosen the good part.”

So what is this story about if it’s not comparative?
Because let’s be honest, this is the way we’ve read it for so long.
If it’s not about contemplation being better than service than what is Jesus trying to say?

I’m not alone in being frustrated with this story in Luke – commentary after commentary from professors and scholars this week spoke to this same thing.
It cannot be simplified to a story of comparison.
This story is about more than “better.”   

So it begins with Jesus coming to visit the home of Martha.  And Martha is doing “womanly” things, like taking care of the house and making food and serving.
It’s what’s expected of her.
Martha does exactly what she’s supposed to do.
But not Mary.
She dares to do something radical in this story.
She dares to break the convention – what is expected of her, and sit at the feet of Jesus instead.
That is not her place.
That is not where she’s supposed to be.
That is a place reserved for disciples, the closest followers of Jesus, and definitely not a woman.
But when Mary is called out for daring to do something different, daring to step out of the box she has been placed in, and called out by her SISTER, Jesus says that it’s good.
She chose the good part.

So if this text isn’t about one thing being better, maybe it’s really about seeing ourselves as something more.
Maybe, just maybe, this text is reminding us that we don’t have to continue to stay where the world has told us we need to be.
Maybe, just maybe, we can see ourselves as God sees us.
Children of God.
Worthy of a seat at the feet of Jesus.

One of the things that Jesus says to Martha is that she is distracted by many things, and that she really needs only one thing.
Luther Seminary Professor of Preaching Karoline Lewis wrote of the story of Mary and Martha this week and said that our problem is “An inherent, systemic, omnipresent, ingrained, intrinsic, dysfunctional, disturbing belief that not all are worthy of God’s regard and love. The conviction, as Paul Farmer says, “That not all are not equal in God’s eyes. That all are not made in the image of God.”

Our Martha qualities – the running around, the constant motion, the busyness, the falling in line with who we’ve been told we are – those are all distractions. Distractions from being able to sit at the feet of Jesus – and believing that we are allowed to be there. Those are the many things.
But there is something else – the ONE thing.  The belief that we are and always will be beloved children of God – made in God’s image.  Worthy of the place of honor at the feet of Jesus.

What if we lived and acted and served out of the ONE thing, instead of our worries and distractions about many things?  

My confession stands true.
I’m a Martha.
I make judgments all the time.
It’s pretty easy to do in this day and age.
I can look at someone and think they aren’t doing as much as me, they don’t care like I do, they don’t understand as well as me, they don’t know as much as me.
And it’s not true.
It’s distracting.
I’m Martha.
I run around and take on expectations and try to be everything to everyone and forget that it’s not what I do that makes me worthy but who I am.
This is the one thing.
Mary dared to believe that she was worthy of a place at the feet of Jesus.
She dared to step away from the place society told her she had to be, to step away from the things her culture told her she needed to do.
She dared to see herself as more.
She believed it was who she was that was the most important thing.
It was the ONE thing.
So the question for us today is can we do the same?
Can we stop the running around and the distractions and the going and the doing and being who we’re expected to be?
Can we see ourselves as more?  As who we really are?
And – here’s the kicker – can we do the same for others?
Can we see others as more than our preconceived expectations and judgments?
Can we recognize the divine in each and every person around us?  Can we see them as children of God too?

Jesus tells us today that there is need of only one thing:
To sit confidently in our identity as children of God.
And then Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the good part.
She has broken out.
She has seen herself as something else – as a disciple as a child of God, and that can never be taken away from her.

Once we break out of the way things are and the way we’ve seen ourselves, we can never go back.
Oh the world will try to drag you back and place new labels and expectations and judgments on you, but who you are in God can never be taken away.



Sermon – June 26, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Psalm 16, Galatians 5:1,13-25
Title: Alive in the Spirit
*Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here**

If you were here last week, you heard me speak about all the ways we seek to divide ourselves in this culture.  That we take every opportunity given to us to make sure that we know just where we stand in reference to some category that has been placed upon us or someone else.
And if you were here last week, you know that I pressed back on this idea quite forcefully.
We are not meant to be divided anymore.
We are meant to be one.

It is in our baptisms we have been clothed with Christ, and we no longer see the things that divide us but instead we see Jesus.  
We see brother and sister, we see beloved children of God, instead of a label or a category.  

And this is important to keep in our minds as we come back to Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia today.  

As I said last week, Paul is writing this letter to the struggling church in Galatia, and some of the things he says help us get an idea of what was happening in that new church community and why they needed Paul’s advice.  
Verse 15: If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Oh this little verse tells us so much.  It feels out of place because we don’t have the letter Paul is responding to – we don’t know what was said first – but we can make some pretty good guesses based on this one verse.  

Paul says that when we fight among ourselves, the end result can be the end of the church.  When we take bites out of each other, when we nitpick and infight, and decide who is in and out and raise ourselves higher than another, the church will not survive. It will devour itself and there will be nothing left.

So we know what’s happening in this little church in Galatia.
And we know Paul is going to talk about it more.
But Paul knows that he cannot begin to talk about this infighting and the things that are ruining this community of believers without first reminding them of who they are and who made them that way.

The text in front of us today begins with the following:

Verse 1: For freedom Christ has set us free.

There it is.
The Good News.
You have been set free.
You are forgiven.
You are no longer under the law that weighs you down, but instead you are under Christ – you are free.  

We Lutherans like to call this grace.
It’s freedom from having to take an active role in making ourselves right or good.


Nothing changes the promises we are given in baptism.  

And we could stop here, and it’s tempting to stop here, because comes next is so often interpreted as law.  As rules. As a set of “if you do these things, you are good, and in, if you do these things, you are bad, and out.
Paul is aware of the risk he takes in saying what he says.  It’s why he begins with this clear statement of grace. You are free.
I am aware of this same risk as I made the choice to continue to preach on this letter to the Galatians.  
Anytime there is a list given of virtues and vices, people in the church are going to take it as another way to divide.  To categorize as in or out.
So I’m going to ask you to hear this text differently today.
If you have always and forever heard this text as good people do this, bad people do this, then I’m asking you to try to set that aside.  
Put a pin in it.  If you want to pick it back up after I’m done, then it will still be there.  

Today Paul is talking about a life in community and what happens after we are baptised and brought into the community of faith.   
Baptism is the bearer of this grace for us.
And after our baptisms, after we are named and claimed and been set free, what happens next?
So let’s be very clear here that nothing that follows this first verse reminding us that we are free will change the fact that we are free.


But Paul wants us to know that our freedom (the grace we’ve been given) cannot simply be used for ourselves.
Verse 13: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.
Paul is talking about community. Everything that follows this verse 13 is about community and how we love each other.
How we live together.
Which we already know the church in Galatia is struggling with.
Not that WE in the church now know what they are talking about.
We never struggle with how to live in community together.
We never have a hard time loving each other.
Am I Right?


Martin Luther read this verse in Galatians and it inspired his thinking on grace and works – which he wrote on in his work, Freedom of a Christian.  

In this work he wrote:

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.”  

Christian freedom is different than personal freedom.
And yet it’s the part that we have the hardest time with – because we want Christian freedom to be like personal freedom.
We want to be free to do what we want, to say what we want, to believe what we believe.
These are our rights! Right?
Paul isn’t talking about personal freedom, but freedom in Christ.
And Freedom in Christ means exactly what Paul and Luther both understood – we are now slaves to one another.
So then Paul produces these two lists of vices and virtues.
And yes, despite only two chapters earlier reminding us that there are no divisions anymore, Paul reminds us how difficult it is to live this way when our culture and the world around us make a clear distinction between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit.
So the life in the flesh, the Greek word there is sarx, meaning the most human basic focus on self and survival – are things that are “obvious” as Paul says.
But if you look at this list – which I’m going to have Nikk put up on the screen – these are all things that do one thing, in Paul’s definition – and that is destroy community.
They are all about self-indulgence, all things that come at the expense of others.  

In verse 21, Paul warns the community of faith in Galatia – about this list.  

The translation says “those who do these things” but it’s not what the original language says at all.
It really means those whose life is characterized by these things.
It’s not that you do this one thing one time and you’re out.
And thank goodness, because who can look at this list and say they’ve never done any of it?
Paul isn’t saying people who do these things are bad, Paul is instead warning against people whose entire life is characterized by these things.
Paul is asking – is your life characterized by things that are all about you at the expense of others?
Or is your life characterized by things that uphold and build up the community?  
Do you love your neighbor or hurt them?

Because the other part – Paul says, in contrast to a life lived for your own best interest – is a life alive in the Spirit.
The Spirit has been given to us and a life in the spirit does something – it produces fruit.
Now this is another list that people have misunderstood to mean if I do this, I’m good.
So this list of fruits of the Spirit becomes it’s own law.  A TO DO list of being in the Spirit.
And you  know how much we like our to do lists.
If I’m generous and gentle and kind then I’m in.  
I can act a certain way and then say I’m in the Spirit.  

That is not what Paul is saying here.
Because then wouldn’t we all just do our best to be these things?
I want to be closer to God, so I’ll be gentle.
I want to have a better faith or be a better Christian so I’m going to be more patient.
Doesn’t that just seem like more stuff to do?


We’ve been set free from that right?  Isn’t that what Paul said?
Paul is not freeing us from one law to give us another.
Instead, Paul says that fruit is what happens when you live a life in the Spirit.
A Spirit led life on the inside shows on the outside like this list of positive virtues.
These attributes are not things you can work to make happen, but happen when you are are living by the Spirit.   

Theologian Paul Hiebert came up with this way to understand this distinction between life in the spirit and life in the flesh that is not the way we’ve been taught.  He came up with this idea of Centered Set versus Bounded Set.
When we take these two lists and place them upon people as requirements or touchstones for which side we fall on, we are in a bounded set. (picture) You’re in or out. You’re on one side or another.

Sound familiar?
This is how we roll around here.
This is how we have often heard this text in Galatians… we hear those two lists and we try to figure out which side we’re on.  

If we do these things – we must be good.
If we do these other bad things – we must be bad.
We live our lives stuck here in the Bounded Set.

And it is brutal.  It is heavy.
It is NOT freedom.  

Hiebert believed that the life of faith is Centered Set.  And I think this is where Paul was going as well.  Where instead of being in or out, on the inside or outside, we are somewhere in relation to the center.  (picture)

So we’re not in or out, but somewhere on a continuum of sorts.
And a spirit filled life is one where we’re focused toward Christ.  We are fully engaged in following Christ and being a disciple, and when we do that – then what happens is fruit.  Those things that are so obviously God.  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.
But, as Heibert points out, we’re still human.  We’re not perfect.
Sometimes we’re focused in on Christ and living within the promises of our baptisms and loving those around us as Christ loved us.

And sometimes we’re not.
And sometimes we do both in the same minute.
Both exist in our world. Spirit and flesh.
Both exist within us – right now.
We can’t pretend they don’t both influence us.

One of my favorite Lutheran pastors Nadia Bolz Weber talked about this freedom and forgiveness and making mistakes and here she is to tell you about it:

Nadia clip: (from 48 seconds to 3:20)

When we get things wrong, that isn’t what defines us.
That is the freedom that Paul is talking about today.
You are free.  You are a child of God.
You have been forgiven, already, for the ways in which you fall short.

Today Paul wants us to be fully aware of who we are, that we are named and claimed and beloved, but then when we inevitably fall short, Paul wants to be VERY clear about who that affects.
Because it doesn’t affect us.
We’ve been freed from that.
If affects the people around us.   

We are constantly surrounded by the ways of flesh.  The things that we do to make sure we take care of number one.
To make sure we survive.
We are human.
And sometimes we forget that in our freedom from ourselves we are still slaves to one another.
Sometimes we forget that we are called to love others as God loves us.
We get stuck in this world of flesh.
We’re not alone.
And we’re not unique in this either – That’s where the church was when Paul wrote them this letter.
And he said –

Verse 16: Live by the Spirit, I say, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

It’s a matter of focus.
Where do you focus your freedom?
On yourself?  On the flesh?
Or on others? By the Spirit?
When you focus on Christ – then the other stuff, the flesh – they lose their ability to have a say.
You have been made free. You.
You are God’s beloved child.
You are Gods. God is yours and You are free.

Christ died and rose to give you freedom from the law, freedom from the things that weigh you down,and freedom from the ways in which you have lost focus on Christ and put the focus back on yourself at the expense of others.  

You are free.

And today we ask how we can use our freedom for the sake of the other.  
How we are freed from working out our own bumps and darkness and instead focus on Christ. And when we do that – when we live in the Spirit, when we focus on Christ – then we will see fruit.  

And Fruit is always, always about building community.  Always about each other.
About taking care of each other, loving each other, and as I said last week, it is this kind of love that changes the world.