Sermon – June 19, 2016

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Scripture: Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Title: Boundaryless

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


Author, theologian and Yale Divinity School professor Barbara Brown Taylor begins her introductory religion classes by showing people a picture of yin and yang and asking a simple question – which I’m also asking you today:
True or false, this is a picture the battle between good and evil?

We live in world of dualism.
Us and them.
We always find ways to divide ourselves.
Coke and pepsi.
Crunchy and creamy.
Salt and pepper.
Male and female.
Republican and Democrat
Light and dark
Good and evil
Black and white
Christian and Non-Christian

I could go on and on
Because we never stop finding ways to divide ourselves into sides.
This week on twitter someone posted this: I could write “I love puppies” and people would be like “WHAT’S WRONG WITH KITTENS, YOU MONSTER???”

And that about says it all.
This week has been tough.
We turn on our computers, our televisions, even look at our phones, and the ways in which we are different are right there.
Right in front of us.
Either or, either or.
If you’re not with us you’re against us.
If you don’t agree with me then you are against me.
And if you’re against me then you are worthy of my hate.

So I stand here this morning to ask honestly – is this really what we’ve come to?
Is this what we want to be known for?

When 49 people are killed simply for being who they were created to be are we really going to turn it into a way to fight with each other? About everything anything?  This is what we’re about?

Dualism is killing us.
Literally killing us.
And Paul got this.
Even thousands of years ago as the church was just beginning to take shape, Paul understood that the things that divide us are what will be our downfall.
The early church in Galatia was struggling, was fighting, was deciding who was in or out based on categories given by the surrounding culture.

And Paul knew that the church would not survive it.
Verse 23: “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.”
We were held captive, under guard by The LAW.  This is what Pr Chad referred to last week the have to’s.  You have to say this, believe this, do this… and then you’ll be forgiven.  Then you’ll be good enough.
The law is what condemns us, it tells us we’re wrong, reminds us how sinful we are, it accuses, and it puts us into a category.
The law is dualism.
In or out.
Us or them.
Right or wrong
Every time you are put in a category, that is the law.
And Paul says what about the law?  It’s like a prison. It’s a disciplinarian.
This is no way to live.

In the Gospel today Jesus comes across a man who is known only by a label.
He doesn’t even have a name, but all we know is that he is unwell, and so unwell that people have called him by his malady instead of by his humanity.  

He’s been categorized.
Placed outside.
Imprisoned by the law that was placed on him.
This is NO way to live.

But – there is something better.
Something that changes everything.

Verse 25 of Paul’s letter to the Galatian church: BUT – (see there it is) – but now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.
Verse 26:for in Christ you are all children of God

No longer subject to a disciplinarian.
No longer under the law – and that means that nothing can stay the same as it was.
The old system, where we divide and categorize and pit ourselves against one another?  That is NO MORE.
It doesn’t count.  The old system is no longer how we are seen by God.
Jesus has come and created an entirely new system.
A new system.
And here’s how it works:

Verse 27: as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ
Verse 28: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.

Why? Why are there no more distinctions?
How did that happen?

When we look at at each other. We don’t see the things that make us different.
We’ve been clothed with Christ.
The Greek there literally means that we are covered, or that we put on Christ.
So when we see each other we see Christ.
Not race, not gender, not sexuality, not political position, not by any of the ways that we have chosen to divide ourselves – but we see Christ.

This is a NEW system.
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote a letter this week to address the Orlando shootings and said:

“We live in an increasingly divided and polarized society. Too often we sort ourselves into like-minded groups and sort others out. It is a short distance from division to demonization. Yesterday, we witnessed the tragic consequences of this.

There is another way. In Christ God has reconciled the world to God’s self. Jesus lived among us sharing our humanity. Jesus died for us to restore our humanity. God invites us into this reconciling work. This must be our witness as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The perpetrator of this hate crime did not come out of nowhere. He was shaped by our culture of division, which itself has been misshapen by the manipulation of our fears. That is not who we are.”

This is not who we are.
Prince of Peace.

Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”
We are the body of Christ.
We may be different but we are ONE.
What we do affects the whole.
What you do affects me.
What I do affects you.
We belong to each other.
We can no longer see each other by the things that make us different without doing damage to the whole.  

when Barbara Brown Taylor asks her class the question I asked you at the start of the message, they always say it’s true – this represents the battle between good and evil.

But it’s not true.
It’s false.
The YinYang shows balance between light and dark
Not the fight, but the balance.
But notice those two parts are inside of ONE thing.
One solid outline.
See, the things that divide us, those categories, they don’t go away.
They are still there. And they are still going to be the ways that we use to explain who we are.
But in the life of faith – those distinctions have no power.
They have no say
They have no role.
They do not count before God.  

Only one thing counts.
For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God.
You belong to Christ.
We are different, but we are one.
Hear me when I say it again – we are different but we are one.

You may have noticed that we didn’t do confession where we normally do it.  Have no fear, I didn’t skip it, but just moved it.
Because sometimes we just say it, and don’t think about what it means that we haven’t loved each other as ourselves.
We don’t think about the ways in which we firmly plant ourselves in one category or another.
So this morning, confession is here.
Right here.
Right before we come forward and hear who we are, and how much God loves us.
But first, we’re going to take time, to listen, to think, and then together, we’ll confess:

(song -Make Us One – Stefan VanVoorst)

(confession then communion)



End of worship Closing:

When Jesus healed the man known only as “Legion” he brought him back to life.  And the man asked Jesus if he could be with him, stay with him.
And Jesus replied: Go and declare how much God has done for you.
Jesus sent him away to go and tell.
I think the simple thing is to stay safely in our duality.  
Categories are comfortable.
They help our world make sense.
But they are killing us, and it’s time to go and tell.
Look at those around you and see only Christ.
This morning, you were reminded not only of who you are – A child of God – but then you were handed grace into your outstretched hand.
It doesn’t get better than this.
I mean really.
And this kind of grace and love and radical changing of the way things work in our messed up and broken world is what we need to be about.
We are better than duality.
We are one.  

Sermon – May 29, 2016

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Scripture: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43,  Luke 7:1-10
Title: All In

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


By a show of hands, how many of you have heard this Gospel story before today?
It’s not very well-known.
And it’s not one of those stories we teach in Sunday School like the Good Samaritan or the Lost Sheep.  

Those are pretty simple stories that Jesus uses to illustrate a point about the grace of God. Today’s story is not quite as simple, but Luke takes the time to include it in his Gospel, and despite it not being one of the well remembered scenes in the Bible, it has a lot to say to us about our faith and our God.

Before we come across Jesus in this scene, he has just finished his sermon on the plain, which we find in Luke’s 6th chapter.  He was on the shores of the sea of Galilee, and gave an extended sermon to all those who were following him.  This sermon was about the way things were set up in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus covered things like who was on the receiving end of blessing, and how we were to love and not judge others.
It’s his TED talk of Luke’s Gospel.  His greatest hits.

One of my favorite authors Sarah Bessey said that she spent a whole year on Luke’s sermon on the plain, and felt that at the end of it she had finally met the real Jesus. So side note – if you are looking for an entry point to personal Bible Study, consider starting with Luke 6.  

So all that sets the scene to what I believe is the significant part of this story for us listening today –
The centurion hears Jesus is in town and asks some Jewish elders to go see if Jesus would heal his slave for him.
The elders go and speak to Jesus, on behalf of the centurion, and as they are on the way –
the centurion sends word to stop.  He says he still wants his slave healed, but he says he isn’t worthy of Jesus being with him.

Despite being on the outside, not knowing a lot about this Jesus guy, but knowing that he likely could be the difference between life or death for his slave, the centurion still feels this deep sense of unworthiness.

Go tell Jesus I am not worthy to have him come into my home, he says.  

This is where I want to focus today – on this unworthiness feeling –
Because if we’re honest – if we are really honest with ourselves and each other, – we have all been here.
We’ve all done things we aren’t proud of.
We’ve all said things we wish we could take back.
We’ve all acted in ways we knew weren’t our best versions.
If Jesus were on the way to our home right now, how many of us might feel this same way?  
Jesus stop – I’m not good enough for you to be with me.
In our confession this morning and every worship service we acknowledge these very things about ourselves.  

People have asked me what my favorite part of worship is, and I think the expected answer is the music or baptisms (I mean, I do love talking to babies) but my answer is always the same.
The part of worship that so many of us just rattle off in a mumbly monotone is my favorite part.  
Because it’s the moment where I remember how much I need God.  
Right?  I acknowledge the very things this centurion feels today.

I remember the ways in which I have fallen short.
I remember the things I wish I hadn’t done or said.
And together with everyone gathered, I bring them out into the light.

And we don’t just say them and that’s it.
We say them and then in response we hear the words of forgiveness.
It doesn’t matter how they are said or who says them, they are true because Christ has forgiven all your sins.

It’s already happened.  

But like I said two weeks ago, we need to hear the gospel every day because we forget it every day.  
I need confession every day and I need absolution on Sundays because I get caught up in my own feelings of unworthiness and I need Christ to remind me just who I am.

We all feel unworthy.
We all fall short, we all sin.
And yet, it doesn’t diminish anything about who God has declared me to be.  
And it doesn’t do anything to affect what God is able to do.
Despite the centurion’s feelings of unworthiness, Jesus still heals the slave.
And Jesus marvels that this man has such faith in what God can do, even from a distance.

This centurion guy may not quite know all there is to know about this Jesus guy, but he does know that Jesus is something special.
And he’s important: he’s the head of 100 soldiers, he’s respected in the Roman community and in the Jewish community he is occupying.  

He says it himself – “I’m a man with authority – I commands people to do stuff and they do it!”
He basically says “I’m kind of a big deal around here.”  
So when THIS guy, this big deal guy, says he is unworthy – he does something pretty profound –
He willingly places himself below this nobody rabbi guy from across the lake.
Not equal, but below.

“I’m not even worthy for him to come into my house, much less have him heal someone in it”- he says –  “I know how to give orders, and I know Jesus can give an order that is more important than mine.”

There’s a recognition of his place in the order of God’s world here.  
A place that is different than the world he is a part of.
And despite his understanding of his unworthiness, he still wants what Jesus can bring him and his household.
Again I think we can relate to this guy here too.
We too might not get all of what we hear about Jesus.
We might have those days where we just don’t buy it all.
But we DO know that it’s different.
Jesus is something significant – and we recognize that, even if we don’t always understand it.

If any of you have any history in the Catholic church, some of the words of the Centurion may have sounded familiar.
As a part of the communion mass, after the words of institution the congregation prepares to approach the table by saying the Lord’s Prayer and then together: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
I love this.
I love the ways in which it’s similar to today’s text but also the ways in which it’s different.
The Catholic mass puts us in the place of the Centurion.  
Yes, it’s still about healing, but it’s OUR healing. Not the healing of someone else.
These words help us recognizing our own unworthiness for what is about to happen, but also acknowledging that whatever happens isn’t our call at all.
It’s all God.
Nothing we’ve done or haven’t done changes what is about to happen at this table.
Sure, we hold our our hands, but the work is all Gods.
Not mine.
Despite having strayed so far from the mother church, I still hear those words in my head when I take communion.
I still have them there to get me in the right frame of mind –
I am not worthy to receive what Christ gives me when I come up to the table.
But it doesn’t matter.

Christ has said the words.  
For you.
And you are healed.
You are made whole.
How do I know it?
Because I have hope.

Last week, Chad talked about Hope, hope in the hard times, hope when things are not going the way we want them to go … and here we are again, recognizing our unworthiness and trusting in the hope that God will make us new.  

Danielle Shroyer video “Christian Hope.”  – beginning to 1:41

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you – but only say the word and I shall be healed.
The good news today is that the word has been said.
God is, right now, at this moment, working to make things new and whole.
Working to restore the darkness in the world and the darkness in us and make it light.
The word has already been said, and will be said again.
The table is ready.
All are welcome.
Lord, we are not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and we shall be healed.



Sermon – May 15, 2016

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Scripture: Romans 8:14-17, Acts 2:1-12; John 14:8-17, 25-27
Title: Sealed and Sent

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

In the third book of CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan sits Lucy and Edmund down and tells them that this is their last time in Narnia.

For those of you who need a refresher, Narnia is a land the kids discovered through a wardrobe, which we hear all about in the most famous of the series – The Lion, the witch and the Wardrobe.
So Aslan (the lion) sits these two kids down and says they won’t be able to come back to Narnia anymore.
Lucy and Edmund are understandably upset.
Not because they love Narnia, but because they love Aslan.
They don’t want to be without him.
How will they ever make it?
Aslan promises that they won’t be alone.  
They will be able to find him back in their world too.  

Because of this, theologian and author Dr David Lose says that this book is a prime representation of pentecost.  

Last week our Gospel ended with the disciples looking up at the sky.  
Jesus had ascended, returned to be with the Father.

As he left Jesus told his disciples (Luke 24:49)

49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

So there they wait.
Getting more and more nervous, asking more and more questions about why Jesus left them and if they were going to be ok.
They were grieving Jesus being gone yet again.
They love him, they don’t want to be left alone.  (Sound familiar? Like Aslan? )
And they were worried.
They were worried about doing the things Jesus said they’d be able to do once he left.
You will be my witnesses, Jesus said.  
You.  I’m counting on you to get the word out about me.
The disciples were worried about whether or not they would mess it up.
I mean, they made so many mistakes when Jesus was walking right beside them, how will they manage without him?
“I will not leave you orphans” Jesus said.
“The Father will send you another Advocate.”
He says that phrase twice in today’s Gospel. The Father is sending you another advocate. Someone other than me.
You will not be alone.

We most often translate the Greek word used here (Paraclete) as advocate.
It comes from the Advocare – ad=to vocare=call
So it literally means to call to one’s aid.
It’s not a daily life kind of word – we don’t go around saying we are advocates.  

(Well maybe we should, but that’s a whole other sermon)
But besides advocate, paraclete can mean helper, assistor, intercessor.

And who doesn’t want one of those?
Today is Pentecost Sunday.
It’s the day we celebrate this promise of the Holy Spirit coming into the world and to us.
And if we think advocate is a complicated word or idea, the Holy Spirit is about a hundred times more complicated and complex.  

Priest and influential 20th century theologian Karl Rahner once said that We could drop the doctrine of the trinity tomorrow, and 98% of Christian practice and devotion would remain untouched.
That’s tough to hear laid out like that, but honestly, it’s probably true for a lot of us.
We don’t really understand the Holy Spirit.
And I will confess that we probably aren’t going to leave here today with a crystal clear understanding of the Holy Spirit.  

There are people who have dedicated years of their life to trying to understand the Spirit, so I’m pretty confident that we can’t do the same thing in ten minutes or so.
But if we don’t leave here thinking that we finally understand the Holy Spirit, I think it’s ok.
Even Luke didn’t know exactly how to describe what happened in pentecost.  He said it was like wind and fire.  

He didn’t say it WAS wind and fire.  

So let’s take a moment and be ok with not quite having a full understanding of what the Spirit is,
And instead take some time to focus on what the Holy Spirit does and what the Spirit has to say about who we are.
That’s the point of pentecost I think.

And at the first Pentecost the disciples were gathered together, and the Spirit came into their room like wind and fire and the disciples started speaking in lots of different languages and suddenly the word of God was shared with more people than ever believed possible.

That’s awesome right?
But what does that mean for us now?
If we also receive the Holy Spirit?
What does that really mean?
I can speak the tiniest bit of Spanish and some German but I worked hard to learn those.  They weren’t imparted on me at my receipt of the holy spirit.
So what does the Spirit do for me now?

This is the question.

And the Apostle Paul began to answer it in Romans 8 that was read this morning:
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
“It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God”
“And if we are children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”

What does the Spirit do?
The Spirit gives us a name.
Child of God.

When we baptize anyone (adults, children or babies) here at POP – we start with the words “we are born children of a fallen humanity – but by water and the Holy Spirit we are reborn children of God and made members of the church – the body of Christ.”

We mark a cross on the forehead of the baptized and say they have been sealed by the Holy Spirit.
You know the original meaning of that word is a layer of protection.
We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and claimed as children of God.

I mean – isn’t that it?
That’s the good news.

Right there.

And that is what Pentecost is all about.
Hearing the Good News.
Knowing that God has sent the Spirit to be with us,
And trusting that this same Spirit now goes with us.
Notice those disciples, they didn’t stay in that locked room, they went out into the world.  
Not because they wanted to, but because they could do nothing else with the knowledge of God’s good news.  

When Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund they don’t need to worry about being away from him again, he says:
the whole reason they were brought to Narnia is so that they would know him well enough so they could recognize him in their own world.
And as David Lose continues in his book,  “that’s what happens at church. We come to hear the Gospel promise and to be reminded how much God loves us. And that actually helps us go back into the world to look for and find God already at work.  And when we recognize God caring for the world, we can join in.”

That is Pentecost.
We are sent.
Sent into the world
Sent to be fully who God created us to be, but understanding that we are not out in the world by ourselves.
But we’re not sent to be something other than our true selves.

Author and pastor Brian McLaren has phrase for living like this – sent into the world to be fully who we are created to be – and here he is to talk about it:
Show video clip by Brian McLaren “Spirit aliveness” ( )

What does it mean to be alive in the spirit?
What does that look like for you?
What does pentecost 2.0 look like for you?


We can’t simply stay standing here. Looking up at the sky.
It’s tempting, I know.

But just like the disciples on that first pentecost, We’ve got to go out.  Once we hear that Good News, when we are reminded that we are children of God not because we deserve it or earned it, but because God has said it’s so – we can’t help ourselves, we have to go out.

And like Jesus says to his worried disciples “The Holy Spirit will remind you of all I have said to you.” Don’t worry – don’t be afraid.
Luther said we need to hear the Gospel every day because we forget it every day.
And that’s what the Spirit does.
Reminds us of what God has already made true.
As we heard last week Jesus said to his disciples, “YOU will be my witnesses.”
And somehow it worked.
Despite their fear, despite their worries – it worked.
Because here we are.
At this place, in this church, on this day, because Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to share. And they did it.
It worked for one simple reason – They weren’t left to do it alone –
And neither are we.



Sermon – May 1, 2016

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Scripture: Acts 16:9-15; John 5:1-9
Title: Expect the Unexpected

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

In my 35 years of life, I’ve determined, very unscientifically, there are only two kinds of waiting.
Lines and anticipation.
Don’t believe me?  Try it.
Traffic? Line.
DMV? Line.
Post office? Line.
Grocery Store. Line.
Test results? Anticipation
Engagement? Anticipation
Pregnancy? Anticipation
Sitting at a restaurant? Anticipation.


Lines or anticipation.
Sometimes it’s even both. Like at Izzy’s Ice Cream.
Always a line. Always anticipation.

No matter which of those two it is, waiting is not something we’re good at.
A study done by the New York Times said that when we wait, no matter if we view it in a positive or negative light, we overestimate the amount of time we wait by 36%.
We don’t like waiting at all.  
In fact we do just about anything to make waiting less intolerable.
We bring a book.
We pull out phones.
We gauge which line is shortest or moving fastest before we get into it.
Anything to not have to wait so long.
What makes waiting so hard is the lack of action that happens.
We can’t move faster.
We can’t go back.
We’re just stuck.

In today’s Gospel we come across a man who has been waiting by the pools at Bethzatha (also known as Bethsaida, or Bethesda)
Bethzatha literally meant house of mercy.
It was a place in the temple courts where people believed healing could take place.

The traditional lore went something like this: occasionally, from time to time, but no one knew when exactly, an angel of the Lord would come and stir up the waters.  The first one into the pool after each stirring would be cured of whatever disease or ailment they had.  

Picture this place, these pools, surrounded by people in need of healing.  Verse three says there were “many individuals – blind, lame, paralyzed.”

And they are all keeping watch on the water.

Carefully, each day, they would come and wait, or someone would bring them to wait, for the stirring of the water.
And then it would be a race to be first.

So this man we come across today had been ill for 38 years.
And Jesus saw that this man had been laying there for a long time, and hadn’t yet been healed.
Jesus went up to him and said “do you want to be made well?”
If you were hearing this for the first time, you might expect the response to be YES.
I mean isn’t that what you would say?
Yes I want to be made well.
Obviously, Jesus.
I’ve been sitting here for literally decades.

But that’s not what the man says.
He says “I’ve been trying, God, but someone always gets there first.”
Someone always gets there first.
Isn’t that the truth?
How often do we feel like this guy… waiting, and waiting, wondering when it’s going to be our turn.
I mean, we are TRYING here God.
Don’t you see us?

There’s something this guy says that I think is really important…
When Jesus asks this man his question, “do you want to be well?”
The Greek word is hygies (hoo gee ace).
It literally means to be made whole.
Jesus doesn’t ask him if he wants to be healed, but instead questions if he wants to be whole.
It’s more than just physical healing… it’s about being made whole, fully human, yes physically but also spiritually, mentally, and relationally.
Jesus invites him to stop waiting here in this place and rejoin the world outside the temple – get up and enter into a full life, a whole life.  

This is what Christ does for us.
He makes us whole.
All the work we do, all our trying, it does nothing.
We try and try and try and hope that God sees us working so hard over here and eventually pays attention to us, but that’s not how it works.
If we just pray harder.
If we just come to church more.
If we just give more money.
If we just try.

Pastor and Professor Elizabeth Johnson says “If we are ever tempted to believe God’s healing depends on the quality or quantity of a person’s faith, this passage offers a strong corrective. The man whom Jesus heals shows no sign of faith in Jesus, or of gratitude for what Jesus has done for him.”

This guy doesn’t ask for healing.
He doesn’t even put his faith in God.
He’s trusting in this folk lore of the water being stirred up.
Jesus is standing in front of him, and he’s looking at the water.
And he doesn’t even say thank you when Jesus heals him!
I mean gosh couldn’t Jesus have picked someone else?
Someone more, I don’t know, … worthy?

How often have you asked this very question?
I know I have.
So why this guy?
Why is THIS guy healed?

I don’t know.
I wish I could answer this question for you because it’s one I have as well.  
John’s Gospel doesn’t answer the question of why certain people are healed and others are not.

But today Jesus makes it clear that healing is not about the amount of faith one has.
And even more importantly, we get a clear reminder that God is about restoration.
Restoring us to wholeness.
This is no small lesson here today.
Jesus teaches us something about how God operates in our broken world.
So yes, this man was in need of physical healing, but I think something even more important happened when Jesus called him to get up and walk.
When Jesus comes to this man at the side of the pool and asks him if he wants to be made well, the first thing the man says is “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool.”

Did you hear it?
I have no one.
I have NO ONE.

The ailment this man has is much bigger than physical, and Jesus knows it.
He is alone.
Day after day, month after month, year after year, he sits there by the pool. Alone.
People who were a burden to their family, especially the poor, were often cast off and unwelcome.
The people who were sitting at the pool, waiting and hoping for healing, were not inside the temple.  
They couldn’t get inside the temple.
They were excluded.
Jesus’ act of healing does something more than fix the physical.
Jesus allows this man to rejoin a community.
To not be alone.  

In our first reading for today, Paul meets a woman, Lydia, who listens to the Gospel, gets baptized, and then the first thing she does as a newly baptized follower of Christ is hospitality. She invites Paul to stay in her home with her family.  She invites Paul into community.

Community is the result of hearing the Gospel.
When we are called into community, something that was broken gets made whole.
And God is all about that.
God is not a cash register.
God is not about getting something for giving something.
God is not a magic wand or a lottery ticket.
God simply sends Jesus.
Into this world of sickness and fear and hopelessness, God sends us Jesus.

A little later, when Jesus is questioned about this very thing – why did he heal that guy – he simply said “My Father is always at work, and so am I”
God is always at work.
Always taking the broken things of this world and making them whole.
Piece by piece.
Little by little.
Person by person.
WE look at people and see their worthiness or unworthiness for wholeness, for healing…
But God looks at the very same people and sees children.
Beloved children who are broken and in need of redemption.
That’s it.
And so God goes to his work of restoration, healing, and making all things new.

Today, we are invited to the table.
Just as he stood in front of the man at Bethsaida, Jesus stands in front of us and tells us to stop waiting, the time has come.
You are no longer alone.
You are invited into community.  

And it is here, at this place, we come to the presence of God and are healed.
It is here we can bring all our shame and doubts and brokenness and fear and Jesus looks at us and says, new life – for you.
Wholeness, for you.

One of my favorite authors Shauna Niequist says that God does the best repair-work around the table.
And I completely agree.
Because the repair work she talks about is the ways in which we are made whole.
And we know that wholeness comes from community.
Table are where we gather with people in our lives.
You have meals with your family at your table at home.
You have picnics at tables outside with friends.
You gather at restaurants with confidants and co-workers.
Think about some of the meals you have shared around tables.
Meals where you talked about your day or a dream you have or a heartbreak you are in the midst of.
Think about those meals where the conversation continues long after the food is finished.
Where you don’t even move to the more comfortable living room because you know the table is where real community happens.
Tables are where life is shared and relationships are built and healing happens.
So come.
Come to the table – come to THIS table.
You have been invited.
You don’t have to wait anymore.
You are welcome.   
You are healed.
Get up and walk.


Sermon – April 17, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Psalm 23; John 10:22-30
Title: Shepherd and Sheep

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

Earlier this week, I asked some people to tell me what makes them feel safe.  
A lot of answers involved people: like family, spouses, friends.
I heard about places: like houses, beds, cozy corners.
And a few were even things: pets, warm drinks, blankets.  

It’s pretty hard to do anything in the world right now without being made aware of our safety – or lack thereof.
You get in the car – you buckle up.
You go to the airport, you get scanned at a checkpoint.
You leave your house, you lock the door, some of you set an alarm.
We do fire drills, tornado drills, lockdown drills, all in the name of safety.
Most of the rules in our lives, on the roads, in public, and in our homes, are there to keep us safe.

Safety is defined as the condition of being protected from danger, risk, or injury. And also those things which are unlikely to cause danger, risk or injury.

We want to be safe.
We want our loved ones to be safe.
And despite how elusive it sometimes seems to be, today we get a little reminder of just how safe we are.

It’s still Easter. Yes I know I said this two weeks ago, but it’s still true.
We are four weeks past the discovery of the empty tomb and together we continue to try to figure out how to live this new, resurrected life.
And so here we gather – on this 4th Sunday of Easter, which is designated Good Shepherd Sunday.  

It would be easy to just talk about sheep and shepherds and that would be a fine and good sermon, in fact, Jesus talks about sheep and shepherds so often I know I have preached that sermon already…
But this time it happens here… in Easter. And it changes things.
We miss something really really important when ignore that this Good Shepherd Sunday is in Easter.

So, if you are anything like me, your first question is – what do sheep and a shepherd have to do with Resurrection?
Why Good Shepherd Sunday today?  Four Sundays later?
I think the simple answer is that we need to keep hearing the Easter promise, and today we get it loud and clear.  

There are so many great parts about today’s text that we could spend more than one day on, but I’ll start with my favorite snarky Jesus.  
Jesus has been giving his followers the good news in language they can understand for awhile before we get to the scene in front of us today.
He has said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life down for his sheep.” (verse 11)
And “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” (verse 14)

This language of shepherd and sheep made perfect sense to those listening.
The relationship between a shepherd and his sheep was well understood.
In fact, using this metaphor (of sheep and shepherds) to describe a relationship between a king and his subjects was completely common practice.  

So Jesus isn’t mincing words at all when he says – “I am the good shepherd.”
He IS being clear. He is describing the relationship he has with his followers.

And yet, those listening cry, “how long will you keep us in suspense – tell us plainly – are you the Messiah?”
Another way to translate this is how long will you keep irritating us?!
UGH Jesus. Stop.
Stop talking about sheep and shepherds.
Just tell us what you REALLY mean.

Enter snarky Jesus.
“I have told you.” (vs25)

I JUST told you I was the good shepherd.
How can I be more plain than that?
Jesus has clearly established the sheep/shepherd relationship here.

And earlier, when he firsts talks about shepherds, Jesus says, “A good shepherd lays his life down for his sheep.”
Sound like something that just happened?  
That sounds like Easter.

So part 1 of this relationship has been established.
We now know just how far this shepherd is willing to go for us.
And then Jesus gives us this promise.
And it’s kind of stunning and beautiful.
In fact, no lie, I was tempted to just get up, read this, and then sit down.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand”

This right here is why this text comes to us today, in Easter.
No one will snatch them out of my hand.
It is the Easter promise in 9 words.
You are his sheep.
You have been claimed, called beloved.
You have been brought into the flock.
The shepherd has laid down his life for the sake of his sheep.

For you.

And still that wasn’t the end.
Death was defeated that Easter morning.
And because of Jesus, because he died and rose,
No one will snatch you out of God’s hand.
No one.
No thing.
No institution.
No group.

It’s no mistake that Psalm 23 is paired with our text today.

When I preach this psalm at funerals, I always make mention of the promises held within it.
And while yes, those are promises we need to hear in the midst of grief over the loss of a loved one, they are also promises we need all the time, every day.

Because having God as our shepherd means something pretty powerful:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul.
Even in the darkest valley, I am not afraid – because you are with me.
Surely goodness and mercy will be mine all the days of my life – and I will be with God forever.

God is our shepherd, and we are all sheep in his flock.
Being sheep that belong to THIS particular shepherd means restoration, care and safety.   

And let’s not sugar-coat it.
There are a lot of things that make us feel unsafe out there.
Fear is a great motivator.
Many of us are so afraid of what is going to happen today, or the next day, or when we leave our homes, or when we send our kids out the door, that we are paralyzed.
Fear makes us irrational and angry.
Fear holds us captive.
Fear is the opposite of feeling safe.

This is why I wanted to get up, read only verse 28, and sit down.
Because right here is the good news.
It’s all we need to know.
No one will snatch us out of God’s hand.
We belong to God.
We don’t have to be afraid.

I know, it’s easier said than done.
But it’s true.
It’s TRUE.
Jesus, our shepherd, has changed the game.
Last week Chad said that God is in the redemption business.
There is nothing that God can’t make new.
There is nothing that can take us out of his hand.

Not sin. Not fear. Not even death.
That is resurrection.
That is hope.  
That is Easter.


Sermon – April 3, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Title: Out of Hiding
Scripture: Isaiah 41:4b-13; John 20:19-31

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

Happy Easter!

No, I’m not a week behind – we’re still in Easter.
Yes, you’ve likely eaten most of your jelly beans, put away the few decorations you had out, eaten all the hard-boiled eggs and ham sandwiches, and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ve stopped finding Easter Grass all over the place.  

Despite how over it we might be – it IS still Easter.
Easter isn’t just a day.  
It’s a whole season in the church.
And honestly, we need more than a day.
Easter is complicated, and sometimes hard to believe.
And as those kids reminded us, even those who experienced the first Easter had a hard time believing what was happening was really happening.  
They had seen it all.
The disciples saw Jesus on the cross.
They saw him placed into a tomb.
They knew there was no coming back from that.
And yet –
The tomb was empty – an angel met the women at the tomb and even told them, “Jesus is risen”
And still they had a hard time believing it.
Now don’t get me wrong, they WANTED to believe it – but an empty tomb can mean a lot more than someone rising from the dead.

In science there’s a rule called Occam’s Razor. It says that the most likely scenario is the true one.
In this case, Jesus being alive after they watched him die?  Doesn’t seem likely. The more likely scenario was someone moved the body, or had stolen it.  

So we come upon the disciples today – hiding in a locked room because they are afraid.
Even though they had heard from the women that Jesus was risen.
They were still hiding.
Fear is strong.
It’s powerful.
It can be stronger than the glimmer of hope that comes when they hear Jesus is risen.
But, despite their fear, despite the locked doors – Jesus comes in.
The one they thought was dead just appears.
The first thing Jesus says is “peace be with you” because what they are seeing is NOT how things are supposed to go.
People die.
That’s the way of the world.
They don’t come back.
Death wins.

The disciples, when they realize that it’s really happening – this isn’t a dream, it isn’t just words…that little bit of hope which had been glimmering under the fear springs out.
And they rejoice.
Because the simple act of Jesus being there means that death didn’t win, those words they had heard WERE in fact, true … and it changes everything.
And then there’s Thomas.
Poor Thomas.
Each and every year, the Sunday following Easter we hear about Thomas.  The one who didn’t quite buy it.
The one who wanted something more than words.
The disciples see Jesus, but Thomas isn’t there.  
We don’t know why.
We don’t know if he was with his family, or trying to figure out what to do with his life now that Jesus had been killed.

We do know he’s not in that upper room the first time Jesus appears.
And man, did he miss out.
The other disciples tell him all about seeing Jesus and he doesn’t believe it.
Thomas doesn’t have hope greater than his fear yet.
It’s maybe a little stronger than it was before the other disciples tell him their experience, but it’s not something he has seen for himself and he wants it.
Who can blame him?

Not me.
I’ve had my own Thomas moments.
I have shared this before but I remember laying on the dock at a cabin with a group of friends from high school and asking for a sign “God if you’re really up there, give me a sign” and immediately seeing a shooting star blaze across the sky.  And then thinking it was a fluke so asking again and getting it again.
Should I be forever called doubting Natalia?

What do you need to believe?
What would/did it take?
A miracle?
A shooting star?
A story of faith from someone else?

One might think that preaching each and every year on this Sunday after Easter I’d be sick of this story.  But I’m not.
Not at all.
In fact, I seem to love it more and more with each telling.
Because it’s my story.
I have come to the tomb, I have heard someone proclaim to me that the Lord is Risen and we sing and celebrate and rejoice but there is always a question or two that linger.
My life is still filled with What ifs and maybes
What I have come to love about Thomas is that he comes to faith – he gets to that place where he can boldly proclaim “my lord and my god” –
because he first has the chance to voice his doubt,
to ask his questions,
to not be afraid of what will happen because he doesn’t take the other guys at their word.
He expresses his doubt and then has an experience of God.  

And even afterwards – even after his great words of faith – I’m sure Thomas still had his moments.  
Where things didn’t seem so certain. Where his doubts and questions came roaring right back.  

And yet Thomas’s doubts don’t change the reality of Easter.
They don’t change anything that has happened.
The same is true for me and for you.
Our doubts and questions don’t change a thing.
Jesus has still risen.
Death still has not won.

Year after year, Thomas teaches me that faith and certainty are two different things.
I can believe and still have questions.
I can proclaim My Lord and My God and then question and wonder and doubt because it doesn’t change who I am, (a claimed child of God) and it doesn’t change what Christ has just done for me.

Jesus’ response to Thomas after his words of faith is for you and me and our lingering questions.  
The ones that never go away.
The ones that get answered but then create new more complicated questions.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” or another way to translate that is to say “blessed are those who have not seen and yet continue to believe.”
If you were here this Lent season you heard these moments.
Moments where people stood before us and shared their own moments where doubt and fear led to an experience of God.  

Blessed are we who have not seen, and yet continue to believe.

Easter was a week ago.
And today, today you may be like Thomas.
You might have proclaimed “He is risen indeed” with gusto last Sunday but are still full of questions and doubts today.
Or today you might be like the disciples – locked in a room, filled with anxiety and fear for the future.  Having heard about Jesus rising from the dead but the fear is still stronger than the hope that it might be true.  

But Easter is more than one day.  
And today is still Easter.
Today, this day, Jesus comes to you. To us.
Right here.
Right where we are.
In the middle of our locked rooms.
Into our questions and fears and doubts.  

And what does Jesus do when he comes in?

When he meets us here?
He says “Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

It’s time to stop hiding and go.

(Lydia sings Come Out of Hiding: at both services) 


Sermon – March 6, 2016

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Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Title: Table Grace

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

Have you ever celebrated when you found something that was lost?
Maybe you didn’t throw a party, but there was celebration.  
Have you ever lost your keys?
Your wallet?
Your phone?
It’s a gut clenching feeling, when you realize something is missing.    

But that feeling, when you find what it is you are looking for.  Oh it’s heavenly.  
It’s a relief, and, depending on your phone addiction level,there’s some joy as well.

I cheer “I FOUND IT!!!!” (or them, because it’s probably my keys) to my husband who is likely being coerced into helping me look.
Layla celebrates all the time, when I inevitably find the thing she barely looked for but said she couldn’t find ANYWHERE.  But she really celebrates the finding.  

Today’s Gospel is a celebration of something lost being found.
But just who that lost person is isn’t as clear as we often think at first glance.
This parable of Jesus is known by many titles:
the most well-known: Parable of the Prodigal Son
But there are others:
The parable of the lost son
The parable of the welcoming father
And my personal favorite, given by a professor: the lament of the responsible child.

While that is funny, it gets at something often missed in this parable.  
There is more than one person in this story.  
That’s why, for today, I’d like to call this one the Parable of the Lost Sons.
Because this parable does something really incredible that we miss when we move quickly to the part where the father welcomes his son home with open arms.  And we’ll get there, because it’s grace at it’s purest, and it’s important, but we can’t skip all that comes before it.

Because first, this starts, as all parables do, with Jesus responding to some question or comment from the gathered crowd.

Verses 1-3: Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “ this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable.

Who is them?
The Greek word for them can mean a few things, one of which is the entire gathered crowd.  Which means Jesus is telling this parable to everyone.
To sinners and tax collectors. The worst of the worst.
and to Pharisees and Scribes.  Teachers of the law.


Jesus tells a parable to both of these groups.
And they couldn’t be more different.  So you might wonder how he does it.  

Verse 11-12 There was once a man who had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, “Father give me the share of the property that will belong to me”.  

Holy buckets.
This kid essentially asks his dad for his inheritance.  Before his dad dies.
Which is SO offensive.
So so so so offensive.
He’s essentially sitting his dad down and saying “look Dad, I’ve been waiting for you to die, but you just aren’t dying, so can I just have my share now?”

Can you imagine?

So the entire crowd listening to Jesus – they are BOTH equally offended here.
Because they all know that this is simply not done.  

Both sinners and keepers of the law know how bad this is.
Yet the father does it.
He does it.
He gives the son his inheritance.
Which is almost equally as offensive as the son asking for it.  
And the son goes off with his newly acquired inheritance, and he spends it all, and not wisely.

Then a famine hits the land and he ends up having no money and becoming deeply in need and so he goes and gets a job feeding pigs.
And the crowd goes wild.
Ok, probably not wild, but they would have been fine if the story had stopped there.
Because he had it coming.
This is exactly what they all wanted to have happen.
It makes sense.

But Jesus doesn’t end there.  
He continues on, and the youngest son realizes that the household help in his father’s house are treated well, really well, better than he is currently living actually.
So he begins to head home, all set with a big speech:
Verse 18b-19: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer

worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”

But when he gets there, things don’t go the way son expects them to.  

Verse 20: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.  

You guys.

We could spend a whole week on just this verse, there is so much in it.

If you have ever wondered what grace looks like, it’s these next verses.

“While he was still far off” – this little starter to this part of the story means the impossible.  The father, despite having been told by the younger son that he wished him dead, was still looking for his kid.  To see him a far way off means he was on the lookout. Regularly. No matter what, he was still keeping an eye open for his beloved child.

“filled with …” – I think the crowd was expecting anger. The father sees his son and is filled with anger.  Right?  That is what makes sense.  We don’t see pauses in the scripture, but I like to imagine Jesus gave a big dramatic pause here… the father saw him and was filled with ….. compassion.  And the gathered crowd is all “WAIT WHAT?”   It’s a twist they don’t see coming.  And because of how often we have heard this parable, I think we miss this too… his father is filled with compassion.  Not anger.  And the grace continues.  

ran to – He doesn’t see his son and wait for him to come crawling back.  That might be what we’d do, or what we expect, or even what the son deserves, but no – the father RUNS to meet him.  Runs to get him.  

And then, here it is, the moment of truth – the son says:

Verse 21: “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”


And the father interrupts.

That big speech about being a servant instead of a son that he had all planned out, he didn’t even get to finish it!

The Father says
Verse 22-24: “But the father said to his servants ‘quickly, bring out a

robe – the best one –

and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found!”

I’ve read a lot about this parable this week, and there’s some dissent as to whether the son is really repentant, or just gaming the system.  
But here’s the thing… it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t change the actions of the father one bit.

Let me say that again, the motivation of the son doesn’t change the response of the father at all.

He is celebrating his son.  

The child he loves so much is back.  
That’s all that matters.

And the story could end here.  
Because the minds of the gathered crowd hearing this parable are completely blown.
The Pharisees and Scribes are trying to understand this kind of extravagant love, and the sinners and tax collectors are completely overwhelmed by it.  Because they know they are the younger son.  That’s them.
But Jesus is responding to the grumbling Pharisees, and while the story of the younger son might help them understand why Jesus hangs out with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus isn’t done with them yet.
Verse 25-30

Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on.  He replied ‘your brother has come,and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out to plead with hi.  But he answered his father, ‘listen! for all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you kill the fatted calf for him!”


Oh you can hear the sarcasm here.
And the anger. So much anger.  
We often focus on the younger son in this parable.  Mostly because he is just easier to relate with.  He is a sinner.

He’s made bad choices.  

He feels the burden of guilt.  
All of us have been there.  
We have done things we wish we could take back.  We’ve sinned to the point of wondering if God could possibly love us ever again.

So we find it pretty easy to relate to the younger son.

And we hear about the grace extended to him, and to us, and we’re overwhelmed, and surprised, and humbled and delighted.  
But that older son.  
That’s the one we don’t like relating to.

I think it’s easier to admit our sin than it is to admit our anger at someone else’s grace.  

But that’s what’s happening here.  

The older son sees the banquet for the younger son and gets mad.  


Really dad?

What about me?

The Pharisees see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners and they get mad.  

Really Jesus?

But what about me?
I’ve been here all along.
I go to church.
I’m a good person.

I serve.
I give.
I try to be kind to others.

And you’re choosing THEM?


I’m not on board with this, Jesus.
I want the party to be for me.


The older son is all of us as well.
We like to relate to the younger son, but we all have a bit of older son in us too.  

Verse 31-32:
Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of your was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”


All that is mine is yours.  
Your brother being welcomed back doesn’t change anything for you, the father says.  

You are still my son.  

You are always my son.


Our response to grace is twofold, and Jesus makes it clear today that we are both.
The first is surprise.  We are surprised by the grace we receive – fearing we aren’t worthy but getting it anyway. It’s overwhelming.  It is really what changes lives.  Being given grace when we don’t deserve it is why most of us are here today.

The other response is resentment.  When grace is given to someone else. Someone not worthy.  We are angry because we deserve grace and they don’t.  


To both of these, the response is the same: come. you are welcome. you are my child.

The younger son is broken, and is thrown a party.  
The older son is angry and the father comes to plead with him.  
Look, he says – the feast isn’t complete without you. I need BOTH of you.

This parable is astounding.  We lose something when we let it become familiar.  We miss something when we just say, oh yeah that parable.

Grace is for you.
No matter which son you are more like today – God is welcoming you to the table.
See – grace looks like a feast.
If you are lost.
If you feel like you’ve done something or been something that is unforgivable, unloveable,
then this table is for you.
If grace feels unfair to you.
If you’ve become resentful and angry.
If you have begun to decide who is worthy or not,
then this table is for you.
If you are both of those things, sometimes broken, sometimes angry, or a always a little of both – this table is for you.  The feast isn’t complete without you. It’s not complete without all of us.
So do we come to the table – to hear it again, to taste and see the grace of God, given for you.
No matter what.  


Sermon – February 21, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Psalm 27; Luke 13:31-35
Title: Keep Calm and Carry On

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

In 1939, the British government’s “Ministry of Information” made a series of posters to raise public morale during threats of air attacks by the German Army.  There were three different poster designs, with similar font, simple sayings, and all underneath the symbol of the state, George’s crown.  
The first: Freedom is in peril
The second: your courage your cheerfulness

And the third: keep calm and carry on

Though 2.5 million copies of this last one were printed, it was never widely distributed, and most were thought to have been destroyed until a copy was found at a bookstore over 50 years later, in northeast England, in the year 2000.

Though intended for wartime use, the phrase Keep Calm and Carry On struck a chord with people so many decades later.  You have likely seen this poster somewhere, either on bumper stickers, mugs, shirts, or all over the internet – and it has been rewritten and reimagined in many ways since then as well.
Here are some of my favorites: 
Keep Calm and eat a banana
Keep Calm and Sparkle on
Keep Calm and call batman
Keep Calm and Use the Force
Keep Calm and Watch Friends
Keep Calm and eat a cookie
Keep Calm and Hockey On
And my personal favorite: Keep Calm and Call Mom

Why does this simple phrase seem to resonate with so many of us, all these years later?  
I think, primarily, because we want this to be our response in times of crisis.  

What do we do when we feel threatened?
What’s our initial reaction to any threat, real or perceived?

Today’s Gospel is short, only five verses, and they begin with a threat.  

We’re in the second week of Lent, Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem, and on his way he is doing his work – healing, taking care of people, and proclaiming the good news.  Some Pharisees, usually seen as the bad guys in the Gospels, come up to Jesus and give him a warning –

Jesus, you’d better watch out – Herod is out to get you.  

And Jesus replies with (verse 32)“Go tell that fox for me – listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and on the third day I finish my work”

Outside of the sass, Jesus is so calm about it.
These guys have just told Jesus that someone is threatening his life, and he seems so nonchalant.
I almost picture Jesus looking at his google calendar and being like , listen guys, I appreciate the warning but today is booked, tomorrow too, So no.
I don’t have time for Herod and his threats.
I’ve got work to do.
I’m going to keep calm and carry on.

What do you do when you feel threatened?

I don’t think our default is the same as Jesus – in fact, I know that if someone told me my life were in danger, I would not be so casual.
I think we often give threats a lot more time than they deserve.
Don’t believe me?  

Turn on any 24 hour news station right now, doesn’t matter which one, and they will have a scrolling list of things that are currently a threat to you and your way of life.
We are simply surrounded.  

Our first reading from Psalm 27 is more of the same:
When evildoers assail me
though an army encamps against me
war rises up against me
Threat threat threat

What do we do when we feel threatened?
I think we most often respond with fear.

And fear makes us respond in a number of ways:

  • We strike first. (I’m going to hurt you before you can hurt me)
  • We build walls.
  • We hoard supplies. (remember when y2k was going to make the world explode and everyone bought duct tape and plastic and bread and water?)
  • We turn away from those in need.
  • We hide. (even the disciples did this after Jesus was killed)

What’s the difference between how we respond to threats and how Jesus responds to threats?
Jesus does not respond in fear.
Jesus continues to heal and preach and teach, in spite of the threats he receives.
He says “today and tomorrow and the next day I must be on my way”
I must carry on.

Why is this?  Why are our responses so different?
Jesus understands who he is, whose he is.
Jesus has been baptized, been named and claimed and filled with the holy Spirit.  He has been up on the mountaintop and again named the Son of God.

As Chad spoke about a couple of weeks ago, Jesus did not let his identity as a child of God be shaken, not in the face of temptation, and again today, not in the face of threats.  

He knows who he is.  
So this – this little threat from Herod – it’s nothing.
Jesus doesn’t take the threat seriously because he knows that it doesn’t change anything.
It doesn’t change who Jesus is.
It doesn’t change who Jesus belongs to.

This is what Jesus wants for us –
This confidence to be able to withstand the threats that are all around us.
(verse 34b) “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”
Despite urban farming becoming more widespread, most of us don’t have a lot of experience with chickens.  But a hen guarding her chicks is a real thing.  It actually happens.

If the weather is bad or a predator is flying overhead, a mother hen places her wings over her chicks to protect them and keep them safe.
That is what Jesus wants to do for us.
The greek word there is thelo, which means want, desire, or long for.
Jesus LONGS to gather us in, wants to cover us, desires to keep us safe.
But not hidden.
There is a difference.
Jesus is under attack but does not respond in fear.
“I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and on the third day I finish my work.”
Jesus knows who he is.
And that is what he wants for us as well.  It is our identity as beloved children of God that protects us.
It is God’s grace that covers us.
In the face of threats to our health, wealth, jobs, families, lives, who we are and whose we are is unchanged.
Jesus has gathered us in like that mother hen and has given us a safe place to be who we have been created to be.
That is grace.  
I was listening to a talk by sociologist and author Brene Brown this week and it was too good to not share a small piece of it today: (to 1:53)


You guys.  This blew my mind this week.
I mean really.
I could not get over that line I’ve sung hundreds of times before.  

It is grace that taught my heart to fear.
as Brene said – “grace is not the thing that makes you unafraid – it’s what whispers you CAN be afraid”
We can face anything, knowing we do not face it alone.
You can be calm in the face of fear.
Because God has got you covered.
Keep calm and carry on.

Here are some others that ring true today:
Keep Calm and Trust God
Keep Calm You have a big and powerful God
Keep Calm God has Your Back
Keep Calm and Carry On

That’s Good News.
That is grace.
Grace is the wings of that hen covering her chicks.
Grace that we’ll experience today when you hold out your hand and hear the words “FOR YOU”
Grace that lifts our voices together, to sing that for us too, we can keep calm and carry on.
So join me in singing: Amazing Grace how sweet the sound
(amazing grace, verses 1 2 and 3)


Sermon – January 31, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Luke 4:21-30
Title: An Unwelcome Word

Sermons are meant to be heard.  Listen along here.


Story about Josh Hartnett. (show pic if people don’t know who he is)

(Also can mention MN natives: Prince, Chris Pratt, Bob Dylan, Winona Ryder, Vince Vaughn, Skier Lindsey Vonn, Peter Krause, TR Knight, Rachel Leigh Cook, Jessica Biel, Sean William Scott, Joe Mauer, Garrison Keillor, just to name a few)

We like to claim famous people as our own.
And not only do we like to claim them, we think that because they are from here, they owe us something.
This is exactly what was happening when Jesus went to preach in his hometown synagogue.  
If you were here last week, you know that Chad decided since I was in Florida he’d just go ahead and preach my text for this Sunday as well as his own.  

Just kidding (kind of) – the lectionary took one story and broke it up over two weeks, when in reality, it should not have been split up in the first place.  So, I guess it’s a good thing that this story about Jesus in his hometown is filled with enough to handle two weeks of preaching.  

Jesus went to his hometown and headed to the place that a young new up and coming rabbi would go – to preach in the synagogue.  This was a big deal, and Jesus didn’t disappoint.  He stood up and began to preach.  

Now before I go on, I think it’s important to recognize where this story takes place in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus has just come from his baptism and subsequent temptation in the wilderness.  He leaves the wilderness and, as Luke 4:14 said last week – FILLED with the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned to Galilee to begin preaching.  

It is here that Jesus comes home to Nazareth.  Filled with the Holy Spirit.  Ready to do the work of God, confident in who he is and whose he is.  

Jesus could preach on anything he wanted here.  

He could have chosen ANYTHING from the sacred texts that people knew so well.  But he quotes Isaiah – saying: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  And, as Chad said last week, Jesus sits down, and with all eyes on him, says: That day is here.  I’m the one that Isaiah is talking about.

Jesus is making a big claim – that he is the Messiah.  The one they’ve been waiting for all these years.  

I think sometimes we hear this text, about Jesus preaching in his hometown and we think the people wanted to throw him off the cliff because Jesus claimed to be the son of God.  

But that’s not actually the problem here.  
After Jesus tells the crowd that HE IS the one Isaiah was talking about, after he tells the crowd that this thing that they have all been waiting for is here, in front of them, they aren’t mad.  They are excited.  
They are interested.  They are amazed.  
Verse 22: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

They weren’t mad.
They were happy.  This guy, the one they had grown up with, that they had shared so much with, was telling them he was the messiah.  

And really, I think they were thinking, SWEET.  WE’RE IN.
Because it’s true.
We’re in.
Jesus comes to us this morning with this same word.
We are free.
Jesus comes to us to set us free.
Now you might sit here and think that this isn’t you.
You aren’t in slavery.
We’re not an occupied country.
This word from Jesus can’t possibly apply to us here and now.
But I’m here this morning to tell you it does.
We all have things that enslave us.
We all have things that hold us back, that trap us, that keep us bound.  
Think about it.
Close your eyes, and think about what it is that holds you captive.
Jesus has stood before you today and said that you are free.


When Jesus says he has come to set the prisoners free, to release us from those things that enslave us he isn’t just talking to the people in his hometown under Roman occupation, but to us as well.

We are set free from all those things that we named in silence.  Today.  Right now.

Jesus has set you free.   

It doesn’t mean that those things are any less real, that being freed from them means they go away or suddenly disappear, no, addiction is still real.
Anger is real.
Comparison is real.
Mental illness is real.
But freedom in Christ means that Jesus is stronger.

Jesus is more than all those things that try to keep us captive.
That is the good news that Jesus says he was sent to proclaim.
So in case you need to hear it one more time… YOU ARE FREE.

Repeat after me: I am free in Christ.
Again!  I am free in Christ!
Turn to someone next to you and tell them “you are free in Christ”

And so, I think we too, can sit here after hearing this good news and feel like yeah – we’re in.  We know this Jesus guy, and he gave us this good word and it’s ours.  It’s here that I get where the people listening to Jesus can first feel amazed at these words of grace coming from Jesus.  

How can we not?
These words include us.

And it’s amazing.
And really I could end my sermon right now.
We are free.  End of story.
But that isn’t where Jesus stops.
So we can’t either.  

Jesus goes on to talk about all the other people included in this grace he brings.
And those gathered don’t like it.
They go from amazed to enraged in a few short moments.
so do we.

We love grace.

But we don’t want it when it’s not exclusive.
Or at least, if it’s not about being exclusive, we might say that we don’t like grace when it isn’t so easy.  When being an insider gets difficult.  

Today Jesus reminds us that grace has always, always, been about more than us.
If we’re brutally honest, we like these words of grace until they include those we have decided are unworthy.
We love the idea of Christ coming to break chains and set people free. Grace feels amazing, we just experienced it ourselves.

But then that grace is extended, outside… extended to drunk drivers, murderers, abusers, addicts, cheaters, brick throwers, Black Lives Matter activists, racists, LGBT community members and haters, pro-life activists, planned parenthood supporters, republicans, and democrats.

I mean – a God who extends grace to people I don’t like?
To people I think are evil?
To people I vehemently disagree with?
To Donald Trump AND Hillary Clinton?
Both? At the same time?

“when they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.”

How many of you are still feeling amazed at the words of grace Jesus offers now?
We can understand wanting to throw Jesus off a cliff a little more now can’t we?  

Again, we cannot stop here.
Though it would be again easy to say Jesus walked through the angry crowd and that was it.  Boom.  Epic mic drop.
An enraged crowd doesn’t stop Jesus.  It doesn’t stop the word of God from reaching those who need to be reached.
It’s important, just as in the beginning of this morning’s text, to see what happens around it.
Where does Jesus go from here?
He goes and heals a demon-possessed man.
Then he heals someone who is sick.
You could say he sets them both free.

And he keeps doing it.

All the way to the cross – where the freedom he talks about is given once and for all.
For all.

This grace stuff is hard.
Really hard.
Because the reality is that grace that just makes us feel good might not actually be grace.
Grace amazes and enrages.
It’s both.
It has to be both.
And that makes it a lot harder to swallow than we initially think.
So, just like those gathered all those centuries ago, here we are, gathered in our temple, our place of worship, and we encounter these same words of grace.

We are free.  We heard it. We felt it.

And we are amazed.

And yet we also heard the words that grace isn’t just for us.  
We can’t claim it as our exclusive right because we are here today.
It’s for all.

So we’ve been given two truths today
You are free. The personal.
All are free. The universal.

And now we are asked to go out and live as if we believe BOTH of those are true.


Because if we live as if we are really free, then we love without reservations and without fear.  And if we believe that everyone is free too, then we show every single person the kind of love that loves them the way Christ does.

We are free in Christ.
Say it with me.
We are free in Christ.  

Sermon – January 3, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Jeremiah 31:7-14; John 1:1-5,10-18
Title: In the beginning…

Sermons are meant to be heard – listen along here.


Happy New Year!

Though the days of staying up until midnight have long since passed for me, and the excitement of New Year’s Eve has waned considerably since that first time my parents let me stay up to ring in the new year, I still appreciate the sentiments of the new year. (Though for any out there like me, netflix has a fake countdown you can watch whenever you want to and then go to bed at a reasonable hour).  The new year is all about new beginnings.
We can say goodbye to all the difficulties and stresses of the previous year and dream about how this year is going to be different, maybe better.  People make resolutions, ways they are going to change, eat healthier, exercise more, be nicer, spend less.  

And yet, most of those resolutions don’t last all that long.

The newness wears off pretty quickly. At least it feels that way.  
But still we embrace the changing of the year and all that it can bring.  

John’s Gospel today begins with this same newness.
And it should.
Because John begins his Gospel with three little words: In the beginning.
Anyone listening to and reading this Gospel would immediately make the connection to Genesis 1. Maybe you did as well.
Genesis 1 begins with these same three words: In the beginning.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  

John knows exactly what he’s doing when he begins the Good News of Jesus with these three very familiar words.
Jesus coming into the world is a new beginning.
It’s a re-creation.
So: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
John is setting the stage here.  The whole first chapter, but in particular, the first five verses, remind us who exactly this Jesus that we’re about to hear about is.  
He was there at the start.
At creation.  When God made the heaven and earth, Jesus was there.
John is reminding that Jesus is God.  There isn’t a difference.

And this is important because it is God who comes to us in the world.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

This verse is something we hear a lot around Christmas time. And, for those of you who have already taken down your decorations, Christmas isn’t officially over yet.  
It’s still Christmas in the church. (At least until Wednesday.)

The Word became flesh and lived among us.
Some translations say God took on flesh (literally God with skin) to be with us.
Or that God dwells, or even tabernacles with us.
That word literally means to build a tent and live right where we are.
God became human and came to be with us.
This is what Christmas is all about.
That God, creator of the world, looked at that world and didn’t give up.
God didn’t see all the brokenness and walk away.
God walked into it.
God sent Jesus to make creation whole again.  


The final three verses of today’s Gospel are some of my favorites in all of John.
John is still in the prologue.  He hasn’t even talked about Jesus at all yet, not his birth, not his baptism, not his ministry … John is still building up to all of that.
This prologue is here because first John wants us to know what this means that the word became flesh.
John wants to tell us what Jesus coming into the world will do for us and what all the things to follow this introduction are going to accomplish.  
And John knows his audience.  He knows they are wondering what happens to the law with this new beginning.  

Verse 17-18: The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus. No one has ever seen God. It is God the Son who has made him known.  

We still need the law – a new beginning doesn’t toss out the old – we still have all the things that happened in the last year in our minds and they aren’t suddenly erased just because the calendar changed. So we still need the law.  We still need reminders of how to live and love.  
But the law is only the law, and Jesus brings more.
Jesus brings us, as John says, “grace and truth”

And Jesus brings us to God.
You want to know what God is like?
You want to understand God better?
John makes it pretty clear that when we have questions about God, we look to Jesus.

Jesus is how God makes himself known to us.

The law isn’t made obsolete when Jesus comes, it is made complete.
We understand what it means to love when we see Jesus love.
We understand what it means to forgive when we see Jesus forgive.  

Jesus is more than the law.  
Jesus is God made flesh.   

Verse 16: From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
This verse is a promise.
We hear that Jesus is God made human and being with us and this is what happens to us as a result.  From his fullness we receive grace upon grace.
Fullness here can mean presence -so it would read from his presence with us we have received – grace upon grace.
There’s a key word in this short verse and it’s not the one you might think – it’s not grace, it’s ALL.
We have all received.
Not some of us.
Not only those who hear the stories and words and miracles to come after this prologue.
Not only those who say the right things and do the right things and believe the right things –

But all.  
Because God sends his son to be with us, ALL receive grace upon grace.
I just love that phrase:
Grace upon grace.
The birth of Jesus is an act of grace by God – and then everything that follows is an experience of that grace.
Grace on top of grace on top of grace.
The presence of Christ in the world, sent to re-create, to make all things new – is the first act of grace.
It’s a new beginning.

Today we celebrate new beginnings.
A new year.
A re-creation of the world.
And a new us.

But this new us isn’t found in the latest fad diet or gym membership.
Re-creation doesn’t come from us.
It always and every day comes from God.

And thank goodness.
Because God’s re-creation doesn’t plateau and lose steam.

God doesn’t fall off his resolutions in mid February.
That’s all us.
But not God.  

God is in the business of re-creating.
Of making things new.
Of making US new.
Every day.

In a few minutes we come forward to receive the reminder of our new life in our outstretched hand.
And we remember once again that God is with us, God will always be with us, and has always been with us, from the very beginning.