A Message for Easter: I don't mean to be political but... and other thoughts on resurrection

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
— EB White
Photo Credit: Katie Bariel

Photo Credit: Katie Bariel

Sermon Notes

I make reference in this message to a pastor I sometimes listen to in the midwest. He’s a Methodist and the author of Seeing Grey in a World of Black and White — Adam Hamilton. Here’s the talk he gave at the Aspen Institute on partisanship and the pulpit. You will hear familiar words about the difference between politics and ethics in the church. A wortwhile listen…from Aspen Ideas Festival, Offstage.

Sermons for Lent 2019: #FortheBeautyoftheEarth

For the beauty of each hour, of the day and of the night, hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars and light, Lord of all to thee we raise, this our grateful hymn of praise.
— Folliot S. Pierpoint, 1864
Lupine along San Simeon Creek, 2019

Lupine along San Simeon Creek, 2019

Sermon Notes and Resources for Further Reflection

There are so many places I would encourage you to seek out as you reflect on our place in a hurting a creation. The following collection points you to people, organizations, and poetry that directly influenced this series. I will be adding to it as the Lenten season comes to a close.

  • Pastor Russ Gordon was with us at the first Lenten Soup Supper. This book influenced both of us in our thinking on the gravity of this moment in history. Elizabethe Kolbert won the Pulitzer in 2015 for this work. This books helps answer the questions we have about other periods in history when life was drastically altered on Earth. We saw some of that in the charts Dr. Tringe presented. Kolbert’s book describes it in depth — The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

  • Dr. Susannah Tringe visited us to answer our questions on climate change. If you’d like her slides and don’t yet have a copy, please contact me. She recommended this website when asked, “How do we know who to believe on climate change?” What We Know

  • Dr. Katherine Hayhoe is an evangelial Christian and reknowned climate scientist. She has a beautiful website and engaging TEDTalk. Watch it and check out her work HERE.

  • Thank you to our middle schoolers for delving into the realm of meditation. They supported their endeavor using headspace.com. Better yet, download the app on your phone! Learning to slow down, observe your thoughts, and notice the world are all skills for living in better balance as God intended us to live. It’s not just about healing our minds; it’s about healing our relationship to time, to Sabbath. And restoring this balance is necessary to ending the crisis in creation.

  • Paula Wansa wrote a beautiful poem articulating her feelings of urgency around climate change and her committment to a better, more sustainable world. Gerald Iversen published it on his site: Simple Living Works. It’s also in our Bethel April Newsletter.

  • Youth Sunday also featured this cutest ever book: Mrs. Noah’s Vegetable Ark.

  • “Losing Earth” is easily the best reporting I’ve read on the political history of climate change. If you want to understand just how close we got in the 1980s, this is a must read. Heartbreaking, realistic, leaning toward hopeful? I don’t know, but worth the time. (If the screen appears to stick on a photo, just keep scanning down. It will move eventually.) If we understand where we went wrong, then we have a better chance of moving climate change from a political issue to a moral imperative.

  • Featured poems to begin worship on Sundays have included: Egrets by Mary Oliver, i thank you God for most this amazing by ee cummings, The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry which you can hear him read on this site, and May all the Earth be Clothes in Light by George Hitchcock.

  • Guests during Lent included Jane Affanso representing our SW CA synod and Lutherans Restoring Creation, Rev. Susan Hendershot of Interfaith Power and Light, and Rev. Peter Sawtell of Eco-Justice Ministries.

  • Other articles of interest

    • On the connnection between climate change and the border crisis: New York Times piece by Kirk Semple

    • On new technology that could address our worry about the current dangers of solar power storage. And remember when you read about the that phones and computers were once huge too. This is a huge new step: New Thermal Battery from Forbes

    • A beautiful magazine on nature, culture, and place — stories of beauty, heartbreak, and hope. Totally worth it. Subscription is high because there’s no advertisements: Orion Magazine.

    • Netflix has a new series by David Attenborough on the Earth. He’s one of our favorites — check out the feature in the Washington Post by Brady Dennis.

    • Thought provoking and well done perspective on beef and the Central Coast from Anthony Stornetta in the SLO Tribune

1/27, 2/3, and 2/10: Three Sermons on Beginnings

It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.
— Leonardo da Vinci
The Great Library of Alexandria rebuilt and restored between 1986 and 2002. The original was built under the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and housed at its height between 40,000 and 400,000 scrolls. It served as the center of intellectual life in the anceint world. I took this photo in June 2000, two years before its completion.

The Great Library of Alexandria rebuilt and restored between 1986 and 2002. The original was built under the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and housed at its height between 40,000 and 400,000 scrolls. It served as the center of intellectual life in the anceint world. I took this photo in June 2000, two years before its completion.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Luke 4:14-21

Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71-1-6, and Luke 4:21-30

Isaiah 6:1-13 and Luke 5:1-11

Upon Further Reflection

Dedicated to the twelve men and women formally seeking a new faith home in Bethel

Storytelling is an essential human activity – it’s why we binge on Netflix and why there will always be libraries full of books we can’t help but devour.  It’s why healthy churches are defined as places where regular people share their faith through story.  It’s why healing for people who have endured trauma, like war or violence or separations means storytelling – going back and interpreting the events of our lives to master our narratives and make meaning from what would otherwise feel random, meaningless, and chaotic.  Story reorients us, reorders us.  I can’t say this enough.  Change, transformation, empathy, surviving, arising, gathering – it all happens through story and for us as Christians, through one very precious story. 

The stories we have heard recently in worship, diverse as they are, share a common image: public interpretation of the scripture.  Reading our common stories then making sense of them in terms of the people gathered.  The Word is filtered through their needs. Jesus unrolls the scroll of Isaiah to read scripture to a crowd as the inauguration to his journey, a journey to rebuild a people .  In another verse, we have the story of the priest Ezra, returned from Babylonian exile, reading God’s Word within the gates of Jerusalem: "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Torah. Again, this was a moment of inauguration to begin rebuilding a temple and a people. With this as well, we heard Jeremiah’s commission.  God said: I have put my words in your mouth. Jesus commandeers a boat from which to preach and tell stories to eager followers.   And this coming Sunday, he will offer his Sermon on the Plain interpreting the heart of biblical teaching. It is all storytelling and story-making. It will remind the people of the story of Moses and the commandments.

These are moments when the people are revitalized, grounded, and reborn.  As my mother put it in conversation last week, we are reconstituted in the Word.  These are stories of where we have come from, where we are going, and the promises that will get us there.  And we are called to respond by telling our own stories: love, loss, failure, triumph, doubt, hope, and resilience. Through it all, the Word shines through our words, binding us as One in Christ.

Learning to Stand up Straight, Living with Regret, and Hope in a Time of Turmoil: Sermons for Advent and Christmas 2018

December 2nd: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, and Luke 21:26-36

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth...
— Luke 3:4-5
Photo Credit: Iain Beveridge, Carrizo Plain, December 2018

Photo Credit: Iain Beveridge, Carrizo Plain, December 2018

December 9th: Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79 and Luke 3:1-6

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
— Malachi 3:1-2a
Photo Credit: Iain Beveridge, Carrizo Plain December 2018

Photo Credit: Iain Beveridge, Carrizo Plain December 2018

December 24th: Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
— Luke 2:17-19
Thank you HumanKind SLO for more fair trade treasures.

Thank you HumanKind SLO for more fair trade treasures.

Is God still Creating Stuff?

Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8, Matthew 9:10-17

Youth Group Answers, September 2018

Youth Group Answers, September 2018

Sermon Notes

Our confirmation curriculum is ReForm from Augsburg Fortress which prompted this reflection. For more on the science of creativity, check out the current special issue of TIME Magazine.

How does God respond to suicide? More Words on Mental Health

1 Kings 19:4-28 and Romans 8:31-39

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But [Elijah] himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.
— 1 Kings 19:4-5a (NRSV)

Sermon Notes

Mental Illness and the Church: Righting the Wrongs -- Two Sermons

September 9 — Isaiah 35:4-7a, Psalm 88, Mark 7:24-37

September 16 — 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, Psalm 116:1-9, Mark 8:27-38

Saint Augustine had declared that what separated men from beasts was the gift of reason; and so the loss of reason reduced man to a beast. From this position it was easy to conclude that the loss of reason was a mark of God’s disfavor; His punishment for a sinning soul....Melancholia was, in this view, a turning away from all that was holy. Furthermore, deep depression was often evidence of possession; a miserable fool contained within himself a devil, and if that devil could not be exorcised from him, why then he himself must go.
— Andrew Solomon in The Noonday Demon
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SERMON RESOURCES

Sermon 2 for 9/2/2018: Ask-the-Pastor - On Contentment and Wanting Worship to Matter

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, Psalm 15, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 20-23

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Jesus tells us to beware when piety gets in the way of fulfilling the heart of the law: loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. He warns us to beware when our piety separates us from others, for then it is also separating us from God.
— Elizabeth Johnson on workingpreacher.org

I relied heavily on commentary from Elizabeth Johnson in the sermon.  Her article for preachers can be found here: Commentary from Working Preacher.

Sermon 1 for 9/2/2018: Ask-the-Pastor on Reading the Bible

Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and 6-9, Psalm 15, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.
— Martin Luther

Sermon Notes

Some years ago, our denomination began an initiative called The Book of Faith to enliven Lutherans with resources to get back to reading Scripture. They wanted to empower us all to have direct encounter with The Word.  They wanted to cultivate biblical literacy.  David Lose did a series we studied here at church called Making Sense of Scripture.  From this curriculum, I use the metaphor of reading scripture as darts vs. chains.  So I thank this initiative for giving me such a helpful tool in teaching people how to put the grace of God made known as Jesus Christ as the primary lens we to focus on the Word.  Find out more at bookoffaith.org.

Sermon for 7/8/2018: Children and the Failure of our Moral Compass

Note: I preached on the texts from 7/1/2018.

Lamentations 3:22-33, Psalm 30, Mark 5:21-43

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While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
— Mark 5:35-36

Upon Further Reflection

Last Sunday’s sermon traveled a good amount of terrain: daily life stories about vacation, an unexpected pilgrim walk at Grace Cathedral, a confrontation with the moral corruption of past and present America, and the healing balm of Jesus’ never-failing rescue of the vulnerable.  It was a big preaching day, made all the more difficult by a laryngitis challenged voice.  Unable to practice my sermon ahead of time, the emotions of my words were too much for me; they closed my throat, and I was saved by my trusted Music Director, Julie Hobart.  You will hear that silence of transition.

There was much said.  There was so much more to say.

I address the painful encounter between nations here in the West historically and now.  And I address children, how we have failed to center their dignity in our collective morality.  (Yes, I use the word morality – morality is not just a debate about marriage and reproduction.) We are feeling the pain of children most acutely at the border right now, but their pain and the disruption of the family fabric is part of our American history as revealed in slavery, Native American genocide, immigrant expulsions from other decades, and internments.  I did not address the racial dimensions of our moral failing, but it most assuredly is there.  And there are many social realms where this plays out, not just on the front line of immigration. 

These are hard words to hear.  You may feel judged.  But they are said in love, they are said in hope, and they are said to remind us all that human beings are involved in the issues of day.  These are not just remote news stories; these are not just policies; these are not just institutions.  Our hearts have grown hard.  I spoke these words hoping to reach into our more tender places. Soft hearts.  We need softer hearts.

As I speak to fellow Christians about these issues and hear the more famous ones in the media, I find myself so deeply disturbed at the hardness of heart. We have forgotten the language of Jesus.  We have forgotten whom it is we follow. Worse, we have claimed him for our own ends.  We have forgotten the Holy One speaks with one Word, the Word of Mercy. We have forgotten the God works through relationship. I hear Christians debate this or that, I hear the political talk, I hear the partisan entrenchment, and all the while I am wondering: How are they forgetting to speak of Jesus?  Have they forgotten the Kingdom of God, what it looks like, who is there?  Shouldn’t we, as people of faith, be talking a little less about who is in or out in our own country and a little more about who is in or out in the reign of God?  

I listened to a talk recently with the Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign.  And he gives this piece of guidance: when it comes to a person defending their position with the Bible, here’s a simple test to know if it is sound interpretation. Listen to see if they mention Jesus.  Because if they only offer up quotes from remoter books, then you know they have gone astray.  So here is a reminder what Christian morality looks like, a reminder to soften our hearts. Jesus own words.  May that Word grow in us all a tender shoot.  And one day, may the shoot grow into the tree of life, sprawling across the river of life flowing through our hearts, and blooming leaves to heal the nations:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Ask-the-Pastor for 6/3/18: Injustice and the Government

Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Psalm 81:1-10, 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, Mark 2:23-3:6

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**** Before you listen to this sermon on injustice and the government, make sure to watch this video on the definition of JUSTICE in the Bible.  Not to be missed and essential framework for to listen.

Sometimes it can seem like the purpose of religion is to make people worse than they are by adding God’s power to our own natural selfishness. And then we end up with the kind of judgments that lead to hate and dehumanization. Non-Sabbath-keepers become law-breakers; law-breakers are dangerous; dangerous people need to be locked up; maybe it would be better for everybody if we remove the danger by removing the bad people. It’s a depressingly familiar path, and it leads very quickly to evil done in the name of good—even in the name of God.
— Bishop Guy Erwin, Southwest CA Synod, ELCA

Upon Further Reflection

I neglected to say something important when I talked about my attitude on our government.  I made a statement that I am generally a hopeful person when it comes to the government. I am not super cynical. And I am thankful for my children's education, my husband's vocation, and the peace and safety I enjoy because of our government.  This probably arises from my travel in other countries where there are no basic services like garbage pickup and safety was not assumed.  I should have said that because of the protections I enjoy, I am compelled to work for justice...in the biblical sense...to work to fold more people into the dignity I assume and have come to trust. In our country, not everyone enjoys this kind of trust, their inherent dignity will be honored by the state. (See video below) So how can I, an individual, help heal that wound?  Institutions can move, albeit slowly, and we can expand the circle of their care.  That is often and should be one role of Lutheran Christians in the public square.

Sermon for 2/25/18: A Death like His

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:23-31, Mark 8:31-38

Onawa Unfiltered, 2003

Onawa Unfiltered, 2003

If you depend on being emotionally inspired or newly motivated, you will need a new fix almost every day. If it is a true Gospel message, it will be more about regrounding, reshaping and redirecting you from your core.
— Richard Rohr

Sermon Notes

What kind of change does God want from us?  Well maybe that's not the right question. What kind of change is God doing to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ? That's the question we were trying to put answer on Tuesday night with our Lent series, How Men Change.  When God says change, what kind of change is at hand?  

I have found that is easier to talk about what real change is NOT.  And Richard Rohr helped us with this: it is not changing your friends.  Although sometimes real change means new people in your life.  But they are not the change itself.  Real change is not adopting new ideas or new dogmas or a new set of rules or new rituals or new denominations.  Change can bring those things to us...but again, they are not the change itself.  Change is something deeper, more destabilizing, more scary, more humbling, more transforming.  It is a whole lot more about admitting what we do not know than asserting what we do.  And that's the kind of change God does to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ.  And here's the kicker: we have no control over it. 

This is just a taste of the wrestling we have been doing together.  I hope it's challenging you; I hope it's confronting you.  But again, God is entirely responsible for that.  So it's my prayer that you should be confronted with a vision real change in this season. Amen

For a great discussion about change, read this article by Richard Rohr.  It's where I lifted this quote.  And this season, he's how I'm sharpening my understanding of the core biblical message.  Blessings, friends.

Sermon for 2/18/18: On Men

Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, Mark 1:9-15

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Upon Further Reflection

I realized, as usual, Sunday afternoon, I forgot to say the most important thing about change from scripture this week.  We heard the flood story in Genesis.  We heard the verses read in church from the moment when God establishes the everlasting covenant with humanity and places the bow in the sky as a reminder of the promise.  Well if you read the fuller story, you discover that God doesn't rebuild humanity and promise never to destroy us again because Noah or anyone else did anything to become better and more worthy of saving.  In fact, God says quite specifically, human beings are not changing.  And so in response, it is God that grieves the loss of creation and then works to return to us.  And so for all the talk about change and men and women during this season, let us never forget this -- God sees into our stubborn hearts, gazes with honesty onto our harmful intentions and says with mercy, "It's on me to change."

Sermon Notes: Here are couple links to the resources I used to put this sermon together.

For the interview with Arthur Brooks on his book The Conservative Heart, check out this from the Washington Post.  The whole thing is very engaging and worth a listen. It's a political podcast so you can imagine I have plenty of thoughts about it, but the material about happiness and men and friendship is helpful outside the political sphere.

For the dowload of the lecture by Father Richard Rohr, check out his website:

Sermon for 2/4/18: On Silence, Part II

Isaiah 40:21-20 and Mark 1:29-39

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’
— Mark 1:35-27
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In Silence -- a poem by Thomas Merton

Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your

name.
Listen
to the living walls.

Who are you?
Who
are you? Whose
silence are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.

Rather
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”

 

Sermon for 1/28/18: On Silence

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, and Mark 1:21-28

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Not all of us are called to be hermits, but all of us need enough silence and solitude in our lives to enable the deeper voice of our own self to be heard at least occasionally.
— Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk

Upon Further Reflection

One of our church members left the sanctuary laughing on Sunday.  After my sermon on silence, she said, "You sure can tell you don't live alone!"  It's true.  This sermon is very much a product of someone who does not live alone.  But I have to say in thinking about it, I have never lived alone, even when no one else was with me. I have always had enough inner chatter and reflection to take up the space of a couple roommates or family members. The sermon says less about the people who populate my house and work than it does about what goes on in my inner life.  They are related to be sure. My inner life is a place of constant conversation: talking and listening and meeting needs.  (In fact, I recently started playing a musical instrument so I could take a break from my thoughts.  I was surprised to discover it works!)    

This woman's observation speaks a wide truth: all of us experience the quiet differently. For some, we fight the quiet even as we crave it (that's the sermon). For others, we have made friends with the quiet, many times after a loss. It comforts us now. Still others experience too much quiet and not enough connection.  Remember what I said about isolation as a spiritual crisis?  

Each of us knows something about silence the rest of us need. My gift to this church is an active inner life that supports my teaching and preaching and accompaniment. I wrestle my world for the quiet I get. I am not the only one with a restlessness inner life in this church.  And you too are a gift to us.  If you have too much quiet, you know something the rest of us need to remember about loneliness.  You are a gift to us as well.  If you are at peace with the quiet, than you have an essential way of being that will nurture the rest of us when we feel chaotic inside. Your gift is the stillness God has cultivated in you.  You ground this faith community.

Our relationship to silence is not straight forward.  It changes over time. This week was an invitation to pause and wonder: where am I right now?  What Word of God works on me in the silence?  What do I know that others may not because of the way I am quiet?

Sermon for 1/14/18: The Dimension Of God We Forget

1 Samuel 3:1-10, Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18, John 1:43-51

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Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all human knowledge.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel

Upon Further Reflection

This week I have a smattering of other thoughts and reflections that arose as I worked with these passages evoking beginnings, and callings, and wonder.  So for your own further investigation, I commend you this:

On Truth verses Fact -- I saw this week an amazing video explaining how in recent years, for the first time, scientists have been able to capture how animal eggs send out a flash of light at the moment of conception.  Well the video mentions mice, frogs, and humans anyway.  The brighter the flash, the healthier the egg.  I was so captivated by the imagery.  Connecting to the themes of my Sunday sermon, I offer you this.  Scientific fact tells us this is a reaction involving zinc. Our faith tells us, in the beginning, the first thing God said was let their be light!  This seems true as well.  Neither one of these is wrong.  They both answer and deepen the mystery of our beginnings. If only we could remember more often in our culture wars how badly science and faith need each other.

More amazing science: One of our church members called out attention at a small group session to this podcast.  It's about the discovery of plate tectonics, a fascinating listen to how change happens both physically on earth, and also when human assumptions and entrenched ways of imagining our world are challenged.  More wonder!   CLICK HERE: The Day the Earth Moved

On DACA and Jesus: Sunday, I did not talk about one of the most important lines of our passage on Philip and Nathaniel as they are called by Jesus.  It's that amusing and ironic line, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" -- the one Nathaniel asks snidely when his friend invites him to come and follow. It's a crucial revelation: assumptions about class and place of origin almost thwart Nathaniel's encounter with Jesus.  Will he hear the call of God or will he stay rooted and unseeing and isolated in his prejudice? 

That's a question we have to navigate all the time as individuals, and a question that has brought us spiritual anguish as a global community with a migration crisis. Amidst the divisive immigration politics of our age, the who-said-what, and our  binging on the fallout of it all, we can't lose track that the issues at hand are faith issues. Tonight I heard a brilliant and touching sermon by Pastor Charlie Little of the First Presbyterian Church on Matthew 25. He said that to refuse to care for the stranger in need is an act of self-hatred.  It was a profound moment of preaching because we are seeing that wound on a national scale not just in our daily Christian living. Sobering words.  So however we choose to move forward as a nation on these issues of faith, may we do so loving the image of God that we are.  And may we love not just in church on Sunday or in our own homes, but in the messy, mucky, wider world.

 

 

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2017 -- Wildfire, Hair Salons, and Mangers: Encountering the Word of God

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
— John 1:1-5.....NRSV
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I hope you all had a blessed Christmas.  May love, peace, and joy be yours in the New Year!

Sermon for 12/17/17: Confusing Mary with a Nice Lady -- Youth, Part III

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Luke 1:26-38

Labyrinths by the Bethel Middle School Youth Group

Labyrinths by the Bethel Middle School Youth Group

Upon Further Reflection

This week, I do not have a thought of my own to share, but rather, a prayer.  Recently, in Bible Study, we talked about the trouble some of us find with the Lord's Prayer because it limits our understanding of God to the realm of Father.  What happens to the mothering nature of God?  Is it necessary to even think of God as a parent?  How is that liberating?  How is that stifling?  These were all good questions with good wrestling.  Each one of us in the room had different ways we've come to terms with the Father language of this abiding prayer, let alone our tradition as whole. 

In that class, I mentioned a different version of the Lord's Prayer that might be helpful, one that holds to the original intent of those words, but has used more expansive language to achieve its end.  Words are limited vessels to be sure -- but they are what we have.  Try this on though and feel what language can accomplish:

The Lord's Prayer
(from the New Zealand Prayer Book
Rev ed.: He Karakia Mihinare O Aotearoa)

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen

Sermon Notes

In my sermon, I reference the claim of Mary as the first preacher of the gospel.  I think that idea came from this interview with Rev.  Nadia Boltz-Weber.  I recommend the unedited version.  Hang on to your hats though -- she's not polite either.  

Sermon for 12/10/17: Being Hard To Live With --- Youth, Part II

Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8

Rock Prayers painted by the Middle School Youth Group

Rock Prayers painted by the Middle School Youth Group

Youth ministry is not about getting things accomplished - only the act of God can bring about the transformation we seek. Youth ministry is about participating deeply in young people’s lives as we await, together in suffering & joy, the coming of God.
— Andrew Root

Upon Further Reflection

I forgot to tell you that John the Baptist was an artist.  In all my comparisons between John the Baptist and teens on Sunday, I forgot to say that.  It's an insight by Richard Rohr, that John the Baptist shaped containers for the Holy Spirit; he shaped pathways for God. He was never confused between the object he was making and the spirit it held within it in the way we are often confused.  In church life, we often mistake the container for the contained. 

I don't know about the kids you know, but the ones I know are always making stuff.  From an early age, they are always, always building, molding, creating.  My son has been out at 7am for the past week in the 25F mornings hammering on the fence.  He says he's working and fixing and building.  My daughter's hands never weary of shaping paper, wax, candy wrappers, you name it, all of it transformed into stuff she has an internal logic for making.  It's all a mystery how these things appear at her fingertips.  Kids have this inherit creative drive.  We need this drive in our churches if we are meant to renew.  And in the midst of all that messiness as we embrace the spirit of our prophets, our kids, we can't forget...Jesus was a crafter of containers, a sculptor, an artist. The wild thing though is this: it is us he's always tinkering with.

Sermon for 12/3/17: Waking Up to Youth in the Church

Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

Liturgical calendar constructed by middle school youth

Liturgical calendar constructed by middle school youth

Upon Further Reflection

The crisis of young people in the church -- That’s what I addressed on Sunday – a crisis that has been dogging us for a couple generations: why don’t they stay?  This is question for the whole ELCA, not just little ole Bethel.

I want to leave here some of the powerful quotes from Sunday.  They are ones that informed my sermon or spoke to me while I was leading worship.  This is one of the most important sermons I have preached about ministry at Bethel.  If you are someone who feels attached to an idea of what church is or has to be in order for worship to feel like worship, then I encourage you to let the words of scripture and sermon dwell in you for a while.  They were hard words no doubt for some of you, but very hopeful ones too.  And that’s what we are called to cling with our hearts – to hope.

By Michael Warren

“[Confirmation] efforts that are failing are those that reduce young people to the status of consumers, accepting doctrinal ‘capital’ on a ‘handout’ basis and putting it to good use.”

“The stumbling block to full participation of the young in the church is that they are invited to participate in the reproduction of religious meaning but not the true, original production of that meaning.”

From the Bible

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

“Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come….”  Mark 13:35

From Marty Haugen

“Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night,                                                                                  though dark the winter and cheerless,                                                                                          the rising sun shall crown you with light,                                                                                        be strong and loving and fearless.                                                                                                Love be our song and love our prayer                                                                                         and love our endless story;                                                                                                            may God fill every day we share                                                                                                      and bring us at last into glory.”

      In Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn

Sermon Notes

Quotes on confirmation come from Warren, Michael (1991). "Youth, Cultural Agency, and the Confirming of the Church's Commitment." Word and World (Volume XL) 4, pg.396-403.