Sermon for 11/12/17: Fractal Grace...reflections on oil, lamps, a grandfather, and equations

Amos 5:18-24, Psalm 70, and Matthew 25:1-13

My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
— Elsa in Let It Go from Frozen
My grandfather with us and a fractal he generated containing the Mandelbrot Set

My grandfather with us and a fractal he generated containing the Mandelbrot Set

Sermon Notes

 For some casual reading on fractals visit THE FRACTAL FOUNDATION.

For commentary on the meaning of oil and lamps in the Bible, see the study notes for Matthew 25:1-13 in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (reference and library here).

10/15/17 & 10/22/17 Two Sermons on Integrity Before God

Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14 and Isaiah 45:1-7 and Matthew 22:15-22

Treasures of Darkness     Cambria 2009

Treasures of Darkness     Cambria 2009

During the day it is hard to remember that all the stars in the sky are out there all the time, even when I am too blinded by the sun to see them....
— Barbara Brown Taylor

Upon Further Reflection...

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places....Isaiah 45:3 

This week, I noticed I haven’t been taking J to the park after dinner to run out the last of his wiggles because it is too dark.  The nights are getting longer. I can’t sense when it’s time to make meals. I find myself disoriented when the alarm sounds in the morning, unsure of the hour.  Thank goodness for the grain elevator greeting the dawn. 

If I were back in my childhood home in this late October, the darkness would be setting in for the long winter even more deeply than it does here.  And with the change, came the bare limbs of trees, no longer decorated with the vibrant blasts of autumn leaves.  Everything was stripped down: no more lush forest, no more scent of rich soil and blooming things, the land denuded. 

One year, when I was old enough to walk in the woods alone, I noticed something.  With all the trees stripped to pure bark, you could see across the hillside to far horizons; you could see the outlines of distant ridges that maybe I knew were there all along, but were hidden by the dense foliage of summer.  The setting of autumn into the winter meant vistas revealed, it meant landscapes emerging; it meant perspective. Longer nights brought new vision in the little daylight we had. 

Darkness also brought the cold. Sometimes by now in Maine, the driveway ruts were hard with frost in the early morning.  And it was not uncommon to navigate through snow on Halloween to trick-or-treat. And with the cold came the descent into our inner selves, another reorientation of our vision.  Even here in winter, some of us spend more time in reflection, more time inwardly watchful.  In a way, like the land we go dark and somewhat bare as we fall into stillness.  We find we have changed in a year; we find those around us have shifted.  We wonder at the passage of time. We perceive things we did not notice a year ago.

In church come the fall, we experience judgment in some of the harder scripture readings of the lectionary; we are confronted by what we would rather ignore about ourselves.  The Word is working on us, laying on a demand of truth…even if it hard. It too is cold and dark and revealing.

Are these then the treasures and riches of the darkness God intends for us: this honesty, this quiet drawing down, this gaze onto the far ridge lines of our lives? What is this pull toward the subtle, secret Presence of the Holy One? What are these emerging distant horizons if not the invitation to rest in the wideness of God’s mercy?

Sermon Notes for Judgment, Mercy, and the Indestructibility of Love

Quotes on sin come from Defense of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord, Article II (I): Of Original Sin.  Link to full text HERE.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - childhood classic and masterful depiction of anger an mercy.  (Public library and reference HERE.)

Sermon Notes for You Can't Have it Both Ways

"If one believes Caesar is due taxes, then pay; if one believes everything belongs to God, then do not pay" from The Jewish Annotated New Testament.  (Reference and public library HERE.)

Thank you, Bishop Gabriel Abdelaziz at The Revival Center in Templeton for your enlivening comments on transformation and touch!

Global Mission Sunday: Photos, Films, and Poetry

This past Sunday, Guest Lauren Amundson from Young Adults in Global Mission was our preacher and we celebrated the work of our global church...over fifty each of sewn quilts, school bags, and personal care quilts to ship overseas.  No recorded sermon but check out the poem from worship and view the video from Lutheran World Relief if you missed it.  They have many more inspiring short videos at  Click the link!


Lutheran World Relief receives these donations.  This organization stays on in communities working with local partners for years after devastating events.  This video documents the achievements after Typhoon Haiyan.

Here is the blessings we read over the quilts, a blessing for those who are suffering by poet John O'Donahue:

May you be blessed in the holy names of those

Who, without you knowing it,

Help to carry and lighten your pain.

 May you know serenity

When you are called

To enter the house of suffering.

May a window of light always surprise you.

May you be granted the wisdom

To avoid false resistance;

When suffering knocks on the door of your life,

May you glimpse its eventual gifts.

May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.

May memory bless and protect you

With the hard-earned light of past travail;

To remind you that you have survived before

And though the darkness now is deep,

You will soon see approaching light.

May the grace of time heal your wounds.

May you know that though the storm might rage,

Not a hair of your head will be harmed.

9/24/17 The Sermon I Never Preach

Jonah 3:10-4:11, Psalm 145:1-8, Matthew 20:1-16

Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of people: few are guilty, but all are responsible.
— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in The Prophets
Thank you to all the Sunday School teachers around the world who make THIS happen.

Thank you to all the Sunday School teachers around the world who make THIS happen.

Sermon Notes

I rarely preach this kind of sermon.  I hardly ever spend my time in the pulpit telling everyone what a bunch of miserable, undeserving "maggots" we are. (Ah, quotable Luther! He thought that of himself at times.) I don't exactly do this here.  But I talk about who deserves what and I level the playing field as to our own notions of entitlement.  I resist this classical mold of preaching because I don't think it encourages a healthy approach to ourselves or to our work especially in my specific community. I don't think it encourages a right relationship to God either.  I am a law/gospel preacher, but it's a little more out of the box than tapping into the anxieties we already have about ourselves and reinforcing dangerous attitudes about our powerlessness and lack of worth.  So there you have it. 

But I did this Sunday. And it was largely in, people heard it.  It fascinates me that my congregation loves these kinds of convict and redeem (law/gospel) sermons.  Perhaps it's familiar terrain for these American protestants, a throwback to the piety and narratives of former times.  Or are we suckers for punishment?  I wondered about that until yesterday when it occurred to me, maybe there is something freeing about being told our needs aren't any more legitimate than anyone else's needs.  Maybe it's about wanting to be like everyone else in our helplessness and our sin-bearing.  Maybe it's a relief to know we aren't special, but that we are common before God.  Common and breathing together.  So I'm going with that -- I like the idea that we can be released by the Word into our shared human experience even when it's the shadows and undersides we'd rather not address.  Maybe we do need reminding how much we need God in just this kind of way more often than I've been willing to preach.

You may not hear it again for awhile.  So soak it up while you can!  

And by the way, in former days, these two works were hugely influential on my young and pliable seeker mind - deeply influential writing on leading, sin, redemption, and responsibility:

On Hiatus

Dear Friends: As much as I've enjoyed curating sermons for this site, I have new responsibilities that need my attention.  If anyone would like to volunteer to record them, edit them, and return them to me in a timely fashion each week, your services would be welcome. It doesn't take a lot of time.  Just more than I have at the moment. I have the equipment and the software.  But until that time or until my responsibilities change, I'm taking a breather and focusing on other ministries.  Hope to be back at it soon.  Thank you for listening at a distance and staying in touch with the ministry.  Peace, Pr. Amy

Ask-the-Pastor: The Heavy Burden of Relationships

Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145:8-14, and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

Sermon Notes

The story I told about Thistle Farms comes from this easy to read and lovely meditation by Becca Stevens -- The Way of Tea and Justice.  Check it out and order here.  Also check out their full work in Nashville too:

Ask-the-Pastor: Institutional Church and Spiritual Orphans -- May 21, 2017

1 Peter 3:13-20, Psalm 66:8-20, John 14:15-21

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

References to Dietrich Bonhoeffer come from (public library and reference).

Good Friday: The Seven Last Words of Christ

Pain is a holy angel who shows us treasures that would otherwise remain forever hidden...But it needs to be overcome every time, and thus there is an even holier angel than the one of pain; that is, the one of joy in God.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On Good Friday, we asked seven people from our community to reflect on one phrase from Jesus' death -- words uttered from the cross.  The experiences were personal and deeply considered.  It was a night in which we stayed present not just to the suffering of Christ, but to the suffering of Christ within each of us.  And they are a testament to resilience.  Each of these compelling devotional responses were a blessing to all of us who heard them.  

May they bless you in your hearing.

Sermon for 5/7/17: Slaves, Masters, Hearing, Mishearing

Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, and John 10:1-10

Good Shepherd Word Cloud

Good Shepherd Word Cloud

This trust, this confidence in the One whom they have come to know and love, sustains them even when their society strips away everything else that might give them a sense of worth and a sense of place. Because God loves and protects and honors them, they can endure their neighbors’ scorn.
— Judith Jones on 1 Peter

Sermon Notes

A difficult sermon to squeeze out of scripture this week.  No one wants to hear the Christian voices of old tell slaves to obey their masters.  So this week represents a good bit of wrestling on my part.  The historical/sociological info. on this letter from Peter came from the following articles.  Click to connect: Jeanniine Brown, Judith Jones 1 on 4/30/17,  Judith Jones 2 on 4/23/17.  Thank you  If you feel like reading up on conservative and liberal morality in a really life-giving way instead of a divisive way, check out this book by Jonathan Haidt -- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics. (Reference and Library).

Sermon for 4/30/17: Emmaus - A Pattern for our Lives

Luke 24:13-35

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
— Luke 24:31
Another Templeton Morning  2017

Another Templeton Morning  2017

Sermon Notes: I don't really have any -- I'm sure there are many Bible scholars out there who have written about the liturgical connections in this story.  I don't think I'm saying anything new, but still worth saying nonetheless.  Seeing here the clear sign pointing to Word and Sacrament is a beautiful thing.

I did have some helpers though -- some visual aids and you hear my pointing to them throughout the sermon so thank you for the patience in this second-hand listening experience.

Two Sermons: Easter Sunday and Doubting Thomas

Colossians 3:1-4 and Matthew 28:1-10 for Easter

1 Peter 1:3-9, Psalm 16, John 20:19-31 for April 23

Templeton Sunrise     Photo Credit: Iain Beveridge

Templeton Sunrise     Photo Credit: Iain Beveridge

Sermon Notes

The poem I read by Iain Cowie on Easter comes from the book Eggs and Ashes by Ruth Burgess published by Wild Goose Publications, part of the Iona family.  HERE is the reference and link to order.

Sermon for 3/12/17: Empty Cabins, Blueberries, and Broccoli...Some Stories about Immigration

Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, and John 3:1-17

Wild Blueberries -- The Ones I Know Well

Wild Blueberries -- The Ones I Know Well

...under this commandment not only he is guilty who does evil to his neighbor, but he also who can do him good, prevent, resist evil, defend and save him, so that no bodily harm or hurt happen to him, and yet does not do it.
— Martin Luther on the 5th Commandment from the Large Catachism

Sermon Notes

Of all the various issues that have arisen for us as a nation in the few years that I have been a pastor, worries over the plight of the immigrant have seemed to captivate this congregation more than other kinds of concerns.  I find myself answering questions during coffee hour or having parking lot conversations about the new rhetoric around the immigrant and refugee in our country -- perhaps because it is so personal to us here in California.  We observed as a synod Refugee and Migrant Sunday this past Sunday.  I offer some other resources if you'd like to deepen your commitments or simply extend some curiosity to learn more.  

The Guardian Angels Program is the work of our own synod here in Southwest California.  They help provide legal counsel to unaccompanied children in immigration court as well as serve as court observers:

You can also get involved with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.  Volunteer, donate, or advocate.  There is much you can do from home:

To keep up on pro-policy initiatives as the state level, check out the California Immigration Policy Center.  I have many questions about the various bills up for passage at the moment, and they have been a good place to find out more about them.  They are non-partisan and do not funnel money to candidates.  They have been critical of President Trump, but they were critical of President Obama as well.  So they are evenhanded in their advocacy to protect refugees and immigrants in America.

Sermon for 2/26/17: Authority and Power in Psalm 2

Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, and Matthew 17:1-9

New Mexico 1999

New Mexico 1999

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to solve.
— Soren Kierkegaard via Dick Blomquist

Well I did it.  I walked into church on Sunday morning without a sermon.  Right up until the last moment, I thought I would be staying home recovering from illness.  But it was not to be.  So this is less of a sermon and more of some teaching time.  So have a listen....not the usual Transfiguration.  And I think I forgot to preach the Gospel.  Oh well.  I'll confess it during Lent.  And by the way, here's my source on the teaching of the Psalms.  Good stuff -- Psalms by James Limburg (public library and citation).

Sermon for 2/19/17: The Other Stuff in Leviticus

Leviticus 19 1-2, 9-18, Psalm 119:33-40, Matthew 5:38-48

Israel 2000

Israel 2000

He proclaimed the Gospel by being the Gospel. “And greater things than I do shall you do,” he said. It is not enough to heal the sick. Heal the systems that make them sick. It is not enough to visit the prisoners. Question that structures that imprison people.
— Verna J. Dozier in The Authority of the Laity

Sermon Notes

This week after writing and delivering my sermon, I stumbled on Verna Dozier's pamphlet on the laity.  Turns out my words are but a mere echo of her words some number of years ago.  Her main concern is how church people have abdicated their authority to the professional pastors.  It's a great read.  Also by way of notes, I reference Shane Claiborne in my sermon. I'm not a proselyte of his by any stretch, mostly because he's gotten a lot of attention for saying stuff we mainliners have been saying for ages.  But you can't beat his way with words.  This quote came in a Krista Tippet forum on Christians and Government, all evangelicals by the way.  Fascinating stuff with multiple perspectives.  Listen here!