Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sermon July 2-3

The sermon was based on the reading from Matthew in the lectionary, found here.

Matthew 11:16-19. 25-30

The Golden Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials—each era of our modern and post-modern history has had a distinct character, identified by a generational label. This is not an easy thing to do—think about it. So many different individual personalities exist in every age...how do you avoid over-generalizing? Well, our society started using letters and years to do that job. But really, how would you identify this generation? This age?

Jesus is faced with this task in his time. He’s looking at the people around him—his generation—and trying to get a handle on just what they’re all about. This generation, he says, are like children calling to each other in the marketplace. They call to each other—children to children. What do they say? These kids are calling to those kids, claiming that “we played and you didn’t dance, we wailed and you did not mourn.” They’re bossy kids who all want to make the rules and have everyone else do what they want. You can almost see the kids yelling at one another.

'You didn’t do this for me.'

'Yeah, well you didn’t do that for me, so why should I do anything for you?'

Everyone wants to be in charge. As a result, no one is. Neither side will yield and cooperate, so they end up doing nothing.

This attitude extends out to their treatment of John and Jesus. They play it so that no one can be in charge. John abstains from eating and drinking—that’s weird, maybe he’s possessed—clearly they shouldn’t listen to him. Jesus does eat and drink—with sinners—well, that surely doesn’t work. The generation has made it so that anyone who disrupts the status quo is clearly unreliable.

If they’re not credible, no one has to listen to them. They avoid accountability for what Jesus teaches by putting him into a convenient little category that allows them to not listen. If they don’t have to listen they don’t have to change. Change is hard. Thinking about it is excruciating. Unbearable unknowns of change and possibility…possibility of what? Failure? Success?

Marianne Williamson said that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.'” Our potential to do good, to change the world, is terrifying. Why? Well, it won’t be like this. We’re comfortable with how things are now—I know I am. If we change, we might not have what we have now—cable TV, microwave dinners, shopping malls. That might change. We might not have what we have now—people dying of hunger, infants and children exposed to preventable disease, an environment that is disappearing due to development. That might change.

Of course, there is the other thing to fear—the work we’d have to do to affect the change. It doesn’t get better on its own. That’s probably no surprise. Here’s the thing, though—the world is already changing all the time. Think of just ten years ago… no war for us yet in the Middle East, no Facebook, more limited use of cell phones. That's all different now, and the world didn’t do that on its own. We do that, too. Our action, our inaction, our buying into the system perpetuates the future we live into. We act to cause it; we could act to change it.

Monday is the Fourth of July—Independence Day. Who are we working to make more independent? We often celebrate our own independence, and, if asked this question, we look to the children around us. That is all well and good, especially when thinking about the future of the world. But do we dare go deeper and ask how our independence affects the people we won’t see?

What about the people who won't be at the parades or barbeques? How do we change the system to create independence for those who don’t have it?

Is that scary?

Who would fear change? Perhaps (like those children in the marketplaces) it is those who always need to know what is going on. Those who need to be in control—to lead, to be wise, to be righteous. If you don’t get it, how could you be wise? How could you lead? How could you know how to do what is correct and proper?

Again, it is the children that Jesus uses as example. This time, however, it is not the childishness, but the childlike innocence he talks about. They don’t need to know what is going on all the time—because someone else takes care of them, and they trust that person. They trust whoever is taking care of them. Also, the status quo isn’t yet ingrained--prejudices and stereotypes don't exist yet. Minds like these can grasp this radical alternative reality that Jesus suggests. Creativity, wonder, and possibility are all still real. Worldly limitations haven’t set in yet. Children—infants—don’t need to be in control of the whole world, and they do see it with really fresh eyes.

How can we, who have these worldly rules and limits cemented in our minds, get past our fear? How do we allow ourselves to trust like little children—regain that childlike innocence? How do we see the world with wonder, imagination, and possibility? If we slowed down and took just this one moment, this one decision at a time, we might realize that the world is really made up of just that—little actions. Individual actions. One at a time. We get away from being selfish by being mindful of ourselves. Our actions—and how they affect others…not ourselves.

That’s a lot to ask. That's a lot to carry. That burden, of our actions, can drag us down, overwhelm us until we feel like the world does hang in the balance of our smallest choices.

Again, Jesus speaks to that. All those burdens being carried—we are invited to bring them to Jesus, who promises rest. This isn’t the sort of rest that equates to laziness. This is the invitation to live your life. We’re free, so go do what we’re meant to do. We get to work…with Jesus. Rather than laziness, the “What a waste—I got nothing done,” feeling, it’s the “I really did something today,” idea.

It’s about attitude. It’s about trusting Jesus and his teachings. It’s about not making excuses or avoiding issues. It’s about being—being yourself, allowing all that potential, all that light, to shine through. It’s about not being afraid of change. It’s about not being bound by the status quo. It’s about living your life in every day, every moment, every breath.

What will this generation—this age—be compared to?

What do you want it to be?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sermon May 15

Last week I went home for my brother's college graduation. Coincidentally, my home synod had their annual assembly that weekend as well, which meant that the pastor would need to be gone, so I was asked to lead the church service. This is the sermon from that weekend.

John 10:1-10

Good morning. I have to start with a word of thanks to all of you. I am truly grateful to be sharing in worship with you this morning, and I am honored to be asked to help out. This week is often called Good Shepherd Sunday—Jesus being the Good Shepherd—and the two verses following this passage inform us, in Jesus own words, that Jesus is the shepherd who cares for the sheep, and the sheep know him and hear his voice. That is a comforting thought. Time to check out—sermon’s over. Haha.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy? But, as usual, in addition to the comfort and joy it brings, the good news of the gospel challenges us and pulls us out of our comfort zone.

Ok, so we start at the beginning with the basics. Jesus is the gate, and those who enter are the shepherd. They guide the sheep in and out and to pasture so they may be safe.

Then the tough reality kicks in—there are forces in the world that are not from God. Thieves. This has the potential to be really scary if used to instill fear—the last section says that thieves intend to steal and destroy. It’s easy to think that we need to guard against them, point fingers outward trying to identify them, and be sure to follow the true shepherd. We live in a culture that can be ruled by fear—fear of failure, fear of financial or emotional insecurity, fear of anyone who is not like us, fear of people who we might claim don’t know Jesus. That’s not the case at all. Thieves would know exactly where the gate is. They avoid it at all costs. Thieves also do not break in with firearms and noise, but try to sneak quietly without being noticed.

These are the forces in the world that avoid and sneak around the good news they know to be true. These forces go around it to justify actions that they know don’t adhere to the Word of God, which, according to John, is Jesus. There are systems, diseases, natural disasters that cause damage to the people of God. These forces destroy, steal lives.

The sheep are safe, though. They don’t follow the wrong person, but only the one who enters by the gate—the shepherd. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice, and follow only that. They are saved because they will follow the one that comes to them and leads them to the pastures they must find in order to survive. The sheep need not be suspicious or concerned about which person is or is not the shepherd. The sheep know the voice of the shepherd, and they follow it to their salvation. This is again not something the sheep control. The shepherd comes to the sheep and calls to them.

There are many voices that may try to call out and promote certain paths—paths of jealousy, greed, etc. These voices may try to weedle their way into a mind and talk it into willfully ignoring the suffering of others for the sake of their own self-interest. Rarely will these real thieves seem like a frontal attack, but more often they come in the form of self-persuasion—a little here, a little there.

The good news, though, is that Jesus is always there—always. Jesus is the gate. The only way to enter into the sheepfold. He is also the Good Shepherd, as we find out in verse 11 of this chapter. He is both guiding and guarding the sheep. Jesus is always there—when the sheep gather together, and when they go out into the world.

Now, the tricky (and maybe uncomfortable) question—who are we in this parable? It’s nice to think that we’re always the sheep—the characters in the parable who are completely innocent. They are the ones who are cared for totally by the shepherd, and are saved without actually doing anything. Sheep have to enter by the gate. The sheep unfailingly follow their shepherd’s voice and ignore all others.

But what of the thieves? It’s easy to point at those things in the world that we fear, that we’d like to blame for what’s wrong with our lives. The ‘others’ that we haven’t even met—systems, religions, politics—that we claim are trying to take us away from God. But here’s the thing…thieves know where the gate is—and what it looks like. They sneak in to steal and destroy. The very definition of sin is the self-interest and self-centeredness that causes those broken relationships with God and one another. Thieves think of themselves, they sneak in to steal—for themselves—and they destroy what was there. Is it so hard to imagine that this might be our own selves?

Now, sin is a human condition—there is nothing we can do to change that. We confess almost every week that we sin in ways we know and ways we are unaware of in our actions as well as our failure to act. We are forgiven through no act of our own, but through the grace of God alone. That doesn’t mean we can go out and do whatever we want, though. We can—we need to—guard against the little voices of the world that try to persuade us that it’s okay to do this or that just once…or once more. The voices that say it’s okay to play by the rules of the system or the world we live in to get what we want—even if it hurts or oppresses others. Those voices are destructive—to others as well as ourselves.

We're not just thieves, though. I’d suggest that we—all of us—are both sheep and thief. We are both saint and sinner, after all. We talk ourselves into things we know we shouldn’t do, or ignore things we maybe should. We serve our own interests—think of ourselves—before others’ from time to time. We silently buy into the system without even making ourselves aware of what that means.

That seems pretty horrible, doesn’t it? Well, sin is pretty horrible. Then again, we are also the sheep. We cannot save ourselves. We are completely dependent on the shepherd, but we are unable to go to the shepherd—to Jesus—he comes to us. And, we cannot stay inside the sheepfold forever—we must go out into the world in order to live at all. We survive because Jesus—our shepherd—is leading us.

Jesus is always there—that is the good news, the comfort among all these challenging truths. He guards us as we gather, and goes with us as we go out into the world. We cannot survive forever if we stay guarded. We must go out and live life to survive. Living life—that is Jesus’ purpose for all the sheep. That the sheep may have life and have it abundantly—Jesus died for that reality. And he rose. And he continues to guide us through the continued presence of the Holy Spirit. No matter what happens, no matter what we do, Jesus is always there, coming to us and leading us. Amen.

Sermon May 7-8

Back at my internship site, I gave this sermon on May 8 (Mother's Day).
Luke 24:13-35

Think of an event you have coming up—any event. In May, that’s probably not difficult to do. There are Mother’s Day meals, graduations, presentations, final tests, summer trips, quarterly reports (maybe that’s June) the list goes on and on. For that event that you’re now thinking of, there are probably things to do to get ready for it—make food, gather information or research, invite people, pray you don’t forget all the words—then you’ll actually get there and live through it, and finally, the story of that event will be incorporated into the story of your life with all its twists and turns and meanings.

Stories of any kind are generally lived in three parts—preparation of an event or incident, the incident or event itself, and reflection on it. Reflection, hindsight—it’s where the significance of what has happened is most clearly understood. Hindsight is 20/20—there’s a reason we say that. Looking back on the events of a story, we can usually see more clearly why something happened, what we really did get out of it, or—most often—what we should have done or said.

And That is where we are at the beginning of the gospel reading today. Reflection. Two of the disciples who have been in Jerusalem over the past few days are now walking to Emmaus, seven miles away. During their walk, they begin to process what has happened. They discuss Jesus’ crucifixion and what it all meant.

From somewhere, a person joins their group. Traveling with a group would definitely be safer than walking alone. So perhaps that’s not so unusual—except that the two disciples are clearly upset about what has happened, and someone who has not been with them through it—doesn’t even know about it—suddenly joins in as one of them.

As if to prove how clueless he really is, the other person asks what is going on with them, and they reveal the level of their pain as they stop in their tracks. They describe those events—their expectations, hopes, and disappointment. They relive it all. They reveal just how much they do not yet understand by talking about their disappointment along with the testimony of some of the women of their group—though they have heard the good news, they are still upset. To them, the crucifixion was failure—the cross ended the hopes they might have had in the potential of Jesus.

They do not see yet. Why not? It’s quite possible that their grief and their past experiences in the world have blinded them to what radical truth might be there. The experiences of the world have taught them that those who die generally stay that way. The only person they have seen ever raise the dead is now dead as well. To them, then, logically, Jesus is dead, regardless of what the women say.

Jesus responds by correcting them—as he often did while he was with them before. He explains all the way to Emmaus about the Scriptures as a whole—from Moses onward. This is not an isolated prophecy or one verse somewhere, but the entirety of all the prophets. He speaks the Word, but his presence remains hidden from them. For whatever is left of the seven-mile walk without headphones or billboards or storefront windows they simply talk about the Scriptures with Jesus. Even in this familiar way—teaching the disciples—they do not know him on their own. They still do not see.

Even though they don’t see, they still remember their teachings. They extend hospitality to this stranger who appears to be going further all alone. They invite him in after an afternoon on the road. They share their food and lodging with this stranger to keep him safe from the dangers of the night.

Not until they sit down with this stranger are their lives transformed. Jesus somehow takes on a new role here, playing host, he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. As he does this, his true self is made known to them, and they understand. They know that this stranger that they invited to stay in out of the night is in fact Jesus himself. They understand that he has risen, that, yes, the women were right once again.  They see, and their worldly assumptions about life and death and Jesus are changed forever.

As soon as they realize all this, though, Jesus disappears, leaving them to reflect again on this new experience. They think about how things had changed for them on the road once he showed up, and they perhaps realize just what it was they were doing in going to Emmaus so alone, forlorn, and hopeless. They get what the cross was about now. It’s about hope, not failure. Their realization of the significance of this event moves them so much that they get up and make the seven-mile trip back to Jerusalem—on foot, once again—to let everyone know about it. Their time in fellowship with Jesus has moved them from their little meal to action.

They go back to Jerusalem to tell everyone the good news, but why would anyone believe it? Why, when the testimony of the women and the explanation of the Scriptures wouldn’t do it, would the rest of the disciples believe them now?

Is it that there are now two sets of witnesses to corroborate the women’s testimony? Maybe.

Is it that Jesus himself walked with them, interpreting the Scriptures? Perhaps. Remember, though, that they did not understand the total truth at that point.

Is it that Jesus was present at the meal? This is perhaps the most likely answer, though it could be a combination of all three. You have to admit, the supporting evidence is starting to stack up.

This, though, is perhaps the tipping point. In the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of the bread, the disciples’ eyes were opened and they saw Jesus—they themselves actually did nothing. They didn’t open their own eyes. Their eyes were opened by something beyond their own power or ability. Jesus is the one who acts.

Jesus acts, and only then can the disciples act—only then can they believe. They have realized their calling, and now they are off to live it.

Hindsight teaches us. Remembering and reflecting on an event will help us realize the actual significance of it—whether it’s something of great significance that we need to share or of little significance that we need to let go of.

Hindsight helps us learn…but only about what to do next. Should’ve, could’ve, and would’ve are not possible to do—not really. The closest we get to that is to tell someone we’ve affected that we were wrong or wanted to say something else. It still doesn’t change what happened.

The disciples can’t go back in time and listen with new ears to all that Jesus said about the Scriptures again. They can, however, tell the rest of the disciples that he appeared. They can begin to move forward and tell others about their experience, the hope that has been communicated to them for the whole world. Notice, those are all responses, forward actions lived out in the future, not re-writes of the past.

We, too, move forward. We go from fellowship with Jesus into living out our calling. We are empowered to act only because Jesus acts first. We remember Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We gather at a table with family, friends, and strangers. We experience Jesus’ real presence in the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of the meal, and then we leave the table and go out into the world to live out our calling, communicating the hope of Christ in all we do. AMEN.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sermon May 1

This past weekend I was a guest seminarian preacher for a two-point parish about an hour or so away. The sermon focuses on the gospel reading for the day, and tries to incorporate some measure of seminary explanation.

John 20:19-31

Good morning. I am honored to be able to share this morning with you. My name is Sarah Timian, and I am an intern at First Lutheran Church in Lincoln. Basically that means I am in my third year in seminary, which is graduate school for pastors. I attend the one in Gettysburg, PA, where I will return next year and continue studying to be a pastor someday. At Gettysburg, my friends and I do study a lot—it’s graduate school after all—but we also like to just hang out, take study breaks, and we love to laugh.

I was thinking the other day about some of the jokes I’ve shared with my friends at Gettysburg, and I realized that to even understand some of them without so much explanation you ruin the joke, you’d have to be a seminary student. Some of them, you’d have to be a seminary student at Gettysburg, and even some of those you’d need to be a Gettysburg seminary student who knows Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. In other words, some of the inside jokes are over my head.

You don’t need to be in seminary to understand inside jokes, though. Almost every group has them. Co-workers, families, circles of friends, whatever—the point is, you have to have some sort of inside knowledge to understand what’s going on. No one is going to get the significance of this or that unless they know Aunt Mabel or Uncle Fred, unless they were at that reunion picnic, unless they understood the accountants’ system.

In today’s reading, we have the same thing happen. The disciples are locked in a room, probably hiding from the Roman authorities, afraid for their lives, and suddenly Jesus is with them. He breathes on them and says, “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” What an unimaginable experience. The disciples have been through the death of their leader and friend. Now they not only see that he has risen, they have been bestowed his peace and given the Holy Spirit to sustain them through whatever they may face. I can’t imagine the sort of joy, relief, and sheer happiness that must have taken place. God had played the ultimate joke on the world—death has been cheated, defeated, and Jesus lives again! Fear is gone! Peace is with them.

One of them is missing, though. Jesus has appeared to the disciples, but Thomas is not there. His circle of friends tries to tell him, but Thomas insists it’s one of those “you had to be there” moments. He doesn’t get it. He declares that he will not believe unless he sees it for himself.

That’s probably understandable. Thomas asks to be granted what the other disciples have been given without asking. He perhaps feels like they’ve gotten something better than he was allowed to have. Perhaps they feel they’ve got some inside information that he isn’t privileged to receive. Where was he? We don’t ever find out—all we can say is that he wasn’t hiding with the others.

So he asks, actually, he demands an answer. As a seminarian—a student—I love Thomas’ story. It gives me so much hope because I know I have questions all the time. Sometimes I have more questions than my professors or my supervisor would like, I’m sure. The idea that one of the disciples would have questions or demand equal explanations to come to a conclusion is awesome. Thomas doesn’t fiddle around with little things, either. He asks the most fundamental question of all—did Jesus really rise from the dead? The others have seen it, and he demands their experience before he will share their understanding. He wants to be an insider, too.

Is it okay to question? Like I said, as a student, I really hope so. For Thomas, it is more than okay. Look at the next line “a week later…” A week later! The disciples lived with this person and his uncertainty for a whole week—to the point that he was with them the following week. Despite their differences, they were able to stay together even though there was no apparent resolution to their disagreement. Are we so kind? Can we live with those who differ from us on our most basic beliefs? Can we get along with people of other denominations? Other faiths? Other values systems? Other political views? I think we have a lot to learn about accepting others from this little phrase, this half-verse that says “a week later.”

Okay, so the disciples make it through a week together and gather again—this time Thomas is with them. Once again, Jesus appears among them. Thomas isn’t scolded or reprimanded because of his questions. Rather, Jesus offers Thomas what Thomas said he needed for his faith.

Turns out, Thomas doesn’t even need what he said he did. He doesn’t stick his fingers into Jesus hands and side, but answers straightaway with the first declaration in this book of personal faith after Jesus’ resurrection “My Lord and my God!” Thomas has been given what the other disciples had—he has now seen the risen Christ, and taken his place again as an equal to them in this experience.

Thomas didn’t need what he thought he did. Does that mean he shouldn’t have asked? No way. This is another reason I love this story. So often I know I—and I suspect others—don’t get it right the first time. I have trouble separating what I need from what I want. Thomas wants to stick his fingers in Jesus’ side and hands. He needs to see and hear Jesus’ voice. Jesus helps separate out what is needed from what is wanted, but that doesn’t mean we as humans can’t or shouldn’t voice what we think we need.

Had Thomas not asked, that desire would have gone suppressed, maybe even destroyed his relationship with the other disciples over time. We shouldn’t suppress those questions and concerns we may have, either. Only through voicing and exploring them do we slowly go deeper and deeper into our faith—growing up as we go beyond shallow and simplistic beliefs. Only through voicing and exploring them do we find out what we truly need and what is just a want. Perhaps we also discover a little more clearly what it is we actually do believe. Thomas, receiving what he needed, is able to articulate his faith at last.

Thomas is given what the others had experienced, and brought into the disciples’ inner circle. And then Jesus does away with this insider/outsider nonsense. “Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” Those who were able to witness first-hand the resurrection of Jesus are not superior to those who didn’t simply because of that factor.

So what’s the point of all this? This sermon has gone off in at least four different directions, but how does it all come together? It comes together in us—here and now. In fellowship and community, as the disciples were, we take and learn and discuss and grow. Like Thomas, we are allowed to question, to demand what we think we need—even if we don’t really need it. We realize that doesn’t mean we’ll get what we demand, but that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and those around us will help us see what we do actually need. We hold one another accountable, and we live together anyway when we do not agree.

We are invited to go beyond the surface levels of belief to deep faith, to cry “My Lord and My God!” We are blessed to receive the Holy Spirit, and like the disciples, we are given the peace of Jesus, who comes to us in our fearful times. We are blessed to be given faith without always seeing—that is sheer grace from God, given to us as we come together and as this story comes together in its many layers in us. We are called to live this story—our story. Strengthened by Jesus to go ever deeper, we question, we cry out “My Lord and My God” and we live out that confession. Amen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Vigil Sermon--April 23-24

This was preached on the Vigil readings, focusing mostly on the Gospel of John.

This morning is transforming. This morning we started in the dark, with Genesis, at the beginning of time and dawn of creation. We started in the dark, but we do not end there. We have kept watch for daylight to come, and, with it, the promise of new life.

During our waiting and watching we have been retelling the stories of our Christian heritage—connecting with it and remembering how we are in fact a part of it. We've read Scripture and sung hymns to remind ourselves of all that has happened not just this week, but through the course of human history. We've read about our heritage through the stories of the Israelites Exodus from slavery to freedom. We've heard the hope of Isaiah and the faithful confession of the foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar. We've remembered the promises of our baptism through the writings of Paul to the early Christians, and we close our readings with the gospel.

This is the day of good news, the reason we gather. We have lived through the night—through the wait—and day has come at last.

Dawn breaks, and we find we are living in the first day of the week—the day when heavens and earth are created…the day light enters the world. In our reading from John, we again have a story of creation—new creation—on the day when Christ makes all things new. There is an entirely different reality, a glimpse of the Dominion of God.

Three disciples come to the tomb, each with a different message about living in this new reality.

Beginning with the last one mentioned, we have the other disciple—the unnamed one. This person so seemingly vague he is not even named, is the one whom Jesus loved. The marginalized, unrecognized, blend-into-the-crowd disciple is loved by Jesus. He reaches the tomb ahead of Peter, but does not go in. This unnamed one, however, is the first of all to believe. The minor character who has been in the background of almost every scene in this gospel believes first. The extent of his belief is unclear, as it says that he didn’t understand the full meaning of the scriptures quite yet.

Peter stays true to his character throughout the book of John. Peter is the one who tends to honestly make honest mistakes, even when it seems the answer is right there in front of him. Peter is the first one to walk into the empty tomb—he goes and sees, but cannot understand.

Then there is Mary. She is not of the twelve, but she goes to the tomb before any of them. She is first to discover the empty tomb, and will stay the longest. Peter and the other disciple have to be told by her—a woman—that the tomb is even empty. She is the one to discover, and the one to recognize.

Mary is strangely practical in guessing that someone has moved Jesus, but that is not the case. Jesus comes to her after the others leave, but she does not know him until he calls to her by name. When she hears her own name, she is able to turn and see who it is. We then have possibly the most heartbreaking yet symbolic scenes of this story. Jesus tells her that she cannot hold on to him. This person she watched die in the most painful and grotesque way then known, and she cannot reach out to hold him.

In the same breath that Jesus delivers this seemingly heartbreaking news, though, he also tells her why. Jesus has risen—and everything has changed. Nothing is as it was before—from the one-to-one private relationships with the disciples to the conquering of death. Jesus must be shared with the world, not hoarded and kept to the self.

Jesus tells Mary not to hang on to him, but to go and tell the others what has happened. Mary’s responses echo this shift as she calls him “Teacher,” upon recognizing him, and then “Lord,” once she understands.

And so we are here, learning what it means to be connected to this story. We, like the other disciple, are loved by Jesus, no matter how small of a part we may feel we are playing. Like Peter, we may not always understand even when the answer or explanation is right in front of us. Like Mary, we are invited to discover, called by name, but reminded that everything is different now. The tomb is empty, and death is conquered. This is the victory of our God.

Everything is different. We cannot relive what once was—we cannot dwell in the past. We remember it, yes, and try to understand it, but we cannot live it over again, and we would be mistaken to try. We are told that Jesus isn’t someone we can hold onto or hide away for ourselves. He is the risen Lord, the Savior of the World, to be shared with everyone.

We have lived through the night, and light has come back into the world. Good Friday was not the end, but neither is Easter Sunday. Mary is told to go and share the good news, and becomes the first proclaimer of all that this day means—and so the story goes on. Romans records part of it, so do Acts and the rest of the Epistles. Some of it shows up in other letters and history books, and some of it is being lived out right now.

We are connected to this story. This story that stretches back in time and continues through the present to the future—always progressing, always inviting us to look ahead, reminding us that we cannot cling to what was as all has been made new. And this story isn’t just my story or your story, it’s our story, and we live our part together, empowered by the Holy Spirit to say that Jesus is Risen. Alleluia. Amen.

Lenten Devotions

Sunday, April 24
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
--2 Peter 1:16-19

It is Easter, and Christ is risen! Our journey through Lent is over, and a new day has dawned. In the midst of this celebration, steal a moment to read and re-read the words of the apostle printed above, and take time to reflect on the path that has brought us here. If you can, go for a walk at the end of the day and watch the sunset. As the light fades, meditate on where tomorrow’s journey will take you.

Saturday, April 23
“How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is-- for what vanity you have created all mortals! Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of Sheol?”
--Psalm 89:46-48

Jesus has died. Yesterday, Good Friday, those passing by watched as the Son of God was crucified. Today, we mourn with the disciples. Today, we wait. Today, we cry out with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord?” Today, we are connected with our brothers and sisters around the world as we ask for God’s mercy in the midst of our grief.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull)”
--Matthew 27:31-33

Good Friday—Holy Friday. We remember Jesus’ horrific death on the cross. Recalling Jesus’ life and ministry, we watch and walk with him as he goes to Golgotha. His journey has brought him here. Even when he could have turned back, Jesus continued to move forward—step by step—to the cross. Jesus emptied himself for the sake of all, and today we live through that story as well.
Carrying the Cross

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lenten Devotions

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'"

--John 13:3-6

Foot-washing was a slave's job, if that. More often, people were given water or ointment by a host to wash their own feet after a dusty day of walking. Yet here, Jesus, the teacher, takes on the duties of the slave and gets up from his position at the table to wash the disciples' feet.
Ocean Piano

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”
--Mark 10:14-16

In Jesus’ time, children were worth very little in the world. In our society today, kids have a much higher status, but there are other populations that are ignored as quickly as children once were. Jesus calls attention to how we accept or receive these easily dismissed populations and highlights how much we have to learn from them and how these people see the world and exist in it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Palm/Passion Sunday Sermon--April 17

This sermon focuses on two gospel texts. The Palm Processional reading, Matthew 21:1-11, can be found here. The Gospel of the Passion, Matthew 27:11-54, can be found here.

The sun will rise tomorrow—even if it’s cloudy, there is a lighter/darker split to the day. Air will go into our lungs, and then out again—adding oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. Triangles will have three sides. Water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

We have certain expectations of our world. Our expectations are generally based on past experience informing our present reality. For the most part, our expectations of the non-human world are pretty common and relatively similar. Triangles have three sides, the sun rises and sets as the earth spins on its axis.

Our expectations for ourselves become a little more complicated. They resemble something a little more like potential or ambition rather than fact, and they tend to differ a bit for each individual. Perhaps your expectations for yourself are general ones like filing your taxes each year (like last Friday) or completing your homework assignments or attending church, or perhaps they’re more specific like buying a car next year or reading a book this week or signing up to be a volunteer next weekend. Self-expectations tend to be based on ability and self-awareness.

Then there are those expectations for others—that gets really complicated because these can be based on everything from your perception of that person’s identity and ability to their relationship to you and the world. Expecting a friend to call or a political leader to pass or reject a bill, you get the idea. Expectations are everywhere.

And there are expectations at church this week—Holy Week. Today, we begin what is roughly 7.5 hours’ worth of a worship service this week—or 14 hours depending on how many of the services you attend more than once. There is no communion today because we continue with that part of worship on Thursday. We clearly have expectations that this week will be different from other weeks at church, and today—Palm Sunday—we expect certain things as well—that Palms will be here when we arrive, that we will process with them and that we will hear the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem.

In our story, we discover that the crowds that gathered around Jesus as he entered had their own expectations, too. Matthew’s audience would have been very familiar with what Jesus riding on a donkey and colt into the town meant.

Hearing or seeing this, they would have been able to recall their Scriptures. “He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth…For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will arouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword.” That’s from the 9th chapter of Zechariah, right after the part that says “your king comes to you…humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Seeing Jesus riding on these animals, the expectation of what is to come—cutting off the chariot from Ephraim and rising against the empire as a sword—would have naturally followed for this crowd.

Today, we processed with our own Palms as we recalled that story. When I was younger, I loved this part of the church year—waving around the palm, so excited to welcome Jesus. I hope there was some of that excitement and expectation in you this morning as we walked in. Palm Sunday—the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We processed around the church as the crowds did around Jesus—through the church and into the sanctuary. And where do we end up after that ceremony of celebration? Looking ahead and facing the cross.

In just a few days, the tide of the people’s temperament will turn. They will yell, “Crucify him!” and beg for the release of Barabbas over Jesus the Christ. We may debate loudly over who killed Jesus and deserves that judgment, but are we very different from these crowds? I don’t really think so. Take a look at their situation—they change their minds quickly about a public figure based on the influence of their leaders. You can think of tabloids and paparazzi, or, even more seriously, government officials. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t know which politicians voted which way on what bills unless I had that information spoon-fed to me by CNN or MSNBC, and I make choices based on what they say.

Then there are the characters of Barabbas and Christ. One is a known criminal to Rome, which means he may have been physically fighting or wielding the sword as it were against the empire—think Zechariah and expectations again. The other is a quiet person that shows no prospect of overthrowing the oppressive rulers, but will simply die for their sake. How often do we choose those who loudly proclaim to fight on our behalf or wield the power of the sword over those who quietly work for peace or take a hit so that our mistakes don’t affect us? It’s an ongoing human condition based on our expectations.

What are our expectations? The crowds expected Christ to overthrow the government and free them from their oppressive rulers. Outwardly, Christ fails to fulfill the expectations of the people. Yet he goes outside and beyond expectations, even if it can’t be seen at the time, and opens to us a different way of being in and thinking about the world which we are invited to share. Christ doesn’t go to war with the empire at the time to free the Israelite nation—he goes to the cross and wages war with sin and death to free all the nations of the world.

If we are called to follow this example, what are our expectations of ourselves? I’m not talking about taking the blame for something you didn’t do, or passively suffering through something alone, but I am talking about considering whether we settle for just getting by, or whether we expect more from ourselves.

How do we follow through on living in the different realm Jesus has showed us is possible?

How do we offer our prayers, our praise, and our lives in response to all we know we have been given?

Facing the cross, reminded of what is ahead, we can ask these questions. Because we have been freed from the power of sin and death, we can consider how we will respond to this gift of grace through our lives. We may fail, and we may succeed. Jesus has made it possible to try. Amen.

Palm Saturday Sermon--April 16

This week, I had the opportunity to preach at two relatively different services at my internship site. I took that opportunity to actually prepare two different sermons. This one is based on the Epistle text, Philippians 2:5-11.

Philippians 2:5-11

WWJD? What would Jesus do? You’ve probably heard this phrase before—maybe even in a sermon. WWJD was a slogan that became really popular back when I was in elementary school. Everyone seemed to be wearing it on their wrists and using it as a morality measure. When making a decision, you were to ask “What would Jesus do?” and then act accordingly.

It was more than that, though—looking back, it was also a measure of who was “in” and “out” of the loop as a Christian. Wearing one of those bracelets or asking that question—WWJD—meant you were a “good kid” or, even better for some, a “cool adult.”

In our letter to the Philippians today, we see some of that tension of who’s in and who’s out. Paul talks about what people ought to strive for and what they should try to avoid. Now, typical of Paul, he doesn’t address an issue if there isn’t a problem. In the first four verses that lead up to today’s reading, Paul says that one should avoid selfishness, vanity, and conceit while pursuing unity of mind, love, spirit, and purpose. In essence, put aside your arrogance for the sake of a united church body.

One point of clarification should be made here—Paul is not trying to promote a robot-like community where everyone thinks the same thoughts and says the same words. His letters as a whole lift up the richness of variety that comes with utilizing and celebrating the different gifts and opinions of each person in the community. If you’ve ever heard a great piece of music, you might have an idea of what Paul is trying to get at.

Music isn’t made by holding the same note forever, nor is it achieved by playing or singing a single-note melody line. That sort of music may be nice and good, but it takes on a whole new level when harmony is introduced—different notes complementing and completing each other to make them better than they were alone.

It is highly appropriate, then, that Paul uses these next verses to quote what has been deemed by some scholars as the “Christ Hymn.” Rather than using religious slogans or practices to determine who is “in” or “out,” Paul uses this commonly held piece to remind the Philippians what they hold in common and what sort of attitude or motivation should be underneath all that they do—however different they may be. Paul wants them to live in harmony—blending their differences beautifully with a common base.

How does he do this? He doesn’t invoke guilt—nor does he ask what Jesus would do. Paul simply reminds people what Jesus has done, which is probably more appropriate. One of my professors at seminary informed our class that was a better question to ask anyway, since not even Jesus’ closest friends could determine what Jesus would do. Look at our celebration of the entry into Jerusalem today—people are waving Palms and shouting “Hosanna!” expecting Christ to overthrow the Roman rulers. That’s what they thought Jesus would do.

But Paul gets it—he looks at what Jesus has done and asks others to do the same. Jesus had equality with God, yet he did not see this as something to be exploited. Equality with God and he didn’t exploit it?! I get excited if I get an A on my term papers—and I work to achieve them and keep them, and then I tell everyone if I actually get do succeed…and I don’t take an “F” in place of it. Jesus had equality with God and yet humbled himself to becoming human—becoming one of us—and dying on a cross. Dying on a cross—a worse death than most humans can imagine or will experience. That is what Jesus has done.

This text is especially appropriate for today as we remember that triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the expectations that everyone had for Jesus. We are reminded, even as we wave our Palms around, that Jesus wasn’t about earthly triumph or success. In fact, by the standards of the world, what Jesus did looked like failure at the time.

Then we read the second part of the hymn. God exalts Jesus, and at his name every knee should bend. Not just every knee on earth, either, but every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth. And it doesn’t say “your” knee, as though it’s just you and Jesus here, but “every” knee—including yours—so that it’s you and Jesus and each and every person you encounter that is included in this relationship. Again we’re back to that harmonious community. It’s a personal relationship, yes, but it’s more than that—it’s communal, not private, not something you can or should hide away, but something you experience within a larger community that is deeper and more beautiful when it’s brought together with its common attitude of service.

Today we start Holy Week—a week that will continually remind us that Jesus is not about arrogant triumphalism or self-centered achievement. Jesus is someone who went to death on the cross in his humility. We will live through this pain, and we will go deeper into the meaning of it all as the week progresses. Eventually, we will get to Easter, where we find not earthly victory but something much greater.

Christ is raised, and death is conquered. As it says in verses 9-11, God has exulted him, and that is why we confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God.

Looking at this hymn of the early church, we are reminded with the Philippians of our common foundation in Jesus Christ, our redeemer and king. This foundation informs our beliefs, which inform our actions. Paul reminds us of what Jesus has done, the question now is what we will do.

Will we try to live in harmony, asking how we can complement and live for one another while using our own gifts?

Will we try to hide away our gifts, hoping no one will notice?

Will we live for ourselves alone—looking out for our interests?

Chances are, we will end up doing a little of each—we are human, after all. But that is what community is for—remembering who we are and whose we are. We are God’s, claimed in baptism forever, freed from sin, and called to live in harmony as we sing our praises to God with our whole lives. Amen.

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, April 19
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
--John 20:21-22

These verses are full of power. Jesus appears to the disciples—a powerful event in and of itself. Yet that is a small part of this passage. Jesus sends his disciples into the world with the Holy Spirit. What does it mean for us to be sent by Jesus just as Jesus was sent by God?
Hands and Feet

Monday, April 18
“Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’”
--Isaiah 6:6-8

Isaiah’s call story is one that is told and re-told quite often. The seraph cleanses his guilt, and he replies with the optimistic and almost idealistic phrase: “Here am I; send me.” In reality, however, Isaiah’s life was no easy task—and neither are our lives. We have ups as well as downs, failures as well as triumphs. Life can be exciting, terrifying, tragic, comic, and everything in between. As you read through this piece, reflect on what the realistic expectations for your life’s journey are, and consider the importance of living and experiencing all of it.
Oh the Places You'll Go

Sunday, April 17
“As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”
--Ephesians 6:15

Palm Sunday—in the liturgical year, this day marks the beginning of Holy Week, where we as a Christian community will travel from Christ’s joyous triumphal entry in Jerusalem to his death on the cross. We will walk together through the remembrance of the Last Supper to betrayal and mockery until we arrive at Golgotha.

What makes you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace? This week, take time to be mindful of your shoes. Consider how they function to equip you in different ways for different situations. Consider also where they take you and what you do while you wear them.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lenten Devotions

"But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,"
--1 Corinthians 12:18-22

In a society that continually sends out messages of self-sufficiency and independence, it is easy to get caught up in oneself. However, we do not exist alone. Even in our society, we are continually surrounded by people we depend upon for daily living as well as any achievement we may accomplish. From bus drivers who get children to school and adults to work to screaming fans for celebrities, everyone depends on those around them for something. As you consider this picture, think about those things that would be impossible without the work and contributions of many.
Star Power

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”
--Acts 10:44-46

Peter and the other believers are shocked that people outside of their national heritage have been given the Holy Spirit. With our global connections today, it is probably less surprising to us that there are Christian churches in places all over the world. Yet how often do we consider the depth of our connection to our brothers and sisters? Do we even think about those people beyond our hometown, state, or country? Like Peter, we might be surprised to find out who is praying with us. As you read the words from Bartholomew I, consider—really consider—your personal perception of our relationship to the people you do not see every day.
LWF Article

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
--Psalm 51:10-12

In this song, the singer is overwhelmed so much so that words will not do. The singer pleads that God would speak and that they would be receptive enough to listen. As you listen to this music, think about those times that the world may overwhelm you, and consider how you may listen to hear God’s Word through it all.
Word of God Speak

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
--Romans 14:16-19

Words are essential to our lives. They identify objects, feelings, ideas, and help us articulate what we mean. We have the ability to use or misuse this gift of language. As Paul points out in the letter to the Romans, we should be cautious of how we speak and act towards one another. As you read this article, think about the power words have and which ones make for mutual upbuilding.
What's in a Word

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, April 12
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
--Colossians 3:15-16

In this letter, the author calls the people to come together, speaking truth and letting the Word dwell in them. This Word is reinforced in various ways—by teaching, sharing wisdom, being grateful, and singing or experiencing music. As you listen to this piece, allow the music to slow you down and open you to mindfulness of all that surrounds you.
Moonlight Sonata

Monday, April 11
“[God] said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
--1 Kings 19:11-13

God does not always come to us in loud or flashy moments. While those mountaintop “a-ha!” moments can and do happen, God also reveals Godself in the much quieter times. Sometimes, it can be no more than a whisper in the midst of what seems like an ordinary, everyday experience.

Sunday, April 10
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
--Ephesians 4:1-3

Unable to call, visit, or facebook in ancient times, those separated by distance had to write letters as conversations with one another. The apostle Paul and his students wrote to various communities to continue encouraging Christians in their faith lives.

As an activity this week, write a letter—yes, a hand-written, snail mail letter—to someone you haven’t seen or chatted with in a while. It can be a friend, relative, old co-worker, etc. Take the time to make it a conversation. Write about your day, the weather, school, work, whatever. Let yourself reach out to those people in your life and strengthen your bond of peace with them.

Saturday, April 9
“Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”
--Romans 6:4-10

There is a rule in literature that the narrator cannot be dead in the end. This is based in the paradox that if the narrator is dead at the end of the story, there is no way that the story could have been told to the one who recorded it. As you view this painting, take in the magnitude of this new perspective, and realize the leap of faith taken by the artist as you discover who the narrator of this story is.
What Our Lord Saw

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ 28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’"
--Luke 10:25-29

“Who is my neighbor?” Wouldn’t it be nice if that question never needed to be asked? We constantly separate ourselves from one another by our societal classifications—income, ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, party line, etc. What if none of that was an issue? What if we simply brought comfort and aid to all who needed it, knowing that our lives are interconnected through our bond as brothers and sisters of humanity?
Haiti Article

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“[Jesus said,] ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’"
--Matthew 11:28-30

So often we can get caught up in the cares of the world, trying to fix things to work out the way we want them to for our own benefit. We get bogged down with all we try to take on, overwhelmed by what we think we need to do. This can break us. However, Jesus gently lets us know that we don’t have to carry our heavy burdens alone. Jesus’ whole story reminds us that we cannot save ourselves, nor do we need to earn anything when it comes to him. In Jesus, we find the rest, renewal, and acceptance that will fix us when we can’t do it ourselves.
Fix You

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Newsletter Article

I will likely need to remove the satirical element before submitting this for the newsletter, since not everyone has my sense of humor, but I did want to find a place to share this as it is.


Okay, I know this sounds like the title to an elementary book report on a pretty non-controversial topic, but please bear with me for a few minutes. I agree that being left-handed is one of the safer minorities of this world. In actuality, most people won’t realize that someone is of the left-handed population, and, if they do, it doesn’t change much. However, there are a few things that I’ve noticed in my left-handed life that I think might expand themselves into a more generalized way of looking at majorities and minorities.

This is my disclaimer paragraph. As is hopefully obvious throughout this article, left-handedness lends itself to satirical statements. I’m not complaining about being left-handed. Actually, I have enjoyed being perceived as more artistic and imaginative than my right-handed neighbors (one of the untrue generalizations that works in my favor). With that, I will continue with these observations about the dynamics of left-handed and right-handed people.

1. Nobody from the majority cares. People who are right-handed generally do not notice lefties until they find out a relative is one or until a lefty is in their way.

2. The minority gets blamed for accidents even when both parties are at fault. Watch a left-handed and a right-handed person eat next to each other and see who makes an effort to stay out of the way and respect elbow space.

3. The world is designed against the minority in order to cater to the majority. Everything—from notebooks to serrated knives—is made specifically for right-handed people. Accidents and ink stains are more likely for lefties due to these designs (see item #2).

4. Respect is denied to the minority and granted to the majority. When was the last time you shook someone’s left hand?

5. The minority is etymologically discriminated against. In Latin, the word for left is “sinister;” in French, it is “gauche;” in Hebrew, it is “shemo’l,” which can also mean unwholesome or unlucky.

6. The Bible can be used against the minority. The tribe of Benjamin was probably largely left-handed as their weapon of choice was slingshots. They were nearly wiped out—a common sign of divine disapproval.

7. Nobody from the majority cares. Even after reading this, are you really going to do anything?

I know that being left-handed is far from being oppressed. However, it is hopefully a way to do some creative thinking about the more serious topic of the treatment of minorities and majorities in our society. I hope being left-handed will raise my awareness of how I act as part of many majority populations, and perhaps this light-hearted list will foster some reflection in your life as well.

Lenten Devotions

“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.”
--Proverbs 14:31

It’s a running theme throughout the Bible. Almost all of the Prophets speak out against oppression of the poor, as does Jesus, and Paul makes sure to inform the early Christians that all are brothers and sisters in the eyes of God, regardless of class or status. Proverbs is straightforward and succinct—packing a brutal punch in one concise sentence. Yet this verse rings true: if you honor someone, you respect the things he or she makes and cares about. As you listen to the story of the Island of Tuvalu, reflect on the ways that we as a society disrespect our neighbors, and how we as individuals have allowed something like this to happen. Where is salvation in stories like these?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, April 5

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! 2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. 3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. 4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.”
--Psalm 84:1-4

The words above describe the assurance and even longing the Psalmist feels when thinking of being in the house of God. The verses are not only a proclamation of joy, but are also a declaration of faith in the promises God has given us. As you listen to the Fourth Movement of Brahms’ Requiem, contemplate with the Psalmist the faith in what is to come that is proclaimed so strongly in these few minutes of music.

Monday, April 4

“The tempter came and said to [Jesus], "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
--Matthew 4:3-6

It is not difficult to remember to feed ourselves actual food. Our stomachs may growl, and we realize we are hungry and need food to survive. However, as Jesus quotes Deuteronomy in these verses, he points out that material food is not enough. As we go through this week, we will be considering salvation, both in the world we live in here and now as well as in the one we hope for but do not yet see. Today, think about how you are nourishing your whole self—body, mind, and spirit. Where are those places you are being fed, and which ones still need sustenance?
Joyce Rupp

Sunday, April 3

“‘And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’ 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.”
--1 Kings 3:7-10

When Solomon was faced with a task beyond his comprehension, he asked God to help him learn by giving him the wisdom he needed. We also are often faced with situations we know little or nothing about, yet we know we must face them.

As an activity this week, read a book or article on a topic that is somewhat foreign to you. Visit the library or bookstore and scan the shelves for something unique and intriguing. Seek to gain new understanding and perspective of the world and the people who live in it.

Saturday, April 2

“O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
--Psalm 8:1, 3-4

Part of the gift of being human is our ability to imagine, to dream, to wonder at what we see around us. The Psalmist marvels at God’s magnificent creation, wondering how humans could compare to the brilliance of the space in the night sky. This series of images explores that same sense of awe. Allow yourself to wonder with the Psalmist as you consider the vastness of the universe.
NASA Images

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Friday, April 1

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before [God].”
--1 John 3:18-19

“Actions speak louder than words…” “They will know we are Christians by our love…” The clichés could run on forever on this topic—largely because most of them would ring true. It’s so easy to say one thing and do another…or say one thing and fail or forget to act like we mean it. It can be difficult to see the world objectively or creatively enough to know how to love in truth and action, as the verse says. Yet, there are glimpses of this all the time in everything from moments in our individual lives to deliberate projects carried out by large organizations. This is just one of those stories. As you read it, remember the connections we share not only as people of a common church but also as humans able to love, inspire, and care for one another.

Thursday, March 31

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
--Ephesians 2:8-10

So often we try to find our own way to work ourselves into belief or righteousness. We may try to do better or be better than our neighbors. We forget that we are all equal—we are all sinners. We forget that we are saved by grace through faith, and that faith comes to us first and foremost through the Holy Spirit as a gift of God made possible by Jesus. As you listen to this song, be mindful of those times you have failed, but also reflect on the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation we are freely given.
In the Light

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Wednesday, March 30

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
--2 Corinthians 4:16-18

In the midst of our busy lives, we can become worn out by the world. We may even begin to wonder what the point of all of this really is. These words from Corinthians are intended to give encouragement when those cares and concerns arise and to remind us of the promises that are ours through Christ. As you read the reflection below, meditate on those reasons you may or may not feel like what is going on in your life makes sense.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, March 29

“Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
--Luke 21:29-31

We are in the season of renewal and rebirth. Plants return to life, buds begin blossoming, and birds seem to awaken with new songs. Every winter, we witness the sleeping of the world—grasses and plants die, and sounds echo in the hollow of the quiet world. Even then, we know that season is itself getting ready for the new life that is ready to begin.
Vivaldi's Spring

Monday, March 28

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”
--Hebrews 11:1-3

There is so much we wish to know about this world—so much we want to have proven or explained to us. Sometimes that is possible, but sometimes we come face to face with something that we cannot prove or articulate. We perhaps understand it on some level, but cannot put it in words. Even more incomprehensible are the things not of this world. Yet those are the things that we hope for, and somehow are able to take in on faith.
I Never Saw a Moor by Emily Dickinson

Sunday, March 27

“The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 6 The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
--Luke 17:5-6

This week we focus on the idea of faith—how we think about and respond to it in our daily lives. In the verse for today, Jesus talks about faith in terms of a mustard seed, which is one of the smallest of all seeds.

As an activity, grab a group of friends or go out with your family on a walk. If possible, try to walk through a place that will have some trees or plants around. As you walk, notice the seeds you find along the way—pinecones, dandelions, etc. Talk or think about what seeds become, how they grow and what they do. If our faith is the size of a mustard seed, what happens to it tomorrow?

Saturday, March 26

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
--1 Corinthians 12:4-7

We have been given many gifts—wisdom, knowledge, faith, and the ability to heal, among others. Each of these gifts is tailored to fit us individually by the Spirit. Often, our gifts inspire wonderful ideas within us, but how many times are those ideas abandoned? How many times to we begin something really worthwhile but fail to finish it? The painting linked below is the back of one of Leonardo DaVinci’s works. As you gaze on it, consider what it means to live your gifts to the fullest.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Hebrews 13:1-2

In 1976, Muhammad Yunus made an amazing discovery while on a walk through villages in Bangladesh. Small amounts of money combined with the efforts of their recipients had the power to change lives. Building on that idea, Yunus eventually created a bank that specialized in microloans to make a difference in his corner of the world.
Grameen Bank

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Daily Devotions also posted here during Lent.

Thursday, March 24

“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
--Romans 5:8-11

Any righteousness we have in God is given to us through Christ Jesus. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve any of it. However, what may we do to live as ones forgiven and redeemed by grace? In the following selection, we hear praise sung to God at the same time we see the story of one standing up for the justice known to be right.
Amazing Grace

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' 40 And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'”
--Matthew 25:37-40

How many times are we actually like the righteous ones in the Scripture above? Do we even see all of the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, or imprisoned of the world? Yet any time we do anything for the least of the family of God, we serve God. As you read this entry, think about those people you may or may not see in the world who both need and deserve the hospitality described above.
Hippo Spotting

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, March 22
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
--Deuteronomy 10:17-19

Our culture can often be one that seeks safety and security for ourselves—often at the unnecessary expense of others. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be careful, but rather that we need to consider if our carefulness is actually helpful or harmful. Are we protecting ourselves, or are we hiding behind that façade so we don’t feel guilty about not doing something that is needed by others? Listen to the classical music player as long as you like. As you do, meditate on those areas of life that we as a society tend to avoid, consider the necessity of this avoidance, and ponder the meaning of hospitality.
Classical Music Player

More Lenten Devotions

Haha. Okay, so I clearly have to get better at posting these over the weekend.

Monday, March 21
“Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!”
--Psalm 150:6

If we believe all creatures are made and loved by God, then it only stands that we should strive to love and work to empower everything in the praising of God. So often, though, we miss this point, absorbed in making ourselves more comfortable, whether that’s ignoring a co-worker or silencing an idea, we forget that we are to let everything that has breath shine in praising God.
A Minor Bird by Robert Frost

Sunday, March 20
“Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.”
--1 Corinthians 16:13-14

This week we begin considering hospitality as it relates to righteousness. Many times, it is easy to get caught up in doing what is expected of us for our own selves that we forget we are called to serve one another.

As an activity, find one or two ways you can volunteer your time and talents in this next week. Perhaps that will take the form of setting up a time to work at a non-profit organization, stepping in to help lead worship, working for an after-school program, or some other task that needs your help. Whatever it is, set it up today, and let what you do be done in love.

Saturday, March 20
“You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”
Psalm 51:6-9

As we come to the end of this first week of Lent, we acknowledge that it is not by our own works, but by the grace of God that we are saved. We cling to this truth, that it is God who washes us clean and frees us from sin. As you view this picture series, take time to ponder the work God has done and continues to do in order to make us clean and ready to enter the world again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Devotions for Lent

Today's devotion entry also found here.

“Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.”

Romans 14:4-6

One of the great truths of the world is its diversity. We cannot ignore the fact that we—whoever “we” are—are not the only people in the world or the only ones with the “right” ideas. To fully search for truth, we must acknowledge that others find it by different means and in different ways than we do. Paul writes to a diverse group of Christians who must deal with one another, and our world is even more diverse. People around the world seek truth in many ways. Spin this prayer wheel a few times—discover some of the prayers that perhaps shape your quest for truth and consider the ones that may shape someone else’s.

Prayer Wheel

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lenten Devotional Series

I realize I am getting to this a week late, but for all five of you who might see this, I would guess that you've been pretty busy anyway. Part of Lent this year has been developing an online devotional series for the church website. Each week, we will be discussing a particular piece of the Whole Armor of God. This week it is the Belt of Truth. Here are the devotional entries since Sunday, with additional ones to follow on a daily basis.

Thursday, March 17
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
John 14:16-17

All around us, voices of the world tell us what we should be or do. These voices can tear us down and make us fearful in the face of all that goes on around us. God has given us a great gift, however, in the Holy Spirit, which speaks truth and abides with us.

Wednesday, March 16
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Our faith is shared in community with people all over the world—it began halfway around the globe from us. In truth, no matter how far apart we are, we are connected through the body and blood of Christ. We must listen and honestly hear our brothers and sisters in faith when they tell their story, even as we live ours.

Tuesday, March 15
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7

We seek truth. We hunger for the right answer or the real story, and we have anxiety when things just don’t feel right. However, we are given a great gift in the form of prayer, that we may lift every joy, sorrow, hope and fear to God. Whether we pray constantly without ceasing or set aside specific times, we are promised God’s peace guards us. As you listen to Bach’s music, intentionally enter into a time of prayer.
Prelude and Fugue in C Major

Monday, March 14
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.”
Genesis 1:1-3

God speaks, and light breaks forth as the first day dawns. In many parts of our lives, truth becomes overwhelming for us—often grasped only in a moment of awareness. Linda Gregerson captures some of that wonder and truth in her poem, “Varenna.”

Sunday, March 13
“See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good;”
1 Thessalonians 5:15-21

Sundays in Lent will be days of activity designed to be flexible enough to done in solitude or in community with family and friends. This week, we will consider the truth of the world, how we seek it, and what that means for our lives.

As you go through today and this week, be conscious of finding truth by testing unexpected places.

As an exercise in this, try to find three news sources that you don’t regularly go to for stories. For example, if you’re usually a Fox News person, watch CNN, if you utilize American sources, try something international like BBC, if you always read the New York Times, try the Journal Star, etc. Read or watch these sources for the perspectives they present, and expand your information base in the process.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sermon March 5-6

This week's sermon is focused on the Gospel text for the week, Matthew 17:1-9, which can be found here.

Eight weeks. That has been the length of our journey through Epiphany this year. However you’re counting—eight weeks, two months, fifty-six days—it comes out the same. During that time we have traveled from Jesus’ baptism through the calling of the disciples to the Sermon on the Mount, where we are given ironic sayings like “Blessed are you who mourn or are poor…” and difficult ones like “You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world…you must be perfect, just as God in heaven is perfect.” We are told that Jesus comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and that if we are holding a grudge against someone we are to drop everything—including what we may be bringing to worship—and go reconcile with that person before we continue on as if nothing is wrong. We are told there is not a way to manipulate the law to our own desires, but that we are to look at the law as a gift to be listened to in word as well as spirit.

Where is all of this going?

The short answer is to a mountain. In our liturgical year, this season of Epiphany closes with dazzling light on a mountaintop. Jesus goes up this mountain with three disciples—Peter, James, and John—and suddenly is transfigured, transformed, metamorphed, right before them. There is nowhere else to look but at Jesus with his face shining like the sun.

How would one respond to such a sight? There’s no good English word, really, to describe it. What about Hebrew? Hallelujah—praise God.

We aren’t expected to just magically know that this all happened, either. It’s no mistake that Peter, James, and John are there with Jesus—since they have actually been present, they can now stand as witnesses to what has happened and who they have seen Jesus revealed to truly be. If that’s not enough, we have two more of even higher repute for you—Moses and Elijah. The bearer of the stone tablets of the Law that Jesus is sent to uphold and the prophet God uses to denounce Baal are standing there as well.

I may be a little overly judgmental, but at this point in the story I get a little mad at Peter, but at the same time I definitely understand where he may be coming from. I get a little mad at him because here we have Moses and Elijah and Jesus talking to one another.

Do we get to hear what they have to say?


Peter starts talking instead of listening to what they’re saying. Ugh. Okay, I know I sound like a whiny little kid who doesn’t get their way, but really. Is Peter so flustered that he just starts talking and thinking about what he could do to normalize the situation? Maybe. This is something that’s way out of any of our leagues, and in situations that are beyond our control or comprehension, we can sometimes try to grasp a bit of reality, take an action, or just start chatting away in our nervousness.

Peter suggests they stay on the mountain—they’ll make tents for the honored heavenly witnesses and for Jesus. It is good the disciples are there because they can do that mundane task. Peter totally misses the point.

As if in confirmation that there is something else we should be focusing on, a Voice interrupts Peter. This is not just any voice—this Voice is the one that speaks through the clouds, that talks to Moses on the mountain, that says at Jesus’ baptism “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And here again—as if we need further confirmation of who Jesus is—the Voice says it again, confirming Jesus’ identity the same as it did at baptism.

Something is added here, too. “Listen to him.” Listen to him—Jesus’ identity as a teacher and authority is cemented here in the presence of five witnesses—three disciples and two prophets. What does Jesus say? Well, we’ve been talking about that for eight weeks—those ironic truths and difficult commandments.

What will Jesus say now?

The disciples fall down in fear—fear exactly compared to the fear of the soldiers as the earth shook on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. They look up after this wonderful, beautiful, and terrifying ordeal and see Jesus—only Jesus—who remains with them after their hearts give way to fear.

And then…Jesus speaks. The first thing that Jesus says after the Voice of God says “listen to him” is recorded in this next verse. Jesus says “Get up, do not be afraid” and they walk back down the mountain—back to the people and the fate that Jesus and his disciples know awaits him.

Jesus speaks one more time before our reading for today is over—he says the disciples are not to tell anyone of this until the Son of Man has been raised. We could go down the road of whys and what ifs… Why not tell people? What if the world had known? Would Jesus have been crucified? What kind of world would we have now? Is that even why Jesus asked them this? Fortunately, we don’t have to answer such questions. We can look at what Jesus did say here, though, and realize that he knew this transfiguration wasn’t the end of the story. The climax was yet to come—and it’s not the crucifixion for those of you who are guessing. Look again at what Jesus says—not until the Son of Man has been killed but until the Son has been raised. After the dazzlingly brilliant transfiguration, the witness of Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John, and the Voice from heaven, we are told that there is still more than even this.

And as we move forward, through Lent, as we face our mortality, our sinful nature, and finally remember the humiliation of the slandering and death of Jesus, we are given this moment to hold on to—this last Hallelujah until Easter. Our story weaves into this one. We know that—like the disciples—we cannot stay on the mountain or in the church building forever. It just won’t work. Eventually we have to leave if our lives are going to be lived and we listen to Jesus to learn how to live them well. It’s not easy sometimes—we have to face harsh truths and realities we would sometimes rather ignore. But we can remember this story and this moment even as we face them. We can remember that Jesus doesn’t leave when things get scary.

This is who we get to follow.

This person, this man, who is transfigured on a mountain, speaks with ancient prophets, shines like the sun, and is affirmed by God’s very voice—

This person, who says get up, there is more yet to do, says do not be afraid, reassures with a gentle touch, and is there when fear seems to rule the world—

This person, who comes down from the mountain, returns to the people, returns to us, faces the certainty of death with resolve and compassion—

This is who we get to follow. His name is Jesus. Hallelujah.