Sunday, May 13, 2012

Only one week left to preach! I'll fill in the sermons from the Hope series this week. then, well, a break. A summer. Something different.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


What’s in a name? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Is the thing itself complete without its name? Is Mary Magdalene truly herself without her name? Ah, when you speak and think about people, names come to matter. They tell us about ourselves, our family, our history. And, most significantly, they are a window to relationship. To know a name – to have a relationship. Jesus was able to call out her Name – and she recognized him. She responded with the exclamation of relationship - Teacher!


Saturday, March 17, 2012


I've been bad about this blog - some things that go on are not bloggable - and so I neglect it. But younger sister has started a blog - so now it's a challenge. In my family we can be a wee bit competitive!

I'm winding down now - This is weekend #9 until my last weekend at the church on Memorial Day. We are doing a preaching series based on liturgy and ideas from the Changing Church forum, so I'm not posting those sermons - they are not my original work - so I take no credit. It's an interesting process, trying to re-think ideas. I believe I've added value and translated things into my own voice - even changed some of the focuii (?) when I don't agree with them.

And my counseling intern resume is ready to go. Now to find places to send it to. I get good strokes from people who know me, which counteracts the negative strokes from some of my fellow students in the counseling program. Only some, and I take them with a grain of salt, because from what I can tell, some of my fellow students are pretty anxious about their own competencies and may be projecting. (Counseling language is great for that kind of interpretation!)

Lots of meetings, still need to clean and clear and sort and set up things for my successor. With all this time as a lame duck - I announced my intentions before Christmas - there is no excuse to not leave things well.

Peace all -

Sunday, January 29, 2012

untitled sermon - 4th epiphany

4th Epiphany – January 29th, 2012 – Mark 1:21-28
This is a true story: my mother lives in Massachusetts – on Cape Cod. Some of you know this – she moved in with my oldest sister years ago when she retired, and Merry Sue had two active boys she needed help with. In the years since, Mom has had grown older, and severall years ago she had a stroke. She has also had time to become a fan of a certain football team who plays in Foxboro. Last Sunday my sister in Chicago called – about 2 o’clock their time – my mother: ‘you know better than to call during the game!’ That’s authority. My sister and I are going to take turns calling her during the Super Bowl – just to irritate her.

We all probably have stories about our parents and how they exercised their authority – some good, some not so good. Did your mother ever say any of the following to you?
- "If your friends jumped off a cliff does that mean you have to jump too?"
"Just wait till you have kids of your own!" My mother’s version of that “I hope you have a daughter just like you.” She did not mean it in a good way.

Everybody meets authority and everyone has a reaction to it. Some people have it over others, but can also recognize when they themselves are under it – some people misuse it, and refuse to recognize legitimate authority over themselves -- some people are always challenging whatever authority is in the room – some people are too malleable and always go with the strongest opinion.

Jesus taught with authority. That’s the first thing we learn about this new ministry – he teaches not like the droning scribes, but with authority. His message: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” He speaks with authority. People sit up, take notice, and nod their heads in agreement (or whatever was the first century equivalent). Something else takes notice, too. Something else happens – immediately, as Mark would say – the other side notices.

In that room there is someone who has been claimed and taken by another authority – by the power that cannot stand the truth of God. The story calls it an unclean spirit – a spirit that cannot come from God. The other side notices that there is power in the room, and knows where that power comes from. Jesus of Nazareth - You are Holy One of God – cries the unclean spirit – leave us alone!

Jesus appears – and the demons tremble. This unclean spirit – which, please note, is in the room of worshipers - is among the faithful – cannot stand what it hears. The unclean know who Jesus is – know where he comes from – know that his message and his authority and his power cannot co-exist with them. “have you comes to destroy us?” Yes, he has.

In the gospel of Mark, the appearance of Jesus with his message – the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news – creates an incredible buzz and not just on the level of ordinary, everyday men and women, although it does that. It surprises and disturbs the other side – the demons know who he is and what he is here for. And he has come to destroy them – and all that works against God.

This message – The kingdom of God is near – repent – turn from sin, and accept the Good news that God is love – is a powerful medicine for sick, for the troubled, for the possessed. There is a subtle reality here that none of us can really deny - it was true then, and it is true now.

We don’t want to admit that – we are far away from demon possession and certainly don’t need an exorcism – we don’t think about spirits, about demons, about possession in the same way – but it was true then, and true now. Aren’t we just as possessed of unclean spirits – we call them different things. And I don’t mean mental illness, and I don’t mean physical illness, (those conditions need prayer and medicine) but I am thinking of the spiritual sicknesses that existed then, and exist now.

We might know someone who can’t get off the booze, can’t stay out of the casinos, can’t resist moving on to the next woman or man. We might pray for someone we love who struggles with depression, with self-defeating behaviors, the use of pornography, drugs, who can’t see beyond their own anxiety.

Remember, the unclean spirit was right there – among the worshipers. So we, too, are called to examine who are, and what holds us away from repentance and God’s love. To what are you enthralled, possessed, held by? What do you not want to give up? What is the thread that runs through your days and nights? Anger, fear, loneliness? Shame? Frustration at things you cannot control, cannot change? Disappointment that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be?
Are you the person that someone would say is ‘always angry?’ ‘surprisingly, unexpectingly wrathful?” ‘gotta walk on eggshells around that one?” Or, are you the one who makes promises and never keeps them – having a problem with being dependable? Or are you ‘still waters run deep?”, but in your heart of hearts, the waters run muddy? Have you held a grudge, withheld your forgiveness? Anger, fear, need to control, greed, addiction, all these are spiritual sicknesses, our own unclean spirits.

This isn’t about what you know or what you have in your physical being, but about who you are, inside, where God alone can see you. It’s about recognizing the spirits that dwell within – and here is the GOOD NEWS - knowing, believing that Jesus of Nazareth has come to defeat them.
I had trouble writing this sermon because I think I was afraid of what this story was telling me – that we, even now, even after Jesus’ great redemption, still need his word – we still need to hear that authoritative word that disturbs the spirits that enslave us.

I’ve been thinking for quite a while that if we really knew Jesus, we wouldn’t be too comfortable with him – because he would have looked right into our hearts, and known what keeps us from the Love of God. And that part of us would cry out – “are you trying to destroy us?” Yes, he is. Jesus comes into the world to claim the world for the God of love and power. He comes into our hearts to claim our hearts and minds and souls for the God of love and power.

We may not want to go there. We may not want to be there. But we can’t claim to walk with Jesus, to seek his will, to carry his name without facing up to the power of WHO HE IS - his spirit, of his identity as the Holy One of God. The unclean spirit could not – and neither can our unclean spirits of anger, fear, greed, control.

The things we cling to, and that cling to us, the attitudes and addictions and troubles that keep us from loving God and our neighbor - those are the proper subject of Jesus’ authority. There are things that we are to repent. There are things that need to hear the word – come out! When Jesus shows up, things change – we change.

That is authority, true authority. If the story was true then, it is true today – the coming of Jesus, the Holy One of God – into our presence is disturbing and astonishing and incredible. He teaches with authority and he acts with authority. If we ask to be in his presence, then we will change. We become those for whom loving our neighbor becomes a reality that takes us out of ourselves and into service. We become those who will not hide what we believe, and who can worship with full and open hearts before a God who forgives us and loves us.

So let us invite Jesus of Nazareth in our worship, and into our hearts – look for his authority in your life, recognize he may make you uncomfortable – but invite him in and accept his authority – and you will celebrate the Good News indeed.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

An older sermon on the annunciation

Thought I'd share an older sermon on the Annunciation - it's about 6 years old. It's based loosely on Luther's focus 'Mary said yes.' But as I went through commentaries on-line, I found a well-reasoned argument that 'it's not about Mary.' Now, both ways may be true. Here's my take on the Lutheran aspect.

In Advent, we discover themes that shape our identity. We have heard that we are the waiting people, between the incarnation and the promise of something more -
we are the wilderness people,
holding on to God’s words in a time and place that isn’t really open to knowing God.

And today, today we hear of a third Advent element - the giving and acceptance of call. We see, in Mary, the first believer, the open heart, the one who says Yes. Here then, is the whole message of Advent, that the people who wait, who live in the wilderness to be shaped as a people of holiness and godliness, are also given the call to embody God - and the opportunity to respond to that call.

We hear of Mary, not even really a woman. She’s betrothed, not married yet - probably pretty young (although I think 13 may be stretching it). We usually assume that she was pious, a good, trusting young woman, but honestly, we don’t know that. She could have been a tomboy, a rebellious teenager, resisting her appointed role. All we know is that she is the one to whom the angel came.

And that angel Gabriel came, and spoke to her and she was perplexed, puzzled, and dismayed - as most of us would be if an angel spoke such words to us. “Howdy, You’ve been selected, for a special mission of incredible significance - which, by the way, will ruin your reputation, change all your plans and cause you incredible heartbreak.”

And Mary said yes. “You will conceive a child - in a miracle - and that child will be the Son of God, and the King of David’s line.” and she said Yes. She said “Look, I’m God’s, let it be so.”

God entered humanity this way. Through Mary. Through creation. Through this one person - about whom we really know very little - except she said Yes. Mary was of the people who were waiting - waiting for a Messiah. And she would enter her own wilderness - the place where she alone knew the depth of joy and pain that this child would bring - Mary would ponder all these things in her heart.

And what is so wonderful about this story is that we are all Mary - we are all waiting in the wilderness for a Messiah - and we are those to whom God will offer a call - a mission - a job to do.

And that is exactly the point, the point of Advent - the point of all these stories. God acts through ordinary human beings like you and me, ordinary human beings that trust God enough to undertake extraordinary missions beyond their capabilities or imaginings.

God comes to us in creation - and God became creation - became human in this most loving act of “incarnation.” God always comes to us through creation. To us God comes through the water of baptism, through the bread and wine of the Holy Communion, through the hand of a loved one, or through the voice of a stranger. Mostly, God comes to us in ordinary ways, through ordinary people. This God uses us, ordinary people, to do his work now.

An author visited a monastery and greeted one of the monks with the words “Merry Christmas.” and he said to her “May Christ be born in you.” (Sue Monk Kidd) She pondered this, as Mary did, as we might. What might it mean that Christ be born in us?

That is the message of Advent - may Christ be born in us - may we become “Marys” in our time and place. It’s about an attitude: Look, here I am, let it be done to me, with me, in me, as you, God desire. If God’s desire is to make Christ real, to make Christ known - and he chooses us to do so - what shall we say?

We repeat these lessons, year after year, so that we can be asked, and ask ourselves - what must happen for that birth to take place? What must happen in us, in me, so that Christ may be born in us, in me? What must change - what must be given up or what must be found? What must enter into our hearts and what must be released? What must be shared and what must be nurtured, so that Christ may be born in us?

For Mary, the Mother of Jesus - at this point it was her own plan, her project, even her self-image - that had to be made subordinate to the will of the God. It was the adoption of an attitude of obedience, of trust and yes, a willingness to submit her expectations to the plan of God.

For us individually, it may be our desires to keep things secure and safe - to take the easy road. For the faith community of _______ I would suggest it is similar. Soon you will have the new _____ that God desires - you will no longer be in the interim time, you will no longer be holding your breath.

And, rather than see this new period as the time of setting out your own personal agendas - I challenge you to enter this time as the Virgin Mary did - with an open heart to hear the call, to accept the mission, to search out and be obedient to the will of God. The call is coming - in some way the call is here - in the needs and desires and lonely hearts all around us. Now it is for us to find the attitude of obedience, trust and seeking for the Holy Spirit that will allow us, with Mary, to say Yes.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Unexpected Saints


Unexpected Saints – Matthew 5:1=12, Revelation 7:9-17 “Gives self away”

In this time of instant communication we can be friends with anyone, anytime. We can follow the instant musing of – what’s his name – you know, that young guy who married and cheated on Demi Moore – now he has a tv series – oh yeah- how could I forget – Ashton Kutcher – you can friend and follow him. He’s made a career, it seems, at being the guy who will give you a glimpse of how the other half – other 1%? – lives.

We can live in our imaginations; we can invest our interest in other people, famous people. Marketers use our curiosity to drive us to their sites, like cattle, we are commodities. Watch and discuss Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, or whatever is the newest fad! Of course these celebrities are not in our world; of course we hope we are smarter than the marketers.

So how do we speak of saints in such a world? How do we speak of holiness when we are distracted and focused in commerce and media, bombarded by cultural and political and economic forces that would have us live in the here and now – only in the here and now, responding to whims, playing the game? How do think of ourselves as servants of God when we struggle with health issues, with decisions about family and life itself. What quality of life, of faith, of hope, of perseverance, links us with the ones who have gone before?

Jesus says: Blessed are you. He uses the truly ancient concept that God looks with love and honor upon those who follow him. To be blessed means there is a connection – between us and God. To bless something is to give it a sacred meaning. To bless a meal is to say that what you are doing is a holy thing. To bless a person, means that God’s holiness is to penetrate their very core and to make them holy. Jesus is not playing around when he pronounces, “Blessed are you.” He is offering a great gift. He is offering to his listeners a way of life by which they will be the blessed of God – the holy ones, the sanctified, the saints.

I gather from our lessons there are three elements to this saint-making process of God.

1. Set-apartness

2. Going through tribulation for the sake of that set-apartness.

3. Trusting God in midst of it all.

The first may be the hardest – to be blessed, to be a saint, to be sanctified – means to be set apart. It means to stand away from the shallow ways identity is shaped for us – to find our deepest identity, not in the nation, not in the culture, not in our education, not in our obligations, not even in our family – but to find our core identity in being a child of God.

To know, in our hearts, that we have a different call to life – I would almost describe it as to put the best old-fashioned values at the center of our lives. Listen – the best old fashioned values, like honoring the family into which you were born, and the family which you choose to create. Like serving in the greater world, not blindly, but seeking wisdom, honoring differences and respecting those who differ. Honoring the body through restraint and prudence. Sharing the wealth. Truly caring for your neighbor.

Say we ask what is needed in our neighborhood – and it’s afterschool programming. We can set ourselves apart, and live out our identity as servants, not just takers.

Second. Understand that being set-apart will be challenging. The forces of this world do not like those who don’t conform. The forces of this world will work against our seeking to serve– it can be as dramatic as ‘I don’t forgive and won’t forget what happened/didn’t happen’– it can be as subtle as the ‘I don’t want to go and help today!’ issue. Perhaps to be poor in spirit means not to carry grudges, not to remember past wrongs, and re-commit to the good of the community.

The forces of resistance are subtle, are seductive, and are everywhere – in the distractions of television, the internet and get rich quick, get healthy now, take care of yourself first. Mourn quickly and get back to work. Work a lot, hover over the children, and get priorities right – school, sports, family and then, maybe, sometimes, faith.

If our identity calls us to serve our neighbors – our real life neighbors – and our method of dong that is afterschool programming – then the subtle resistance is in the message – “someone else can lead, help, deal with it.” It is in saying “I’m tired of hearing about it already.” It is in wondering – when did I sign up for this – for this active service, for this getting out of myself?

That bring us back to the core question of our lives – whom do we trust? From where will we take our direction? From the society around us? From our own self-monitor (which is usually conditioned by those very same outside forces?) From a higher power – and where do we find that? Jesus calls those who are his sheep to listen to his voice. That’s key – it’s the voice of the Shepherd, found in our Scriptures. We trust our God.

Those who are blessed are set apart, and will know resistance, even persecution, but they will find their trust in God rewarded. They will be comforted, receive mercy, know God, be recognized as children of God. They will be part of the kingdom.

What is does it mean to take being a saint seriously in our time? Again and again, we are called to an older, realer form of life. More like the life of past generations – of the generations that built and nurtured this community into life.

Life that is lived in relationship with those around us – not with the media stars or escapist fiction – life that recognizes our deepest investment is our loved ones, our community and our faith. The promises that Jesus holds out in the list of blessings are not just for others – not just for those who have passed away, or those who are especially great in faith – for the Mother Theresas and the great reformers. These are promises for you and me, for everyday people, living everyday lives trying everyday projects – with extraordinary awareness.

We have been called out to be servants, set apart for his work – we must recognize that there will be ordeals, will be resistance, will be frustrations – and we trust and claim the promises that God offers.


About the Law

Proper 25A/Lect. 30A, October 23, 2011 – PLC, Matthew 22:34-46
‘About the Law’ – concentrating on the first half of our reading.

Jesus is at the end of his dialogues with his opponents – they have challenged him on all points of law and theology – shall we pay taxes to the emperor, who shall be married in the afterlife, what will be the place of the nation of Israel in God’s great plans. Jesus has answered with wit and wisdom and power – and astonished the crowds, and convinced those in power that he must be silenced.

By pulling together these two great scriptures from the Old Testament (Deut. and Leviticus) Jesus holds together two strands of law into one great whole of Love. Love God and Love Neighbor. He is not the first and will not be the last great teacher to do this. We hear similar exhortations from many, many traditions. So much that we think – ahh, the Golden Rule. Jesus does state it, earlier in Matthew 7 – do unto others as you would have them do to you.

My mother used to pull the Golden Rule on us. I’m sure she felt it was the best way to get some semblance of order in our big and let us say, personally diverse clan. I am between two brothers – Jimmy – 18 months older than I, and Peter, who is 3 years younger. When we were in elementary school we would get into battles – and sometimes my mother would come upon us and pull us apart – usually I was on the bottom of the pile, because they would gang upon me. “You know the Golden Rule – do unto others . . . Would you like it if Nancy hit you.” Jimmy would answer - “I can take it – so should she.”

That’s the great downfall of the Golden Rule by itself – it is really based on what one can endure, on what is expedient, on what is acceptable, what I can imagine. Its basis is loving the self – and self love can lack imagination. Self love can wear blinders. Jesus wants us to go farther – to think about the other person as a creation of God, beloved by God.

Look at the order of what Jesus says – and that will tell us all. The First commandment, and the greatest – is to Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love God with all the parts of you that are in the image of God. Love God with all the intellect, emotions and will you have. The word ‘love’ here is that wonderful scriptural concept of ‘agape’ – which combines affection and attention, will and action, adoration and trust.

Understand the "love" that is being called for is not emotion; it is not "liking," "getting along with," "desiring," or "feeling warm about." The "love" Jesus is talking about here is trust, loyalty, enduring devotion, being attached to. You may actually hate your neighbor, but you will still love them in the Biblical sense if you continue to act for their well-being, don't tell lies about them, and refuse to cut off your relationship with them.

Jesus goes beyond the Golden Rule when he connects it with Loving God – loving your neighbor (which can be hard, indeed) is the response to turning to God with your all. The Golden Rule is not enough, he says. First, one turns upward – acknowledging that self – which the Golden Rule depends upon – is created, loved, guided and judged by the Almighty.

In some ways he is speaking past his immediate hearers, to all those, who like us – find ourselves without law, without clear direction, without clear answers on how do we behave, how do we act, how do we love?

Loving your neighbor is good, but not enough. Jesus suggests that without love of God – a person cannot fully love their fellow human being. Turning toward God is primary – is the bedrock of any ethics, any morals, any choices made.

I said earlier that Jesus pulls together two strands – Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, but he slips in a third thread – at the end there – ‘on these hang all the law and the prophets.’ Yes, there are other laws besides the Law of loving God, the law of loving neighbor. There are particular rules established for good order, for care of each other, for protection. Now, In today’s world, we like to think anything goes – that love not only conquers all, love excuses all. Love excuses all sorts of bad behavior and injury to others. Listen to Jesus – he’s not going there. Three strands, not just two.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself and on that hangs all the law and the prophets – he does not say that by those two commandments all the law is dismissed, dissolved and moot.

The law of old – the law Jesus knew very well – was a law code that pointed out answers to questions of everyday life – what to wear, what to eat, etc. It seems strange to us, liberated as we are – that these things would ever be commanded. But remember – ‘on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’ – on these two great commandments – hang all the decisions that we will make. We don’t have 613 little laws – but we do have the same issues of how we live, what choices we make, what elements of our environment become important.

For us today – it’s not about 613 individual prescriptions – but it is about a call to think about our lives and our choices with deliberation and concern for others.

You will hear and read much in the weeks and months to come, from your church leadership, and from people who are engaged in programs here at Peace Lutheran about ways you can act in love toward your neighbor. Some of the ways will be giving ways – giving financially to support our church budget – and giving out of special love for projects that are unique – our new doors, mailing off those Christmas child boxes, helping the Teachers Closet or K-Force. Love your neighbor through working with children at Sunday School or K-Force, through serving on your church leadership, through offering to God your voice at worship or on a service committee.

Some of you may think, in your heart, why doesn’t the church let us be – why do they ask so much? My walk with God is private, personal and not for anyone else to judge. And that is true, but as we are motivated by these words of Jesus – Love God, Love Neighbor, and with those two statements in mind - Think about your life – where else will you be as welcome to express your faith as with your church family? Where else will you find forgiveness when you fail to express love? And where else will you find the Savior, who will be your example of love incarnate?