Archive | sermons RSS feed for this section

pity, party of one.

8 Dec
It’s my birthday.
I’m 29, boring, and I loathe sermon writing.
The day started out well.  I woke up on my grandparents’ couch.  I was home in Edgerton for an ever-so-very-brief two nights because of a memorial service I led on Friday in Illinois for a Dancing Banana’s father-in-law.  I was honored to have been asked to lead the service and grateful to have a way in which to contribute and help in such a difficult time.  And the funeral director?  Crazy awesome.  [And by crazy awesome I mean crazy.]
Anyways, I woke up on my grandparents’ couch.  We went out for breakfast, meeting my mom and her gentleman friend.  It was fun and delicious.  Next we went to see the new house of my mother’s.  I shopped local with Grandma and popped by to say happy birthday to my birthday buddy cousin, Connor [who is 20 and had returned from study abroad in Ghana just the night before].  Then I packed up and headed out.  From that point on, my birthday got really lame really fast.
I stopped at Starbucks in Wisconsin Dells to claim my free birthday drink and then I stopped in LaCrosse to claim my Mabel who had been boarded there for the past two nights.  We drove home and I muddled my way through a patchwork, likely-disaster sermon for tomorrow.  [I’d had a funeral at ROG on Wednesday; between that and the memorial service on Friday, no Sunday prep was to be found during the work week.]  When I have to write my Sunday sermons on Saturday night [my birthday, nonetheless], I become a monster.  I become a monster who cries and will say she hates her job.  A bitter monster.  deep breath.

Maybe when you turn 29, birthdays just get boring and bitter by default.  
No?  It’s just me?
Of course.
I used to say that birthdays were my excuse to make my friends do something I wanted to do.  Like have friends over to my house.  Or go on an adventure.  Or play crazy board games.  Or eat cake.  Now maybe birthdays will be my excuse to drink wine at home alone [which really makes it no different than any other night].

Party on, Wayne.

Party on, Garth.

dear insecure self,

8 Sep
I’m trying to not let you ruin my evening but you’ve made a strong appearance tonight.
I’m trying to remind myself that I’m just coming off of a great retreat.  Really great.  The kids had fun and I hope learned at least one thing about the Bible.  We had a campfire and went hiking and stayed up too late and ate camp food.  It was fun.  jD and I plan awesome retreats.  [Did I tell you that?  jD and I planned together and forced our confirmation kids to make new friends with each other.  They like it.]  You probably want to return to your adolescence just to go on one, right?  
But now that I’m home, I’m questioning everything I did.  Was I enough fun?  Did I lead that one thing right?  Was I too snarky with that one kid that I’m always snarky with?  Did I get a little crabby without any Lindsay-reflection-time for 24 hours?  Do my confirmation kids now wish they had much cooler Pastor jD as their teacher instead of me?  Was I too square?  [Probably because at one point I said, Paths are here for a reason!]  Insecure self, you make me question the awesomeness of the retreat and I loathe you for it.  
Now I have a sermon to write for tomorrow because, of course, I wasn’t able to get it done before I left for the retreat because it was crazy with everything else.  A friend sent me hers to read to see if it would spar any ideas of my own.  What do I do when I read someone else’s sermon?  Realize that mine will never be as insightful, engaging, or competently written.  I should just preach hers [she gave me permission] but I feel like that would be cheating.  AND then I fear everyone in my congregation would love it more than they’ve ever loved a sermon of mine before.  Insecure self, you suck.
There is more but I should probably stop spilling every insecure thought in my soul.  Enough for tonight.
I must now plagiarize Paige’s sermon for tomorrow morning.
You win for now, insecure self, but this isn’t over.

wedding season.

25 Aug
One wedding this weekend.  Two next weekend.
The one this weekend is one I’ve actually been excited about.  Let’s just say this to start – weddings are hard for me as a pastor.  Weddings are often events where I know only the couple getting married and maybe a handful of others.  Weddings require me to spend time with a whole bunch of people I don’t know and that is exhausting for me.  Weddings are another sermon for the week and are all so different from each other that each is its own entity requiring thought and planning and time.
This weekend’s wedding is for a couple with whom I would love to be friends.  They are beyond kind and friendly.  They were the first people at Red Oak Grove to have me over for dinner, which happened when I visited their house regarding their daughter’s baptism.  The groom is also part of a family that I know.  His cousin is in my confirmation class.  Through being a part of his great-uncle’s funeral a couple months ago, I was able to meet a lot of the family.  It was comforting to know that I would show up at the farm and have familiar faces.  In fact, this was the first wedding at ROG where I was a.) invited and b.) went to the rehearsal dinner.  And it was fun!  I sat at the kids’ table with Marnie, the confirmation student, and the other kiddos in the wedding.  One of them, a six year old boy, cracked me up beyond belief.  It was great entertainment for the evening.
And then there is the farm.  That’s the other part of this wedding that excited me.  The ceremony was to take place at the bride’s family farm.  I like that say that it was my wedding.  Only I attended as officiant.  Hay bales, mason jars, on the family farm.  Pretty sure I blogged about this way back when.  I was excited to see how this picture perfect wedding played out. 
Let’s just say it rained.  We held out as long as we could and it looked like we had a window of clearing.  The bridal party lined up and we started the ceremony.  Halfway through the declaration of intention, the sky opened up and it started to pour again.  Vows, rings, kiss, done.  [A little bummed that the wedding homily I worked on for a few hours will never be preached but so the cookie crumbles and the rain falls.]  Everyone was soaked by the end of it, even with umbrellas throughout the crowd and wedding party.  
The couple was so great about it though.  I think some brides and grooms would turn sour at such a unwelcome shower of rain but they practically laughed through the whole thing and were so great about it.  It’s one not to be forgotten.  I’m home briefly now to throw my clothes in the dryer before heading off again to the dinner portion of the celebration.  Luckily, that is slated to be inside at a ballroom.  Mmm, cake.

[summer list.]

23 Jun
I know this summer will speed on by; it always does.

Heck, June is almost over as it is! In the hustle and bustle, I’m attempting to make the most of it.

That means it’s list time, people.  And it’s all about rest, rediscovery, and joy.

. I have a state park pass in my window.  I shall use it.  Mabel and I can go hiking.  [We were going to explore Myre Big Island State Park this morning but then it was overcast with rain.  Another time soon.]
. Screw makeup.  I’m hiding away all my eyeshadows and eyeliners and bronzers and everything else.  Why do I spend time doing all that?  [I will still put on a protective layer of foundation.  It has sunscreen in it, people.  And maybe a little mascara.]  On a similar note, find the easiest, low maintenance hair style ever.  I think my haircut on Friday may have helped in this department.  [Short in the back!]
. Perfect the overnight refrigerator oatmeal breakfast.  Six individual servings in canning jars in the fridge now.  With strawberries!  [Old fashioned oats.  Almond milk.  Strawberries.  That’s it.]
. Drink water, drink water, drink water.  And iced coffee.
. Always be crafty and re-inventive.  Some things need new life.  [I spray painted a file cabinet today – avocado green with hopeful gray chevron drawers to be yet achieved and fabric yet to be found.]
. Sermons written by Thursday.  [I know.  I say that all the time but this time, there is motivation.  Paige made a bet with the devil and I hope to help her lose.  Two week success so far and it’s such a joy to not be writing on Saturday night.]

. Find and embrace Sabbath time.  We all need that.  Often more than we even know until we take it.

. Get out of town!  Opportunities for this and places tbd.  [With the exception of Stillwater next weekend already on the calendar.  Gieseke B&B bound!]

. Find myself in a canoe or kayak on the water as often as time will allow.  [Finding a man with a Subaru Outback and two kayaks strapped to the top would be a great alternative to this, but I’m not holding my breath.]

. Learn to let things be.  I’m pulling back on pushing certain church work things through … maybe they just need to be instead of pushed.  There are other things on which I can spend my time.

. Read.  I already feel this being a huge stress relief at work, as I made time each day this past week.

There’s more.  There’s always more.  But this is a good place to begin.

I’ll keep you posted [as always].


20 Nov
Sunday.  Sunday.  Sunday.
Church at 9am.  I started with a joke today.  It felt right.
[Dear Noah,
We swear you said the ark wasn’t leaving until 1.
The unicorns]
Har.  Har.  Har.
Then I challenged the congregation to share the peace without touching each other.  They weren’t allowed to shake hands.  They thought it was cute but it was probably the novelty of it.  I don’t think they’ll think it’s cute next week.
Then hello sermon number two.  I had to preach this evening at an ecumenical [read: Lutherans and Catholics] Thanksgiving service.  To heck if I was able to write it while still thinking about my Sunday morning service.  It’s not how I work, folks.
Sermon writing intermission: Mabel and I walked out to the dumpster to throw something out.  I opened the lid of the dumpster and a terrified cat jumped out.  Mabel chased it and treed it.
Print sermon.  Smell something foul.  Find Mabel had gone number two on the hardwood floor of a spare bedroom.  That’s a first.  [And hopefully a last.]
Paige and I had a date to meet at 4pm at one of jD’s church.  It’s church dinner season in Minnesota, donchaknow, and Aurora Lutheran was hosting an oyster stew and chili supper.  We had kept it a secret that we would be attending and surprised the bowtied pastor at the door.  He convinced me I wanted to pay two extra dollars to try the oyster stew.  I tried.  And soon traded the bowl in for chili instead.
From there [and after requesting that our server tell Lauren in the kitchen that we were highly unsatisfied with our food to get her attention – the perfect ploy] I drove to Blooming to prepare for this Thanksgiving service and the preaching of the sermon I was really unsure about.  Lo and behold, it proved true again that any sermon I think is terrible is the one I receive the most positive feedback.  [Unless of course everyone was just super nice to the new girl.  That is also possible.  Pity compliments are always a possibility.]
Long Sunday, folks.  Long Sunday.  A long Sunday to be followed by three long days of busy, busy work in order to prepare to take off for Wisconsin on Thursday for a couple days.  Here we go.
[You can be the judge yourself.  Below is the sermon I thought was mediocre but highly complimented by others.  Pity praise?  You decide or can jump on the boat of pity.]  [It’s a joke, folks,  I’m not really that down on myself or think that everything said to me is a lie through other’s teeth.]
What do you see?  It’s like that popular children’s book Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? The book goes through different animals of different colors, teaching children about animals and colors and patterns.  Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?  I see a red bird looking at me.  Red bird, red bird, what do you see?  I see a blue horse looking at me.  And the pattern continues.  Maybe I should ask you –  people of God, people of God, what do you see?  We likely haven’t seen any blue horses lately so our answers would be much different than the book.  And I would add a second question on the next page – What do you do when you see?
It kind of goes without saying that what we see makes all the difference.  What we see shapes our outlook and our behavior.  If we see snow on the ground outside, we put on our boots.  If we see someone crying, we comfort them.  If we see the stoplight turn yellow ahead of us, we use the brakes on our car.  And if we saw a blue horse like the one in the children’s story, we might be speechless.
What we see makes all the difference.  People who wear glasses know this.  People who have been subject to unfortunate eyesight loss know this.  I wear contacts during the day and so, come night, I take them out and put on my glasses.  I go to bed, putting my glasses on my beside table.  Always in the same place.  One morning, I woke up, grabbed my glasses, put them on, and went about my morning.  I turned on the light in my bedroom and turned on my computer.  Something wasn’t quite right.  Was the light not working properly?  It seemed awfully dark in my bedroom.  And my computer screen was hard to read.  I blinked over and over, leaned in closer to the desk and realized my eyesight was terrible.  Why couldn’t I see?  What we see makes all the difference and at this point, I couldn’t see like I should be able to and my behavior reflected that.  I became a bit crazy, a bit fearful, wondering what could be going on.  I took off my glasses thinking, maybe, just maybe, they were really dirty and needed to be cleaned.  In my morning fog, my still half-awake state of mind, I pulled off … my non-prescription sunglasses.  They weren’t the right glasses at all.  What we see makes all the difference.
In verse 14 of our gospel reading, Jesus sees the lepers who call out to him.  And when he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’  In these times, if a leper was healed, it was a priest who had to certify that the person was clean once again before they could become a part of the community once more.  And as the lepers went as Jesus said to them, they were made clean.  Jesus saw a need and acted to meet it. 
Likewise, then one of the lepers sawthat he was healed and turned back.  Because he saw that he was healed, he praised God and thanked Jesus.  What the leper saw affected his behavior.  When the leper saw that he was healed, he didn’t just celebrate his good fortune on his own or with the other nine, but turned around with gratefulness. 

In both [of these] cases, seeing means more than just physical sight – it means on the one hand perceiving the opportunity to be merciful toward another, and on the other hand the recognition that God’s mercy has touched one’s life.

It’s not only what you see but it is what you do when you see. 

When Jesus saw people in need, when he saw people on the outside, he acted.  Jesus restored them to fullness.  With the healing Jesus pronounced upon the ten, those ten lepers would no longer need to live outside of the community.  Those ten lepers would no longer need to cry out, “Unclean, unclean” if someone were to approach them.  Christ invites them into a wholeness of life once more, into a lifemuch unlike the one they were forced to live before.  And the one who returned recognized the mercy of God that had touched him and made him clean; for that, he was grateful.

Seeing can make all the difference. What do you see?  Make sure you are not wearing your sunglasses instead of your prescription lenses and take account of what’s around you.  It’s not even always about what we see – it’s what we feel, touch, and smell.  Are you aware of what goes on around you?
Take account of the people around and the needs that are present in our lives and the lives of our neighbors.  Jesus saw the need of the lepers – people cast outside because of a disease.  What needs do you see?  What do you perceive about the world around you?  Around us?
Let’s take our community of Blooming Prairie as context.  Some people might guess that the needs in our community are small.  Blooming is a small and proud community; the kind where people know people and directions are given by landmarks instead of street addresses.  Yet, there are still needs present in this community and in communities around us.  It’s true that sometimes people in need simply do not catch our attention. A coworker we label as crabby may be struggling with a difficult family situation, and we might learn that if only we ask. Who notices an international student far from home and family, or the person separated from family during the holidays? Other times, we simply pass by people whose lives are a day-to-day struggle to survive. There are people who need care, families who need help, and people who may simply need to feel that they are loved.
Remembering also the tenth leper who returned to give thanks once he saw he was healed, let’s touch on his reaction to what he saw.  There’s this second part of seeing and acting present in the text.  What do you see for which you can give thanks?  How do we live grateful lives in response to how we see God is working in and through us?  In this season of thanksgiving, we focus on the gratitude piece.  I asked the confirmation students at Red Oak Grove to put together a wall of thankfulness.  Everything from friends to pets to family to music to chores showed up on their lists.  I would wonder what you see each and every day – this season and throughout the year – for which gratitude is a wonderful and proper response. 
Remember the big question is this – what do you see and what do you do when you see?  If you go home with one thing stuck in your head, think about what you see and how you act.  Do you see the need for food shelf availability and purchase extra food items at the grocery store?  Do you see a lonely neighbor in need of conversation and so you knock on her door?  Do you see the blessings of parents, children, and friends in your own life, and make them aware of the gratitude you have for their love?  Do you see God healing someone you love and thank God in prayer and praise? 
As we read this text and as we are a part of this thanksgiving, soon to be advent, and upcoming Christmas season, perhaps what goes forward with us is that faith is a way of seeing.  Believing in Christ calls us to open our eyes and employ all our senses to the world around us.  Which of our neighbors need assistance?  How can we help?  What are our blessings for which to be grateful?  A rabbi says it this way – “Religion is not primarily a set of beliefs, a collection of prayers or a series of rituals. Religion is first and foremost a way of seeing. It can’t change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a difference.”
If we believe that faith is a way of seeing, what we see should lead us to act.  Reaching out, helping others, and making a joyful noise in response to God’s mercy and grace.  Thanking and praising God along the journey.   What do you see and what will you do when you see? People of God, people of God, what do you see?  Amen.

one year ago –

12 Jan
The earthquake in Haiti.
The Luther Seminary community paused at 3:45 this afternoon for a brief time of song, prayer, and to hear the bells toll for 35 seconds, reminding us of those who died and the rebuilding still happening.
I remember talking about it at work that day last year.  The following day, as we were continually swallowed by news reports on the devastation and climbing death toll, I recall the stewardship board allotting immediate funds to go towards the relief effort.  I remember driving to the Cities to attend a prayer service organized by Ben Larson’s friends and classmates from Luther.  I came back to Dawson to write a sermon.  I remember preaching, praying, and hugging that Sunday.
Today I’m remembering and I’m praying.  
I’m hoping you’ll do the same.

fan club.

18 Oct
I went home this past weekend to be the *guest preacher* at my home congregation.  It was the first time I preached to the people at East Koshkonong and I was n.e.r.v.o.u.s.  The story among preachers is always both how hard it is and how positive it is to return to the congregation in which you were raised as a preacher.  It’s hard because the people in the congregation have known you from a small child through your awkward teenage phases – and now you’re preaching to them?  On the other side, you could condemn the people of your congregation and they would still tell you how proud they are of you and how you did a great job.  I was not too confident in my message; there was plenty of room for the Holy Spirit to work.  Not my best by any means.  But as I shook hands and received hugs after church, everyone made it sound like I did quite alright.  Wonderful.  A+.  Let me hug you.  Good job.  Everyone was very gracious.
I began my sermon by telling the congregation that I’m fairly certain the last time I stood in that pulpit was as a middle school narrator for the Christmas pageant.  I never would have guessed that I would return fifteen or so years later as a preacher.  The journey that led me to this place is thanks much to the people at East – they asked me to narrate the pageant.  They invited me to play my flute with the senior choir.  The called out in me the gifts they saw for ministry.  Fast forward a decade and a half and here I am.
Above and beyond the congregation at East, I felt completely uplifted and supported by my fan club.  That’s what I’ll call them – a fan club that I’m certain spanned more than three pews full, had they all been sitting together.  It’s the first time I’ve preached within an eight hour drive so this was many of their first opportunities to hear me.  I did the math – supporting me in my guest preaching role were:

1 mom
2 siblings
3 grandparents
4 aunts
4 uncles
5 cousins
2 friends from high school + 3 young boys

I heard from many people as I shook hands and greeted after the service that two physical bodies were missing from my fan club.  “Your Grandma Vera would be so proud of you!” many of the church ladies told me.  The other?  “Your dad would love to hear you preach!  He’d be so very proud of you.”  True story.

final sermon.

31 Aug
For those of you were weren’t able to worship at Grace on Sunday –
(Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16)

As I arrive at this morning – my last morning with you here at Grace – and to this sermon, I reflect on my year of partnering in ministry with you. It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since you welcomed me into this congregation. I felt the Hebrews text for today speaking in wonderful ways to my year with you and to the congregation here. I first read the text and felt myself beginning to tear up – tears of joy that my year is finally done and over! (shaking head) No. That is definitely not the case. So not true. I am saddened at the thought of leaving. This has been a wonderful year in ministry with all of you – you are welcoming people in a wonderful community. But still, in a way, they are tears of joy too. In talking with someone about being sad because I’m leaving, he reminded me that it is a happy day too. Not because you’re happy to be getting rid of me – I hope – but happy because it has been a good year. If it hadn’t been a good year, I wouldn’t be sad and I wouldn’t be teary-eyed. There is celebration here today too – a celebration of this community and the ministry you do.

This section of Hebrews teaches us how to live as a community of faith in an indifferent world. We are worshipping on Sunday morning and that puts us in the minority. Each of us could easily count ten people that we know that aren’t in church this morning – either with us or across the country. I don’t need names – not looking to throw blame here – but just think about it. As we sit here, we’re not the majority. More and more, we find the secular world overwhelming, systems that put us as Christians on the outside, part of the few. This section in Hebrews is why we are different from the broader culture, this is the life we practice. Just the other day, someone told me, ‘You know, it’s not always easy to be a Christian.’ No! It’s not. It is not always easy to live out these things that the author of Hebrews directs us towards.

This selection from Hebrews almost reads like those books you will find on the shelf at the library in the self-help section. The books that promise they can help you live your best life now. Books with the top ten ways to reach personal success. Seven steps for living at your fullest potential. It gives instructions, ways to live. But the difference here in Hebrews is that living life to the fullest has little to do with yourself. Living your best life is tied to the best lives of others. There is no self-talk here – no direction to develop a healthy self image. It doesn’t tell us to focus inwardly on our own lives, or to give direction to a selfish vision involving only yourself. To live as a community in Christ, a community of faith, is to be a family with open hands, hospitality, and care for all people. Living our best lives, our lives to the fullest, is connected to the quality of the lives of those around us.

Much of what the writer of Hebrews commends us to do is what I have witnessed within this community in the past year. I read this passage and can think of examples, of places where I have seen this faith lived out – places where your concern, your focus is outward, reaching to others than yourself was practiced and shared.

Remember those who are in prison, as though you are in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. We could add these statements – remember those who work eight hours a day for $2 as though they are your neighbor and you’re working alongside them. Or remember those who are in the midst of a natural disaster – a nightmare – as though you are there beside them. In my time with you, I’ve seen this congregation go to work and put your faith into action to meet our neighbors. You’ll remember that we collected items for health kits, shortly after the earthquake in Haiti. The donations kept coming and – in the whole process of it – we put together well over 400 kits with supplies to spare. 400 kits! Those toothbrushes, washcloths and other supplies that we had an abundance of, that were left over, were recently sent to Kenya to be shared with our neighbors there. A cousin of mine was embarking on a month-long trip to an International Village in Kenya and, together with his travel mates, they packed their suitcases with those extra supplies we had. We had hundreds of toothbrushes, plus many washcloths, bars of soap, and combs to give.

He sent these pictures to share with you – pictures of the women, the students at the secondary school, and the children in the orphanage who received these goods were happy and appreciative. Connor, my cousin, wrote in the description of the pictures that he had never before seen someone so excited about a bar of soap. You gave them a bar of soap. These women that you see work for eight hours a day, often with their children on their backs, and earn $2 for their labor. The children in the orphanage were excited to have their own toothbrushes – they have nothing more than the clothes on their back so to have their own toothbrush is awesome. You gave them a toothbrush. More than a toothbrush – more than a bar of soap. You gave them love, gave them hope, and, through action, showed them that they have worth, even when the rest of the world easily casts them aside. We remember those who struggle, who are in need, and who call upon their neighbors to help them in their despair.

We live abundantly and focus on what Hebrews tells us in regards to this – keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. We had an abundance of health kit supplies to share. We all have an abundance of things – including money – when we think about our neighbors in the world. So often we connect our best life, the improvement of our life, to money. That’s what many of the self-help books claim – that these skills will lead you to be more successful. What does success often boil down to in our culture? You’ll earn more money. Our culture tells us that when we have more, things will be better.

Hebrews calls us to live our life free from the love of money. Money isn’t what should be loved or worshipped. Instead, let mutual love of each other continue. Give love to your fellow believers in the community. Love to strangers through hospitality. Welcoming people, being a congregation that welcomes the stranger is a vital way to demonstrate love. Sometimes it’s hard to envision what that looks like at Grace in Dawson. We’re not in a metropolitan area where new people are consistently in and out. I’ve learned that there aren’t many strangers in Dawson. People know pretty much everyone and, well, people are related to pretty much everyone. Just the other day, someone made a connection for me – did you know that so-and-so is so-and-so’s grandma? No. I had no clue! In a year here, I still haven’t figured out the many ways in which people are connected and families are intertwined. Though the immediate people around us may not be strangers in that sense of the word, we can use our connections to evangelize, to preach the Christian gospel, to live our lives with the same mind that was in Christ. Perhaps there are strangers to the gospel, strangers to the love of community that need an open hand, an inviting word. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, or people you know well, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews instructs us in the midst of this community of believers but not just here – outside the church doors we’re called to live in this way. I leave for another year of school in St.Paul, saddened to say goodbye but looking back with such gratitude. That’s my story this morning. When I walk out the doors, that’s where I’m heading. As that is mine, all of you have your own stories. I don’t know where you’re going after worship this morning or what is heavy on your mind. Changes in health. Transitions to a new school year. Worry about a family member. We come from different places with our own stories and we’ll leave this place of worship to continue on our own way. As we go, we remember that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Jesus is forever faithful to us – that never changes. Our stories change. We change jobs, family situations, locations but God’s faithfulness does not change. I make this comparison lightly – not wanting to compare God to Santa Clause on too serious a level – but think of how children ask, after they have moved houses, “will Santa know that I’ve moved? Will Santa find me in our new house?” After that change, our response is always – of course. In a similar way, we change. We sin. We make mistakes and stray from the life we’re called to lead. Will God still be faithful to me after I’ve done that? Does God still love me? Our response – yes. Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. He continues to be faithful here and faithful in all of our lives as we leave this place and go out into the world. Jesus’ never-changing faithfulness sets us free – through him, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God. Because of God’s faithfulness, we’re given grace and we’re transformed. We’re empowered to be a community that loves and gives and thinks of our neighbors before ourselves.

Our reading this morning concludes with this verse – Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Last week, we read about the Sabbath and the meaning of worship. That on the Sabbath day we rest but we’re also freed. We are freed in worship. What the author of Hebrews gives us here is worship too – do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. That is worship. That is living your life as worship. When we care for others, when we feel ourselves freed to help our neighbors, when we preach the gospel to others – that life of worship is pleasing to God.

I leave you with the challenge to continue your lives as Hebrews calls us to live. To continue to mutually love. To show hospitality. To remember those who are in pain. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have. There are so many gifts in this congregation to share – share them! We are called to be good stewards of what God has given us – to share what God has given us. Continue to find ways in which to help your neighbor, to be a light to others, and to live your life as worship towards God. I have been blessed to be a part of your community for a short year. You have shown me love, hospitality, and welcomed me in so many ways. Together as a community, I felt us reach out to remember those in pain, to worship the unchanging God, to continually offer praise to God. My life in the past year has been linked to yours – we’ve grown together, cried together, and prayed together. I pray that as we all leave this space and go out to different places this morning, whether out for brunch, to work, or to St. Paul with a packed car, we remember that our best life is linked to the best lives of others. That we’re all connected. That Christ’s faithfulness does not change. And we’re called to love one another always and have our neighbor be forefront in our Christian lives of worship. Always let your mutual love continue. Amen.

sermon: making plans.

9 May

It has been a fair bit of time since I have posted a sermon and I’m not certain that you even enjoy reading what I’ve preached. If you do, here it is; if not, feel free to skip ahead.

Text: John 14:23-29

Jesus is making plans for when he leaves. He tells his disciples that he is telling them these things while he is still with them. Our reading today is only a fragment of this conversation. In these verses and the ones previous, Jesus is giving his farewell, his goodbye. He knows that his time on earth is coming to an end and he is saying goodbye and giving instructions to his disciples before he leaves to go to the Father.

We try and have the best laid plans for when we leave too. When a teacher knows they are going to be absent from school, they leave detailed lesson plans for the substitute teacher to follow. When we are going on vacation and leaving our pets behind with a dog or cat sitter, we leave the best plans we can, along with extra food, just in case. Or, when we or someone we love is reaching the end of his/her life, plans are made. Plans for the type of care given as life ends, plans for the funeral, plans for what should be done with the material items that remain. This may be the result of old age or an unexpected event. These plans cause anxiety, sadness. They’re not fun plans to make but plans nonetheless.

As we think about mothers today and thank God for our mothers, I think about the things that my mom has told me, how she has prepared me, how she planned for the days as I grew up and planned for the time when I would leave home. I’m certain we all may have stories of the words of wisdom, the advice, the way in which our mothers prepared us for adulthood. Maybe something like – don’t wear white shoes after labor day. My mom always used to tell me when I was pouting that if I kept my bottom lip stuck out like that, a bird would come along and poop on it. Or maybe we remember how our mom passed on a family recipe. We may have our mothers’ sense of humor. Mothers, all in their own way, raise us to be the people we are and though they may not want to think of the day when their child leaves home, moms plan and prepare their children to grow and become independent.

I left my parents’ home at age 18. If you had asked any of my high school classmates or family at this time, they would be the first to tell you that I was a home-body. That I would probably live at home and commute to college. In fact, for the senior awards of my graduating class at Edgerton High School, I was voted “most likely never to leave Edgerton.”

Three months after graduating from high school, I moved three hours away from home. My mom and dad and I drove the station wagon with all of my things to Decorah, Iowa. I remember moving my things into my dorm room on the second floor of the west wing of Brandt Hall, meeting my first roommate of two, and then going to the Center for Faith and Life with my parents for a welcome orientation. Sitting between my parents, I cried. After the program for the freshmen was over, the parents were supposed to leave. I remember gathering with other freshmen on the library lawn and wiping away tears as my mom and dad left.

The tears eventually stopped. I got through that first day, the first month, four years at Luther. My parents had prepared me to be an independent young woman. I successfully lived on my own, beginning with those years in Iowa. But I remember, before my mom left on that fall day, she helped me in one more way to be an independent young adult without her constantly around. She continued to prepare me to live on my own. Before she left she handed me a sheet of paper with parting advice – that last bit of knowledge to impart to her daughter as a nervous college freshman. The sheet of paper had three lines that read like this – Darks wash/rinse cold. Whites wash hot. Sheets and towels wash hot.

Now really, my mom had done much more to prepare me for life on my own at college than just a laundry cheat sheet. My parents – like all parents – had done their best to raise their children with morals and values, to teach what is right and wrong, how to behave with manners and to impart their wisdom of life. They also, by loving me, showed me what it was like to love other people, to respect others, and to live in relationship with people around me. But then, as I turned 18 and moved to Iowa, they trusted that what they had taught me in those first 18 years would serve me well. That I would be reminded of their guidance and continue in the ways they had taught. My mom and dad knew that eventually I would leave, even if my high school classmates disagreed. They knew that eventually they would no longer be with me every day.

Jesus knows he will be leaving soon. He is saying these things – assuring the disciples that he will not leave them orphaned – while he is still with his followers, still able to communicate what is about to happen. Jesus knows that his time on earth is coming to a close but this does not mean that his ministry is coming to a close. Jesus tells his disciples that to love him is to keep his word. To keep Jesus’ word is to continue to live in love. Love for Jesus is really love in action. Loving others.

The disciples will not face the future alone. The gift God has given to them in Jesus will not end as Jesus goes to the cross and then ascends to the Father. God will send the Advocate. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the disciples will continue to live out God’s commandments to love. To live out the word that Jesus brought. Jesus says that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said.” The disciples will not be alone but the Spirit will guide them, reminding them of their lives in Christ’s love. Reminding them of the love they have been given to share.

Jesus promises that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in his name and also promises his peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” This peace that Jesus offers is not world peace as we think of it or the end of conflict. Jesus offers his peace. He says “my peace I give to you.” The peace that Jesus leaves is the being of his life, his joy, his love. This peace comes from the heart of Jesus’ life – his life in which he taught, healed, loved. We share this peace in our lives and in worship. “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” “And also with you.” Often times, the pastor then invites you to share that peace with others. We are sharing the peace of Christ – the forgiveness, the grace, the love that we have been given.

Jesus tells his disciples to not be afraid. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus tells the disciples this but we are afraid! Our hearts ARE troubled at the thought of someone leaving us. Someone who we love, someone who has been a guide, who has been preparing the way for us. As a college freshman, alone, three hours away from home, I was terrified. Losing a grandparent or friend after a long battle with illness does trouble our heart. We are afraid and feel unsettled at the thought of people leaving us. These people may be our aging parents. Grandparents. Friends. We put off discussions about death – we don’t want to think about it because it brings fear and sadness into our hearts. Or maybe it’s not death – maybe it’s moving to college. Maybe your parents are divorcing and your mom is moving away. A family member is called to active duty in the military. For the disciples, this person they loved was Jesus. And now he was leaving.

Though I seemed to be alone on the library lawn on my first day of college, I was not orphaned. When someone close to us dies, we’re not abandoned. If we haven’t made plans for life’s unexpected moments, we may feel stuck. Unable to move. But Jesus prepares the way for us. Jesus is going to the Father and he tells his disciples that if they love him, then they will rejoice in where he is going. We have the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father. We have the promise of peace. Not the peace of this world, but the peace of Christ with us and within us. Jesus prepares his disciples and prepares us to live in community. A community of Christian love. Where together, we feel the love of Christ and share it by loving others. A community where we uphold each other with the love God has first given us. Where together, the Holy Spirit guides us to welcome all people to share in Christ’s peace. Where we are never orphaned, abandoned or alone but Christ prepares us to live in love. May the peace of the Lord be with you all. (And also with you.) Amen.

Justification, Webster and Lynn.

24 Feb

Text:  Romans 3:21-28.  

Success: I made the congregation laugh.


Tonight we continue diving in to the book of Romans.  Last week in just the opening chapter, we spoke about the righteousness of God and how we become righteous through our faith.  Tonight we continue on into the third chapter of Romans and onto another churchy and kind of intimidating word – justification.

To begin, I like to invite you to take a minute and think about the best gift you have ever received.  Think, think … what is that gift that was the very best?  When did you receive it?  Maybe it was Christmas.  Maybe it was your birthday.  Maybe it was just because.  Who was it from?  A spouse?  A parent?  Sibling?  Maybe even a stranger.   I might be a material thing or maybe it’s not.  How did it feel to receive it?  Does it make you excited just to think about it because it was so great?

Okay.  I want to share with you one of the best gifts that I have recently received.  It came from a friend of mine named Lynn.  Lynn and I have been close friends since elementary school.  Even though we’ve spent the last years since high school apart, we still are able to reconnect and talk and keep our friendship close. 

Lynn knows me so well that she just knew I would love this gift.  She sent it to me in a big box and I got really excited as I was opening it.  I picked it up from the post office and began to analyze it.  To guess what could possibly be inside.  It’s kinda light.  Didn’t move around much in the box.  Hmm…

(Third grade buddy J. and the ever-blogged about C. come forward and help me shake, ponder, and open the box.)

… until I opened it and found this.  I had to stare at it for a bit.  I really was not sure what it could be.  A banana dog?  She knows me so well.  I emailed her as soon as I got it and told her, there really are no words.  No words for this … banana dog?

Now I didn’t ask for the banana dog.  I didn’t expect this to come in the mail to me.  I didn’t pay for it.  There really was no good reason for it.  It was a gift.  Pure and simple.  Lynn didn’t have to send me a banana dog.  Really, she didn’t.  But because of our friendship, because of her love for me, she did just that.  She gave me a gift.

Okay, now back to the gifts that you thought of earlier.  The very best gift you have ever received.  Did you ask for it?  Were you expecting it?  Maybe you kinda asked for it if it was on your Christmas list.  Maybe you were expecting it if you are one of those who peeks at gifts under the tree.  But did you pay for it?  Chances are not.  That’s what makes a gift a gift.  It’s given without payment.  Free of charge.

In the third chapter of Romans, Paul writes that we are justified by God’s grace as a gift.  We are justified.  We become right in the sight of God.  But only as a gift. 

Justification is a tough word to wrap our heads around.  There is a lot encompassed within the word.  Perhaps, instead of justified, we can say that God accepts us.  God declares us righteous.  God forgives us from our sin.  God calls us into relationship with him.  Put all those together – that God accepts us, declares us righteous, forgives us from our sin, and calls us into relationship – and there we have it.  That’s what it means to be justified by God.

We can’t justify ourselves.  We can’t make ourselves right with God.  It’s not possible.  Paul reminds us that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  In the context of this letter to the people in Rome, Paul reminds them that they all have sinned.  Whether they are a Jew or a Gentile, whether they are rich or poor.  They all have sinned just as all of us have sinned. 

We’re human.  There are many things that make us human.  Our heart that pumps blood through our bodies, poseable thumbs, walking on two legs.  And then things like gossiping.  Letting our emotions take control, whether it be anger or sadness or rage.  Putting ourselves and our wants ahead of other people’s needs.  Lying.  Swearing.  Not honoring our father and mother.  Caring for ourselves more than we care for our neighbors. 

We are human while only God is God and God.  Our God is holy and just.  We can’t follow what God commands us to do, try as we might.  We can’t live a life that is completely righteous according to the law.  We’re human.  We sin and fall short of the glory of God.  But because of our justification by God, we are accepted by God and we are made righteous.  We know that without the justification by God, without God forgiving our sins, that we are sinful and therefore worthy to be condemned. 

God does all these things through grace.  We are justified by grace through faith.  Grace.  It’s a gift.  We’re not worthy of it.  We don’t pay for it.  Grace is the “beautiful simplicity of the entire story of God’s love, active in Christ and the Spirit to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.”  That is the big story, the story of God.  “God’s initiative, energy and commitment to carrying through the project of the justification of sinners is at the heart of Paul’s message and is the true source of all genuine Christian devotion.”

This is the story.  This is what it is all about.  That while we were still sinners, God justified us by his grace as a gift.  We don’t deserve it because we’re sinners.  And we don’t need to do anything in return.  It’s a gift.  And as great as my new banana dog is, there, in God’s love and grace, is the greatest gift.

But now let’s go back to that gift that you were thinking of earlier.  The greatest gift that you have ever received.  The one that you shared with your neighbor.  Think about what you did when you received that gift.  Did you take the gift and stash it in a secret place?  Did you take the gift and keep it completely to yourself?

I’m hoping that you received your gift and then shared it.  Growing up, my brothers and I knew that the very first phone call on Christmas morning would be from our cousin Brent sharing the gifts that he had received with us and then we would share what we had received.  Later in the day, when we would all gather for our Christmas meal, we would bring our most favorite gifts to share with each other.   The first thing I did when I received the banana dog was email Lynn, to thank her, to share the joy of the gift with her.  Then I shared the gift with my coworkers, who had a good laugh over the character. 

Gifts are meant to be shared.  We receive them and then we must turn around and allow others to receive them, to share.  This gift of justification by grace is no exception.  We are given this gift of forgiveness, of relationship, of acceptance by God through faith in Christ and we turn around and share it with our neighbors.  How will you share the gifts that God has given you?  The gift of love?  The gift of grace?  That’s my challenge for you tonight as you leave here, hopefully aware of the gifts you have received – that you find ways to share the gifts that God has given you.  Whether it’s the gift of laughter in receiving a banana dog or the free gift of justification by God’s grace, In every day, in even the most insignificant of moments, share God’s gifts as He has first shared with us. 

%d bloggers like this: