Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Holy Troublemakers

Sermon 8-21- 16
Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Two weeks ago I got almost nothing done. It wasn’t just that the Olympics had started – there was another event that same time that kept me glued to my computer screen the entire week. Every three years, almost a thousand delegates from across the country attend the biggest Lutheran church meeting, the Church Wide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran church in America, or just Churchwide assembly for short.  

Well, it’s not exactly as well known, or as exciting as the Olympics. They don’t give out medals for the most coffee consumed or the most amendments to amendments. But things happened during both events that contributed to world unity. And thanks to the miracle of technology, church nerds like me got watch live as it all unfolded.

Just for starters, that week during Churchwide, we elected an African American man, William B. Horn, to be the vice president of the ELCA. We voted to commit to protecting unaccompanied children fleeing Latin American countries. We supported the continuing dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans in focusing on what unites us, in honor of the next year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We pledged our support in areas of justice, such as peace in the Holy Land, the importance of African descent Lutherans and relationships with historic Black churches. We committed to a responsible energy future, welcoming refugees, and caring for our military veterans and their families. And this is not even half of what the ELCA accomplished that week.

We as ELCA Lutherans have inherited a legacy of always reforming ourselves and our church, of always being made new by God’s grace, while at the same time being firmly rooted in the message of God’s love through Jesus.

And so, just as Martin Luther used both new and old technologies of his day – the printing press, a church door, some nails and a hammer – we do this too. I mentioned a few weeks ago about the new Small Catechism smartphone app from Augsburg Fortress, the ELCA publishing house. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, in her report to the churchwide assembly last week, mentioned this app and gave us a challenge: to review the small catechism to reconnect with our Lutheran roots. 

If you haven’t downloaded it yet, please do – but not right now of course, wait until after worship! And if you get a moment, look up the third commandment. How many of you remember what the third commandment is? “Remember the …. Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” What does THAT mean? Martin Luther explains, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly learn from it.

Just as God rested on the 7th day of creation, we as God’s people need a day of rest and a day to intentionally stop and hear what God has to say to us. Men, women, children, slaves, labor animals… all in God’s creation were commanded to embrace our limitation and be reminded that God created us for life, not for exhaustion. The Sabbath day is a gift, freely and lovingly given for our benefit.

But, what do we humans too often do with things that are free gifts from God? We try to control them, regulate them, create a lot of rules around how to properly exercise this gift. The Sabbath day was no expectation. Enter Jesus, teacher, preacher, and general trouble maker.

You may remember Jesus’s controversial first sermon, where he proclaimed that today, through him, God would release the captives, give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. That one was not exactly well received, but here Jesus is again, teaching in the synagogue. We will never know what Jesus was preaching on this day, because he stops, mid sermon, for someone in immediate need of that freedom and release.

That woman was literally invisible. Bent over double for as many years as it takes a kindergartner to graduate from high school. She was unable to stand up straight, unable to see and participate in the world around her, in a world where she was already mostly invisible for being a woman.

Perhaps you too have walked into worship feeling much like this woman – feeling physically or emotionally bound and bent over by things in your lives that are heavy and hard to bear. Perhaps you too, have felt unseen and invisible to those around you
When Jesus sees this woman, he stops everything. Her healing cannot even wait until the end of day, or even till the end of his sermon! She should not have to wait for her freedom for ONE MORE MINUTE. He has to heal her RIGHT NOW.

And in doing so, Jesus broke the rules.

The leader of the synagogue was understandably upset that the worship service was being disrupted. The Jewish people were living under the thumb of an oppressive government, who ALLOWED them to continue to practice their faith… but could change their mind on a whim. These religious leaders were doing their very best to keep it together, to preserve these expressions of their faith in a world that worked against them at every turn, to be faithful to the ways that their ancestors worshiped God in the past.

So when the bent over woman became UN-bent, this synagogue leader became BENT out of SHAPE. He forgot the whole point of the Sabbath: that people trump rules, that love trumps fear, that justice trumps tradition.

He could not see that when one of us is bent over, we ALL are.

Sometimes it takes a little interrupting, a little disruption on the part of Jesus to remind us, both then and now, that God’s kingdom is CONSTANTLY interrupting our rules, our schedules, and our lives.

If you recall, Jesus interrupts and disrupts from birth…. Actually from BEFORE birth, when an angel interrupted Mary to tell her she would bear a son. And again, AT his birth, when the heavenly host interrupted some shepherds on the night shift. And all during his life, Jesus interrupts and disrupts, again and again, shaking up our rules and assumptions about God. Until the rule-makers decided they had had enough with this rule breaker troublemaker, that he needed to be silenced, his body broken, to be taught a lesson – don’t rock the boat, don’t break the rules, don’t mess with the ones who hold all the cards. Or else you too will be nailed to a cross for it.

But Jesus wasn’t through breaking the rules and making trouble. He was not done interrupting and disrupting. Jesus interrupted death. He disrupted the funeral preparations of the women at the tomb. He appeared incognito and joined the two travelers walking to Emmaus, and interrupted their dinner as he revealed himself in the breaking of the bread.

And his followers have continued to interrupt and disrupt on Jesus’ behalf, because we are called follow Jesus’ example, to raise up the bent over, see the unseen. To break the rules that need to be broken, and then to rejoice, like the bent over woman, when together we have been set free.

The moment this woman was healed, she started praising God, and presumably she never stopped. Her worlds could be Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.…” She keeps praising, and so we can add her to the list of the cloud of witnesses from last week. She took her cue from Jesus, and continued the interruption to worship that day, despite the flack she received from the leader of the synagogue.

Another woman who refused to be bowed down is Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who was a keynote speaker at the ECLA churchwide gathering two weeks ago. I’ve mention her story before, which is amazing.  Her home country Liberia had suffered from war and violence for years. So she gathered Christian and Muslim women to protest for peace. When peace talks had stalled as the men enjoyed their stay in a fancy hotel, Gbowee and the women held them hostage until peace talks resumed. Within weeks, the war was over.

During her talk last week, Gbowee said, “I don’t feel bad being called a trouble maker..“ because “Injustice one place is injustice everywhere,” She reminds us that interrupting the status quo causes us to be labeled trouble makers. But after all, Gbowee’s causing trouble earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. And she was only following in the footsteps of her lord Jesus.

When you see the rules winning over the needs of people, cause some trouble. When you see injustice, fear, or hate getting the upper hand, rock the boat. As Gbowee says, we are supposed to “speak truth to power…” in Jesus’ name.

If you are called a “trouble maker,” do what Leymah Gbowee suggests… say “thank you!” Wear name of “trouble maker” gladly - because it means that we are becoming more like Jesus - and give thanks for it. Thanks be to God… for trouble makers. Amen.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Psalm for the week of August 14th

August 14: Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

You brought a vine out of Egypt;
    you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
    it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
    the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea,
    and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
    so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
    and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts;
    look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15     the stock that your right hand planted.
16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
    may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
    the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you;
    give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

What does this psalm say about God?
Does this psalm get me thinking about Jesus?
What emotions do I notice in this psalm? When have I felt the same way?
Does this psalm comfort me or challenge me?
Is there one verse that particularly speaks to me? Why? Consider memorizing this verse to carry with you for the upcoming week.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Psalm for the week of August 7th

August 7: Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23

1 The mighty one, God the Lord,
   speaks and summons the earth
   from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
   God shines forth.
3 Our God comes and does not keep silence,
   before him is a devouring fire,
   and a mighty tempest all around him.
4 He calls to the heavens above
   and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 ‘Gather to me my faithful ones,
   who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
   for God himself is judge.
7 ‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
   O Israel, I will testify against you.
   I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
   your burnt-offerings are continually before me.
22 ‘Mark this, then, you who forget God,
   or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
23 Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honour me;
   to those who go the right way
   I will show the salvation of God.’


What does this psalm say about God?
Does this psalm get me thinking about Jesus?
What emotions do I notice in this psalm? When have I felt the same way?
Does this psalm comfort me or challenge me?
Is there one verse that particularly speaks to me? Why? Consider memorizing this verse to carry with you for the upcoming week.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Above All Things.

Sermon 7-31-16
Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, amen.
Here we go again, Jesus. Taking about hard, challenging stuff. Again. I’m sure you’d all much rather I give my sermon on funny things I found on Facebook this week instead. Like the 11 year old boy who wrote out his own version of the Ten Commandments. According to him, they are:

1.     Don’t use up all your money.
2.     Be kind.
3.     Listen to your parents.
4.     Give to charity.
5.     Respect God.
6.     Don’t abuse video games.
7.     Don’t kill anybody.
8.     Play outside more
9.     Do the Nae Nae – if you don’t know what that is, ask your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or neighbor’s kids,
10.                        (Remember this is coming from an 11 year old boy) Punch Hitler in the face. (Normally I don’t condone violence, but… maybe we can give that one a pass...)

Would this particular young man pass our confirmation class with these answers? Maybe. But really, this kid is not all that far off. Though not in the right order, he’s got some the basics. Play outside – take a Sabbath from things like video games. Be kind. Listen to your parents. Don’t kill anybody. Respect God.  

Though, if you would like to have instant access to the ACTUAL Ten Commandments, and also Martin Luther’s explanation for all of them, I have good news for you. Augsburg fortress, the ELCA publishing company, recently came out with a free app of a downloadable Small Catechism. And you thought your smart phones were only for Facebook, GPS, Pokemon GO, and watching Bill Clinton adorably having fun with balloons.

When you do download this wonderful tool, you too can look up the “real” First Commandment – which of course is “You shall have no other gods” – and also Luther’s explanation of that commandment – which is, “we are to fear, love, and trust God about all things.”

Above. All. Things.

I think that this 11 year old boy was also onto something, when he put as HIS first commandment, “don’t use up all your money.”

I’ve seen a couple episodes of a really interesting show called Tiny House Nation. There is a small movement that ‘s been gaining momentum, the push toward drastic downsizing, of scaling back, and decluttering our lives… though, of course, we made it into a reality TV show! But… this idea is so fascinating because it is so foreign to us. One episode showed a farm couple from Wisconsin who wanted a pared down life that went with their vocation as farmers. Can you image living in a 170 square foot house with your spouse, a dog, a cat, AND your stuff? Well, they did, and they are making it work, and so far they love it!

Now, contrast the couple on Tiny House Nation with the farmer from Jesus’s story. While the couple are choosing to scale back, pare down, and simplify, this farmer is SUPER-SIZING. And why not? The land he owns is producing the bumper crop to end all bumper crop, and his current barns are filled to the brim. What do to, what to do?

SO he consulted himself – this guy seems to talk to himself a lot! – and came up with a great idea! Built bigger barns! Store the bumper crop away, save it for another day. What a great plan….Except that this farmer forgot about something. He seemed to forget the rest of that saying we all know… you know, the one that goes, “Eat, drink, and be merry for….. (Tomorrow we die.)”

And that’s exactly what happens. God comes to visit him in the night, not to TAKE the life of this man… but to reveal to him the truth of his situation… it is actually his many goods that have demanded HIS LIFE.

This is a parable of warning. Don’t be like the farmer. But… I think many of us would like to be in the farmer’s shoes… except for the dying part, of course. Many of us, myself included, would love to suddenly see a windfall come our way. Though our sudden payouts might look like getting some extra hours in at work, a tax refund, a raise, or a Christmas bonus.

And so our bigger barns look a little less like those big red buildings on my parents’ farm, and more like this… like an extra dresser I might get to put all the  cheap clothes I could buy . Our bigger barns look like the newest iPhone or smart phone gadget. They could even be in the form of the latest Fitbit or video game system. Or they could be a larger house in order to fit all of our stuff and our kids’ stuff, or a bigger garage, because we can’t even fit our car in there anymore.

But more and more, I think, our “bigger barns” look like this. Your innocent-looking, common, everyday credit card. This is our bigger barns. And if we’re not careful, these will demand our lives.

Because nowadays we don’t even have wait for that windfall to come in before building bigger barns. Everything around us tells us to spend, spend, spend, to get more and more stuff… and get deeper and deeper into this kind of debt. Suddenly our lives become bound to our stuff, and we become prisoners of this little piece of plastic.

The reason I am showing you this card, which I’ve closed, is to tell you something you probably won’t hear anywhere else. That you are not using these, but they are using YOU. They want you to think they’re helping you. But they are not. They are actually digging you a hole. And this hole just so happens to be six feet deep. Which is exactly where that farmer ended up finding himself.

This farmer was on top of the world, with everything going for him, and so he forgot all about God. He only consults with himself, is only concerned with himself and his own future comfort. He made plans to secure his future without any reference to God or to other people. He was only rich toward himself. And so his fate became “death by stuffication.”

This farmer could be a poster boy of Luther’s definition of sin- to be curved in on oneself, until that becomes all we can see, so that we not only miss out on sharing God’s gifts with others, but completely miss the fact that all things come from God in the first place.

Our own money, our “real” money, ironically enough, constantly reminds us, “In God we trust.” Not in money. Not in stuff. Not in bigger barns. Not is securing our own future. But we trust in God. Fear, love, AND trust, to be exact, at least according to Luther’s explanation of the first commandment. And God does not demand our life in an unfillable hole of debt and death. God is the source of all life, is the giver of life, the giver of OUR lives and all that we have.

Life is not about our belongings, Jesus said to crowd. Instead, life is about WHO we belong TO. We belong to God, who claimed us in our baptisms as beloved children. Which means that we are all brothers and sisters in the family of God. And our inheritance is life itself, eternal life, abundant life, here and now and in the time beyond our death, when we too will be raised, along with Christ. God gave us a peek of this inheritance when Jesus was raised from the tomb on the third day. Jesus, still being persistent in his mission to the point of being annoying, especially for those who wanted him to stay dead.

 Even when our desire to stay curved in on ourselves cause us to try to ignore Jesus, Jesus keeps showing up, keeps telling us the hard stuff, keeps giving us new life as God’s children and keeps getting us out the door to share these gifts with one another.

Sometimes our best teachers of being children of God are actual children. The 11 year old writer of that funny set of Ten Commandments reminds us to not “use up” all our money, and also to give some of it away to charity. Another little girl I know is deeply passionate about saving her pennies for the St. Jude’s children’s hospital, so when she had her first communion, instead of buying her a gift, I made a donation in her honor. Our own kids who came to vacation Bible School got to see the efforts of their generosity grow with their own eyes as they put up sections of a pretend irrigation canal they were raising money for.

These kids get it, when many of us have grown up and forgotten, being too distracted by setting our minds on things that are on earth rather than on things that are above, as Paul writes. We have a new self to put on, one that is made in the image of the one who created us. Which might mean doing some house cleaning or downsizing – ala Tiny House Nation style - on many of the things our old self loved, and still does love to cling to, like trusting in things rather than loving and trusting God.

We grownups forget, as the farmer forgot, what another Facebook post says, “If you are more fortunate than others, it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence,” (Or a bigger wall). Or, as Jesus might have added, it is better to build a longer table than bigger barns.

As always, Jesus leaves us with some hard things to think about – how we downsize our barns that block our generosity, and elongate our tables for welcome and sharing. We as a nation have a long way yet to go in the realm of table-building and inclusion instead of fence building. There are too many barns, too many fences, and not enough seats at the table for all. But we can help change that, one fence, one barn, one seat at the table at a time. Jesus hands us the hammer and the nails, and invites us along in his work.

So what’ll it be? What are we building today?


Or tables? 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Psalm from the week of July 31st

July 31: Psalm 107:1-9, 43

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures for ever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
   those he redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
   from the east and from the west,
   from the north and from the south.
4 Some wandered in desert wastes,
   finding no way to an inhabited town;
5 hungry and thirsty,
   their soul fainted within them.
6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
   and he delivered them from their distress;
7 he led them by a straight way,
   until they reached an inhabited town.
8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
   for his wonderful works to humankind.
9 For he satisfies the thirsty,
   and the hungry he fills with good things. 
43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
   and consider the steadfast love of the 

What does this psalm say about God?
Does this psalm get me thinking about Jesus?
What emotions do I notice in this psalm? When have I felt the same way?
Does this psalm comfort me or challenge me?
Is there one verse that particularly speaks to me? Why? Consider memorizing this verse to carry with you for the upcoming week.