Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, September 27, 2012

2012 CROP Walk

Dear Family and Friends, 

This year I will be walking my first ever CROP Walk, and I'll be doing it with my congregation, St. Paul Lutheran Church. 

Just what is a CROP Walk?

CROP Hunger Walks are community-wide events that bring people together in a common mission: helping hungry people at home and around the world. And you can be part of it, too!

Please join me on this journey, ending hunger one step at a time. The CROP walk donations that St. Paul receives goes into the community of Hightstown, NJ. The mayor of Hightstown once met with area clergy and admitted that there are NO government aid agencies at work in the community, though there is great need. And yet, people are helped and fed.

Food pantries are open daily. Hot food is served most nights of the week. Shelter is found for the suddenly evicted. How? Through area churches like St. Paul and non-prophets such as RISE in Hightstown. But they need our help to keep helping others.

If you would like to donate online, my page through CROP Walk is: http://www.churchworldservice.org/goto/stpaulpastor2

It is a safe donation place and they accept both major credit cards and Paypal. Any donation you give will go directly to the East Windsor/Hightstown Ministerium (WHAM) group, which will disburse the funds to area organizations later this year. 

  "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."

 Matthew 25: 34-35

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sermon From September 23

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
It’s hard to be a kid these days. First you arrive fresh from the warm safe space of your mother’s womb into a cold and blinding world full of strangers. And it just goes downhill from there. Then it’s learning to walk and learning the word “no,” getting bumps and scrapes and growing pains, and pretty soon you’re begging your folks to get you an iphone 5 and to borrow the keys to the car. And then, it’s time to look for colleges. Which one has the best programs? How much is it going to cost? And so on and so forth.

But all the worries that I just mentioned would seem like a walk in the park to my Three-year-old nephew whose has Prader Willie, (pictured on left) where his brain can never tell him he is full. Or my cousin’s daughter who was born with Cri-Du-Chat (right) and has already endured multiple surgeries. Or the little boy with cancer whose picture I saw in a store at the mall who is donating money to support his medical car.  Or the transgender kid in your son’s school. The child down the street with severe autism. For many of these kids, getting out of bed in the morning has become a miracle.

Jesus really loves kids. Just read the Gospel of Mark – it seems that every other story involves a child, whether Jesus is healing them or welcoming them. And it’s not just the cute and cuddly ones that he likes. Jesus is always healing the sick ones, the ones that no one but their parents care about, who are deathly ill or possessed by demons. He loves the docile ones and the wild ones, the ones that throw tantrums, and I think he has a special place in his heart for the ones who are always asking questions.

Is it not true that our kids seem blessed with curiosity and creativity that we somehow lose once we reach adulthood? One day it is nothing but “what’s that?” and “why?” and the next day it’s not ok to ask questions. An adult who asks questions are seen as not smart enough to be an adult yet. And an adult who asks questions of authority figures are labeled as rebellious and disloyal. And an adult who asks a question about God is judged as having no faith. It is little wonder that Jesus disciples were silent when they were actually bursting with questions at this puzzling teaching of Jesus. Put yourselves in their sandals for a moment: this is only the second time that ANYONE has EVER heard anything like this before. This is a message that WE as twenty-first century Christians hear again and again every Sunday – it is the very reason WHY we gather in the first place. But to Peter, James, John, and there rest, this was unlike ANYTHING they have ever heard before.

But if a kid had been with the disciples, he or she would not have been afraid to ask Jesus for some clarification: Just who is the son of man? Who will betray him? Why will he be killed? And perhaps most importantly: how can someone come back alive after they have died?

But alas, no child was present, and the disciples feared looking stupid or being accused of being without faith. So they lost out. And decided to talk about something that they COULD wrap their heads around – who will be the greatest once Jesus’ “Messiah show” fully gets underway? How will the rankings look – Peter then James then John, then the rest? Who’s gonna be stuck with twelfth place?

How embarrassing – to be caught haggling about the seating chart at the victory banquet instead of trying to figure out what in the world Jesus was talking about. And then having to eat the biggest slice of humble pie in the history of creation: Jesus brings in a child, whose worth to society at the time was even less than that of a slave, and he equates welcoming such a one to welcoming the very Creator of the Universe.

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Who could have seen THAT one coming?

Just about any kid can tell you what it’s like to be last at something – last one picked for the game, last one to turn their test in, last one to be asked what they think about anything. And I bet, if you reach back into your memory banks, you can think of a few examples of your own from your past. But to say that the last-picked are going to be first? That’s like asking the math nerd to go to bat at the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded. Who does that? Who would send an messenger to hand-deliver a message of love to the world in an age without phones, internet, electricity, or running water? Who would think that some annoyingly self-righteous monk named Martin Luther would remind the world about God’s grace? Who would send a young girl from a poor Albanian family to make such a difference in the lives of some lepers in India? And who in a million years would ask two hicks from the Midwest to go to the wild suburban jungles of New Jersey?

God would …and God does. Every single day.

A very wise and very tattooed pastor once said it like this, to about thirty three thousand Lutheran youth: “That’s the God we’re dealing with, people. This God will use all of you, and not just your strengths, but your failures and your failings. Because God’s strength is perfected in human weakness.”

Our God does not always make sense. The priorities of the kingdom of God have things backwards in the eyes of the world. It is the most lowly, the most vulnerable, the most unseen who are first in the kingdom of God.

God can take a humble child, and exalt her as the standard for discipleship. God can choose a rag-tag bunch of fishermen and make them into passionate preachers and teachers of the message of Jesus. God can use a tool of cruel and unusual punishment and refashion it into a symbol of life and hope for millions. And God can use YOU, with all your strengths and all your weaknesses and with all your questions, as a vehicle to bring in the Kingdom of God.

When you ask a young person a question and truly care about their answer, or when ask your child to pray at a meal, you are welcoming Jesus into your midst. When you stop and help a mother with an armful of groceries struggling to unfold her child’s stroller, you are welcoming Jesus. When you buy an extra can of your favorite soup to give to the food pantry or cook a meal for your recently widowed neighbor, you are welcoming Jesus. 

It’s not about looking like we know what we’re doing, because most of the time, we don’t. We don’t necessarily know what God will be calling us to do in the next moment, next week, or even next year. But we’re not in this alone. We have one another, of course, but we can always cling to the trust we have in Jesus, who welcomes into his arms even the least of us, even on our worst of days.  AMEN.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Sprinkle of This and That

So when I started this blog I mentally promised myself that it would NOT turn into just a platform to post my   sermons.... and that's what it's turned into lately. So here is me trying to fix that for the moment.

Once the dregs of Hurricane Isaac (with a week straight of 90% humidity) left us, the weather finally turned decent, and my respiratory system freaked out a little bit. I think my lungs had gotten used to not worrying about being, I don't know, moist enough and suddenly when the humidity is gone my body goes into mucus creating overdrive (not to be gross or anything). I was better by this morning, but it was touch and go for a bit.

Now that the weather is back to "normal" Beau and I have decided to be more intentional about drinking tea, especially in using (green) tea to help us wind down after a late night meeting. It might have helped had we decided to do this last week, between preparing a sermon, leading the youth group kick off event, doing a memorial service and burial for my vice pastor-ship, leading a book discussion, and other random pastor-y things.

But amid the busyness we are getting out and about. The other day we went to the Philly zoo (we watched the otters get fed, the tigers sleep, and listened to a talk on orangutans while contemplating Planet of the Apes) and last week we visited Terhune Orchard in Princeton.  After getting apples, apple butter, and apple cider, and eating apple donuts, we walked around and marveled that we were still in NJ. It was the perfect fall day. Doesn't it look lovely?

Today I learned that a "sprinkle" is what you call a baby shower when someone is having their second child. I attended a "sprinkle" today and realized how little time I get to spend with people (women) my own age. Occupational hazard, I guess. But it is nice when the opportunity comes around!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rally Day Sermon!!

Sermon 9-9-12
Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Vacation is officially over. It’s time to come home from the beach, to come down from the mountains, or to leave the city. It’s time to get back to our regularly scheduled lives, with school and work and dance lessons and football practice. It’s Rally Day, so it’s time to start Sunday school and confirmation class and Bible study and youth group. Of course our journey of following Jesus never really takes a vacation, but perhaps now is the time to make our “new school year’s resolution,” to recommit ourselves to a community we may not have seen for a while.  

Jesus tried to take a vacation once. Up until now the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has been healing, feeding, and teaching almost non-stop. Plenty of people are impressed by his deeds, but there are also plenty of other people, mostly in those power and authority, who have interrogated, criticized, and rejected Jesus at nearly every turn. I don’t blame him for wanting to get away to clear his head, to a quiet place where no one would find him. Since he went to the seaside city of Tyre, perhaps he wanted to spend some time alone down the shore. This might even be a beach house – who knows?

But despite his best efforts, someone found him anyway. A local woman, who wasn’t Jewish, but desperately needed Jesus’ help.  Her poor little daughter was ill, overcome by an unclean spirit. Perhaps this woman had heard that Jesus can cast out demons. Or perhaps someone had told her that Jesus was a healer. Whatever she heard about Jesus, she went to that house that day determined to seek her daughter’s relief. She got on her knees and begged him to help her little girl. And even when Jesus gave her a hard time, she did not give up. She clung to her hope that Jesus could do something about her daughter’s suffering.

She could have stayed home and continued to pray for healing. But instead she jumped at the chance to lay her prayers directly at the feet of someone who could do something about it. And she was not about to leave until her prayers were answered, even if that meant getting leftovers from the Son of God.

Jesus is not often impressed, but he sure was here. He was moved by the persistence that this woman showed in seeking healing for her daughter. And so Jesus not only healed her daughter, he healed her without touching her or even being near her. And when the woman got home, she found her daughter’s energy and strength had rallied, and she was gonna be OK.

Up until now, Jesus had been ministering to his own people, followers of his own religion, in his own native country. Up until now, it is predominantly Jewish people he has been teaching and feeding. Up until now, it has been Jewish people who had been mobbing him for healings. But it was this woman from modern-day Syria who signaled to Jesus that it was time to think outside the box, time to break down all the barriers, to take this message on the road to serve a wider audience.

And now Jesus is on the move. Vacation time is over, and now it’s really time to get to work. He left the area, but he didn’t go back home, at least not yet. Along the way he met some people with a man in need. They banded together to get Jesus to help their friend who was deaf and could not speak. Jesus listened to their plea, and just like in Isaiah, the ears of the deaf were unstopped, and the tongue of a once-silenced person was now able to sing for joy.

Had they not gathered together for this common cause, this man probably would not have been healed. Because that they cared enough about him to bring him to Jesus, this man’s life was changed.

There are all kinds of things that we gather in support of. Our children’s sporting events or school plays. A benefit dinner for a friend with cancer. Participating in the CROP walk or a protest or a food drive.

But today we rally around our leader, a man named Jesus, who healed the sick and gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and a voice to the voiceless. Today we rally around Jesus, who had everything there ever was to have, even divinity itself, and gave it all up to be a nobody who died a painful and humiliating death on a cross. Today we rally underneath an instrument of torture that we celebrate as a sign that we have be reclaimed from brokenness and evil and death.

But we don’t just gather to rally around this Jesus once a year on the first Sunday in September. Every Sunday is a rally Sunday, a little Easter, a time to gather and remember and celebrate that the God we serve is greater than all the evil in the world combined.

Jesus is still on the move. And we have been given our marching orders. When our worship has ended and we disperse into the world, we do not just say, “Go in peace and act like if nothing happened here today, Thanks be to God!” even though all too often that is often how we live. No, when we leave here today and every Sunday before and hereafter, we “go in peace to SERVE the Lord, thanks be to God!”

And how do we serve the Lord? By rallying around others – the ill, the hopeless, the voiceless, the poor, the weak, and the dying. We’ve been given our marching orders: to fill the ears of Jesus with our cries, and to lay the burdens of ourselves and others at Jesus’ feet. We do this not to inflate ourselves or to fill our need to be needed. We do it because we believe that Jesus is going to do something about it.

Now, our prayers may not be answered in in the way that we expect them to be. I’m sure the man who had been deaf was not expecting a wet willy, nor did the Syrophoenician woman expect her daughter’s healer to be crabby. And neither of them expected Jesus to ORDER them to keep quiet about what he had done. But you can’t keep good news like that under wraps for long – it’s like saying “Here is your check for winning the lottery, but don’t spend it.” Or “Thanks to this new treatment, you are now cancer free, but don’t tell anyone about it.” Or “your daughter just got a full-ride scholarship to Harvard, but make sure that you keep it a secret.”

When Jesus shows up in your life, you’re not going to be able to stop talking about it. In order for us, gathered here today, to hear about what Jesus did for the Syrophoenician woman so long ago, she must have told somebody about it.  Same with the man who was deaf – if not for Jesus, he may never have uttered a single word his entire life. As you can see, telling your story can go a long way.

When Jesus shows up in your life, you’re not going to be able to stop yourself from doing something about it. Because sometimes, God uses YOU to answer someone else’s prayer. No heroics are required, just doing the little things with great love, as Mother Teresa once said.

As you are getting back into the swing of things, whether it’s back to work or school or getting your kids to soccer practice on time, know that God never takes a vacation. No matter what you ask, no matter when or how often you ask it, or for whom, our God never stops listening. Just make sure that you never stop asking. AMEN.