Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Blind Bartimeaus

Social Media Sunday 2015 Resources!

Websites and Blogs to check out:

Enter The Bible
Internet Monk
Rachel Held Evans
Nadia Bolz-Weber
Faith and Leadership
Common Prayer: a liturgy for ordinary radicals

Podcasts to listen to:

Krista Tippett, "On Being" Radio Broadcasts from 2015

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber on NPR's "Fresh Air"

Rob Bell, Pastor and author

Videos to watch:

ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit (Speakers, music, etc)

ELCA Discussion on Confronting Racism

"Super Soul Sunday" With Oprah: Barbara Brown Taylor

TED Talk; Brene Brown

Packing Light for Your Journey

Sermon 10-11-2015

Grace and peace to God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

When was the last time you took a trip? Think for a moment about what you usually pack.
Is there something that you usually pack too much of?  Shoes, clothes, maps, electronics?
So, confession time. I tend to pack way to many books. For example, in preparing to travel to be with my family in Wisconsin to celebrate my brother’s wedding, this is what I’m thinking about bringing with me.

Rising Strong…. I can’t put it down, so good, but I’m almost finished….

Accidental Saints… Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s newest book, can’t wait to start it.

Jane Eyre – rereading this old favorite

Texts from Jane Eyre… when I want something a little lighter than 18th century romance on the gloomy English moors…

Complete Psalms – modern translation, try to read a psalm every night…


A book on writing that my friend recommended to me…

A novel that Karen Repka lent to me that I haven’t started…

Seriously these are all books that I have sitting next to my bed. Because I never REALLY know EXACTLY what mood I will be in and what book that will require.  And though I probably won’t bring ALL of these with me, I will still probably pack MORE than I need, and will end up regretting it when I am dragging my luggage across country.

Speaking of luggage, when I was a camp counselor back in Wisconsin, we had to pack everything we needed for an entire summer and make it easy to take to a different cabin every week.

Some of these campers we had, though, in packing for one week rivaled what we counselors brought for the entire summer. Curling irons, , hair dryers, running shoes, baseball cards, sugary snacks, both girls AND boys were sometimes guilty of this …and I can’t even imagine what camp counselors of today have to deal with - iPhones, iPads, tablets, and all kinds of electronics.

I think we might be surprised at how few things we need when we are focused on what is right in front of us – making new friends at camp, or spending time with family, noticing what’s happening on this journey we call life, rather than worrying about what to pack in order to be ready for whatever might be around the corner.

Jesus was setting out in a journey. Maybe he was in the middle of packing, though I can imagine that Jesus probably packed pretty light. Perhaps he was just stepping out the door of the house he was staying, or had just left the city limits. In any case, he was not long on his trip when a man runs up to stop him. And the last thing Jesus must have wanted was to deal with more questions.  

In a graphic novel version of the Gospel of Mark, the rich man is actually carrying everything he owns on his back – toasters, bowling balls, golf clubs, a swimming pool, a couch, flat screen TVs, signs of the “good life.” As he talks to Jesus, he is literally sinking into the sand under the weight of all his stuff while he asks Jesus his burning question

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What an odd question. That’s like me asking my parents, what must I do in order to be your daughter? Or my cats, if they could talk, asking me what must we do in order to belong to you? Or perhaps like Syrian refugees might say to all the countries that refuse to give them asylum: what must we do in order to be treated like human beings?

These refugees shouldn’t have to ask this question. They already are human beings and deserve to being treated as such. My cats already belong to me. I am my parents’ daughter.
What do you do to earn an inheritance? What an odd question. Because the answer is simple: nothing. YOU YOURSELF do absolutely nothing to receive any kind of inheritance that you have coming to you. The only criteria is that you are yourself, the receiver, the child to whom your benefactor is leaving their legacy.

So what then, can we do to inherit eternal life? It is to be who you are. It is to be a child of God.

THIS is the inheritance that we all have received at our baptisms, as we were washed with water and with promises from God. At that moment, we were claimed as God’s own beloved children and received God’s mark as belonging to God forever. And nothing can ever change that, not success or failure, not perfection or mistakes, not wealth or poverty or anywhere in between.

But BEING a child of God also means we pack for this journey we call life in a particular way, and we travel together on this road in a particular way.  

We, as beloved children of God, are called to follow Jesus, and as we have heard in the last few weeks, this call to discipleship really hard. Following Jesus means that we take up our cross. Following Jesus means that whoever will be first must be last. Following Jesus means welcoming the vulnerable and undesirable among us. And sometimes, following Jesus means letting go of what causes us to sink.

This is not what the rest of the world wants us to do AT ALL. According to this country and this culture – the more you earn and the more you can buy, the more you are worth. And the more stuff we have, the more prepared we feel we are for whatever this scary world throws our way. “I need this, and this, and this, just in case.” Those most prepared, with the most stuff, are admired and revered. And that means we need to get more stuff. And this is how our possessions come to possess US.

We try to buy our way out of our fear of the unknown.  It is must easier to calm our anxiety with a few more things than it is to trust in a vague eternal something that can’t be bought or earned. It is much easier to try to fill the empty void in our hearts with stuff than it is to put our trust in a man who the world never understood.

In the world’s eye, this Jesus was a loser – hung out with working class guys, never owned a house, or much of anything for that matter. No clothing lines or fancy buildings were named after him. He was a poor peasant from the wrong side of the tracks who DIDN’T “pull himself up by his own bootstraps,” get rich, and write a book. He died at the hands of his enemies without fighting back, leaving no earthly possessions, and left his disciples – who abandoned him - with no legacy to speak of.  

No legacy to speak of, that is, except the promise that eternal life is ours. And the promise that Jesus will be with us to lead us there. Even if we are still possessed by our possessions. Even if it’s like getting a camel through the eye of a needle.

Does this seem impossible? Perhaps. But God has never let the impossible stand in the way before. The losers of this world are actually winners in God’s kingdom? Impossible. The poorest and the least served first at the heavenly banquet? Impossible! The refugee and the stranger given premier status? Impossible. Giving up everything which results in receiving even more? Impossible! Death? Defeated? Impossible. Eternal life is really ours? Impossible!

For us, if we were to try to do all this on our own, it WOULD be impossible. But we were created by a God who laughs at impossible things. A God who welcomes rich people into heaven but gives poor people a place of honor. A God who gives the powerful a place, but not the place of honor. A God who demands everything of us while at the same time freely gives us everything. For us, this would indeed be impossible. But for God, the possibilities are endless. AMEN.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Peter and the Messy Middle

Sermon from 9-13-15

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ, Amen.

I really enjoyed seeing all the “first day of school” pictures on Facebook! Everyone dressed in their brand new clothes with their new backpacks filled with fresh notebooks, pens, pencils, and crayons. Just a few weeks ago, stores were filled with sales of schools supplies and full to the brim with all the college dorm essentials. Futons, pillows, lamps, crates, mirrors, rugs, bean bag chairs, matching sheet sets, everything you see in the “perfect dorm room” pictures can be yours at your local Target!
Not real life, so much.
But in a few weeks, those clothes won’t be so new, the crayons might be broken, the pens leaking, the notebooks lost or chewed by the dog, the futon legs snapped, the rugs get dirty, and no one but you really cares about the cool design on your duvet. (That’s the fancy Target word for comforter.) In the meantime, real life happens.

Often we begin each fall like a second New Year. There are new classes and schools to attend, new initiatives at work, new routines at home. We try to put our best foot forward, strategizing for how to be a better student, better parent or grandparent, a better teacher, a better leader and role model at work and at home. We have the best plans and make the best preparations…

… And we usually end up falling flat on our faces.

… Like Peter.

Though we are at the very beginning of the academic and program year, in this morning’s gospel we find ourselves in the very middle of things. The disciples have been following Jesus around for about half of the book of Mark by now. They’ve seen Jesus heal people, walk on water, and feed thousands. They’ve heard him preach the good news and tell stories about the Kingdom of God. They’ve seen him defy the religious authorities and risk everything to share the good news. And now we’re halfway through the Gospel of Mark, halfway through Discipleship 101 if you will, and Jesus decided to check their progress with a little surprise midterm exam. “After I’ve done all this,” Jesus asks them, “who do other people say that I am?”

To this, some of them respond with “option A,” a return of John the Baptist, who had at this point been beheaded by Herod for his subversive preaching. Other disciples go with option B - Elijah, considered by many the greatest prophet. And still others respond with option C, always a safe bet, one of the other prophets, which, you know, covers the rest of the bases.

Ok, so Jesus started out with an easy one. It was basically an opinion poll. Now it’s time for Jesus to see how much the disciples have been paying attention in the last eight chapters. Time for the second, and most important question: “But who do YOU say that I am?”

Which option will they pick? Option A, John the Baptist? B, Elijah, or C, one of the prophets?
It is Peter, oh our favorite disciple Peter, who is somehow able to see right through Jesus’s little quiz. Peter goes right for option D, hidden in plain sight for this entire gospel.

“You … you are the Messiah!” Peter answers.

Ding ding! We have a winner! Confetti! Balloons! That’s right, Jesus IS the messiah! The one to save Israel! The one who has been foretold! Way to go Peter!

And then… Oh Peter. Peter, Peter, Peter. You couldn’t stop there, could you? Perhaps inflated with actually getting something right, Peter then proceeds to tell Jesus HOW to be the Messiah.

“Now look here, Jesus. You are the Messiah, and that has nothing to do with all that other stuff you just told us. There will be none of that SUFFERING stuff, none of that REJECTION stuff, and ESPECIALLY none of that DYING stuff! Haven’t you read the scriptures, Jesus? The Messiah is supposed to ride into town on a big white horse and show these Romans who’s boss! No, no, Jesus. You’ve got this Messiah thing all wrong.”

To which Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan.”


We tend to be so hard on poor Peter, but we’ve all been there too, wanting to choose the cleaned-up version of Jesus. “Surely Jesus did not REALLY mean for us to welcome those people.” “Surely Jesus doesn’t REALLY mean for us to take up AN ACTUAL cross.” “Surely Jesus doesn’t REALLY mean for us to LOSE OUR LIVES for him, like actually die, right?” Right????

We tend to be so hard on poor Peter, probably because Peter is us. We would all prefer to live at the beginning of the story where everything is still shiny and new; or to skip all the way to the end, where everything is nicely wrapped up.

But we don’t live our daily lives there, at the beginning or at the end of the story. We live in the middle.  And the middle is messy. And what totally stinks is that there is no way to skip it or fast forward ourselves through it. (See Brene Brown's new book Rising Strong).

The middle is the dark place where you don’t know what’s going on, and nothing makes sense, and no matter how hard you try you can’t seem to make any headway. All your excellent preparations and your good intentions don’t count for anything, and honestly you have no idea if this whole mess is going to turn out OK or not, and it feels like you must be the only one stuck down here, face down in the dust.

But you’re not alone down there. The mess in the middle is exactly where Jesus chooses to be.

The good news is that to be a follower of Jesus, we don’t have to have it “all together.” We don’t have to wait until we’ve picked ourselves up after a fall. We don’t have to wait until our schedules get less crazy. We don’t have to wait until our lives look more like the perfect dorm room in the Target catalog.

 But the flip side is that following Jesus is not a path OUT of the messy middle, either, like Peter thought. Peter saw Jesus as a ticket OUT of oppression and right INTO the seat of power for some payback. But that is not the road that Jesus walks, and it is not the road that Jesus calls us to. The road that Jesus calls us to is one he himself followed to it’s very end: the road of self-denial for the sake of others, the road of losing oneself for another’s gain, the road that looks to the world like a road of shame and weakness, everything we all would much rather avoid. A road that leads to a cross.

Following Jesus may lead us directly through the valley of the shadow of death, but in truth, we could not have a better guide than the one who has walked this road BEFORE us, and who continues to walk this road WITH us. Even when, ESPECIALLY WHEN we fall flat on our faces.

Peter took a chance, opened his big mouth, and had a big fat fail. For every step forward on this road, he seems to take a step backward. And Jesus had to know that this would not be the last time that Peter, and the rest of the disciples, would fail Jesus, big time. But still, Jesus does not reject Peter. In fact, when Jesus says “Get behind me, Satan,” he’s telling Peter – not to leave - but to get behind him IN ORDER TO BETTER FOLLOW HIM. Get back in the line, Peter. You can’t follow someone if you are not letting them actually lead.

If we say we follow Jesus, if we, along with Peter, say that Jesus is the Messiah, Lord, and Savior - are we really ready to let Jesus do his job?

Because if we are, we better buckle up because this road is going to be anything but boring. You may lose the world but you will gain your life. You may win a cross but death will lose its sting. You may lose your life but you but Jesus has won the victory over the grave.

So let’s get ready… to fall flat on our faces. Who’s with me? Can I get an AMEN?