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Christ Lutheran Church
6 minutes | 2 days ago
Temptation and Truths in Antiracist Work
February 24, 2021. Each week during Lent, a member of the congregation will be offering a testimonial. This week, Kate Hoerchler talks about resisting the temptation to be complacent in the midst of systemic racism. Reading: Matthew 4:1-11 *** Transcript *** I really felt like there was a lot in those short eleven verses to really examine, but since we’re focused on truth during this Lent season I thought I’d offer some reflections on temptation and commitment to truth. “Truthiness” is a word I think about often. Some of you may remember that back from the Colbert Report, but basically he would talk about it as meaning “believing something is true based on your perception or intuition, rather than known facts and logic.” How tempting or easy or comfortable it might be to lean on our own perceptions rather than the truth. Sometimes I feel like I know why things are the way they are, until I learn more — revealing my blind spots, or through talking to others with different perceptions. This has played out pretty vividly for me as I’ve been digging into racist constructs, white privilege, and exceptionalism over the past couple of years. Things I thought I knew from history were really not as they seemed, due to whitewashing and ingrained stereotypes, such as why is the town that I grew up in full of mostly white people? I used to hold racist stereotypes accountable, like maybe Black people didn’t have enough money. Maybe they didn’t care enough about education to work to live in a community with “good schools.” Or maybe they couldn’t leave their crime-ridden neighborhood due to family obligations. It took me way too long to realize this awful truthiness that I perceived was based on upholding white exceptionalism and systemic racism. I did not know, was not taught about racist real estate policies that kept Black people out of white neighborhoods, or that the town I grew up in was likely a “sundown town,” which is where Black people were allowed to come in during the day to work but had to leave before the sun went down, to escape harassment and abuse. It can be tempting, now even, to ignore all of this, to hold on to my old perceptions. It also reminds me of a nice park in Creve Coeur that Phil and I took our kids to this past fall. We are participating in the SEEK STL Adventure, which is organized by We Stories, a local group that promotes white families to talk with their children about race and racism, to encourage racial justice and change in the region. The SEEK STL Adventure takes participants around St. Louis to explore racially significant places and history. Anyway, some of you may know this park or remember it being in the news back in 2019, when it was renamed to Dr. H. Phillip Venable Memorial Park. It could be tempting to forget or not know the history of this park, as it was by many residents for about 60 years. The land was owned by a Black physician, Dr. Venable, and his wife Katy. They’d even built half of their house before the city refused to issue them plumbing permits. There were 11 other Black doctors that were also planning to build in that neighborhood back in the 1950s, until the city council and white residents protested and the city of Creve Coeur took the land over through eminent domain, so they could build a park rather than have Black neighbors. They were worried about bringing their home prices down due to redlining practices, and surely many other racist notions of what it would be like to have Black neighbors. It can be tempting to think Black people mostly lived in the city, are poor, uneducated, unable to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But then, standing in that peaceful park, under old trees that would have been standing when Dr. Venable owned the land, offers a glimpse into just one story of the systemic racism that’s so fully ingrained into our community and our country. The SEEK STL Adventure asks you to consider what this neighborhood might have looked like had Black families been allowed to thrive and raise their families there — then to take a step out further to think about how our entire region would look had blatantly racist policy not been in place. It can be tempting to hear this story and think, “Well how could I have known this?” Or, “I can’t do anything about it anyway.” But I can do more. I can keep learning, keep seeking real truths outside of perceptions that I don’t realize I have yet. It can be tempting to think, “But it’s a pandemic, I don’t see people. Maybe once the pandemic’s over I could do more.” But I can do more now. I can keep reading, independently and with the church race group. I can keep attending the Black Lives Matter vigils on Friday at church to show solidarity and support for racial justice in our community. I can keep working in my daughter’s school equity group, trying to bring anti-racism education into our schools. It can be tempting to sit comfortably in my white privilege, not questioning my perceptions of the world around me. But I can’t unknow the truths I’ve learned. And I know there is much more for me to learn. I also know I won’t get everything right on this antiracist journey. But I can work to resist the temptation of complacency, taking lessons from Jesus resisting temptation, as in the gospel that we heard tonight. *** Keywords *** 2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Kate Hoerchler, Matthew 4:1-11, Stephen Colbert The post Temptation and Truths in Antiracist Work appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
9 minutes | 6 days ago
Wilderness and Baptism
February 21, 2021. Our readings, and the sermon today, are about wilderness — and also about baptism, and how they were both essential to Jesus. Readings: Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15 *** Transcript *** When you hear the word “wilderness” what comes to mind? You may respond differently depending on how you feel about the wilderness outdoors. If you are one who, like my friend Keith, loves to travel miles by bike and then sleep in a hammock suspended between trees at night, or like the Cub Scouts in the Youth Group, who reveled in the challenge of cooking dinner over a fire the size and shape of a shoe box and were not the least bit disturbed by fire ants or wasps, the wilderness might excite you. If, however, your idea of “roughing it” starts with being without a TV, or if camping means staying in a cabin with a bathroom and a kitchen, the thought of being in the wilderness may make you cringe. I will admit that as much as Karen and I love visiting parks and hiking outdoors and cooking over a campfire, having a solid roof over our heads that we did not need to assemble ourselves, and a bed at sitting height that doesn’t require an air pump, has become more and more appealing over the last few years. As we gather today for our first Sunday in Lent, living into our Lenten theme “Called to Truth,” one short line in the Gospel from Mark tells us that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. The gospel today is about wilderness — and it is also about baptism. Because just before Jesus enters the wilderness, he is baptized by John. And he hears the voice of God affirming his beloved-ness, the deep truth of who he is as God’s child. Baptism, followed by wilderness. They seem to be two polar opposites, don’t they? But they are actually inextricably intertwined in God’s world. God is present equally in the wilderness as in baptism. And this, I think, may be the truth that our scriptures have for us today. Jesus is driven into the wilderness, Mark says. In Mark’s telling, we don’t get a whole lot of detail — just one sentence indicating that his wilderness experience was marked by temptation, wild animals, and angels. Matthew and Luke give us some specific information about the temptations, and they note that Jesus didn’t eat or drink the entire 40 days he spent in the wilderness. All in all, even if you are one who loves the outdoors, this wilderness — Jesus’ wilderness — doesn’t sound exactly peaceful. Jesus spends 40 days being tempted and challenged, in a very profound way, having everything he had just been told by God at his baptism challenged. Beloved? Child of God? Prove it. Show me. How do you really know that? For 40 long days, Jesus is tempted and challenged. We also heard today, as Mr. Jesse mentioned, the story of Noah and his family, in the ark, battered around by raging flood waters for 40 days before hearing that promise of God’s love again. And then we might recall the Israelites, and their journey through the desert for 40 years before they arrived at the promised land, and they and God renewed their covenant, their promise. The exact length of time doesn’t really matter. The truth we know from all of these stories is that the wilderness is not an instant process, a quick and easy place to be, but takes time. Another truth we hear from our gospel today is that Jesus’ ministry comes just as much out of his time in the wilderness as it does out of his baptism. After all, Jesus goes straight from the baptism to the wilderness, and straight from the wilderness to begin his ministry. In the wilderness, Jesus learns something of who he is. He is challenged to forget that his identity comes from God, and each time, he affirms his trust in the God from whom he came, the one who called him beloved. And, we are told, the Spirit was with him there in the wilderness, and the angels waited on him. In the wilderness, Jesus learns that even in the midst of trials and temptations, his identity as beloved holds true. In my wilderness times, this truth has not been clear always in the midst of the struggle. Grief, shame, wounded-ness can overwhelm, making it hard to see, leading us to forget. We have all experienced wildernesses of our own: the death of beloveds, miscarriage, extended unemployment, serious illness and injury, divorce. Even the traumas of this last year of life in a pandemic may feel like something of a wilderness. These times can feel like we are on our own, unsure of who we are and what we are called to do. We may even feel that God has forgotten or abandoned us, leaving us to struggle through on our own. This is not something we choose, and despite Mark telling us that Jesus was driven into the desert, it is also not something that God foists upon us as a punishment or a lesson. There is pain, loss, and grief, that is very human, very real. And, the wilderness is a part of life, a part of our humanity, and there are deep truths that can be revealed there, in time. The truth of the wilderness that Jesus shares with us, and that I have learned as I’ve emerged from my wildernesses, is that nothing can erase our beloved-ness, and nothing can undo the presence of God in all things. This promise is embedded in creation itself, as we also know from the story of Noah like Mr. Jesse talked about, that rainbow that is the promise of God. And that promise is revealed through the rain. Even death cannot undo God’s promise. The parallels in the Gospel of Mark between Jesus’ baptism and his death are profound. Both include a splitting of the barrier between God and us: at baptism there’s a tearing in the sky itself, and at death there’s a rending of the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies, where it was believed that God lived. Both demonstrate the clear presence and movement of the Spirit, in the dove and in the breath, in the story of Jesus’ death. And in both baptism and death, there is that voice proclaiming beloved-ness and identity as child of God. In baptism, we claim our beloved-ness as children of God, embracing the truth that goes back to creation, when God formed us from the earth and breathed life into us. In wilderness, our identities are challenged, refined, claimed, and affirmed in new ways. We aren’t told how Jesus felt during his time in the wilderness, or specifically how he may have been changed, but we do know that he left the wilderness ready to begin his ministry, ready to step toward the pain and grief of John the Baptist’s brutal death. The wilderness, it seems, was just as essential to Jesus as his baptism, preparing him to proclaim, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic The post Wilderness and Baptism appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
7 minutes | 9 days ago
Broken and Beloved
February 17, 2021. What is truth? Tonight, as Lent begins, we ask God that question, and listen for the truth God reveals to us in scripture. Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 *** Transcript *** Many years ago, when I was just getting into twelve-step work in Al-Anon, I remember being told that we are “only as sick as our secrets,” and if that’s true I must have been pretty ill when I got there. I was really good at hiding things I didn’t want you to know, and especially good at hiding mistakes. I thought that the way to be okay, to be liked, to have friends, was to only let you know the good stuff. The last thing I wanted to do was let people know the truth. When the Worship Team met last month to talk about Lent and we were trying to decide on a theme, we bounced around several ideas. And then someone said, “What about ‘Called to Truth?’” And we all realized that was it: truth. That thing we often want to hide. That thing we sometimes think will be our undoing. That thing that Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John will set us free. These days, it seems like there’s so much misinformation, distortion, and outright lies being shared on social media and the news that the truth feels really elusive. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was reflecting on the situation we and our country are in, and Jesus’ conversation with Pilate came to mind. Jesus tells Pilate he has come to testify to the truth, and Pilate says, “Truth? What is truth?” I found myself thinking yeah, what is truth? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has struggled with that recently. Jesus came to testify to the truth — the truth that will set us free. And so in this time of Lent, when we are called to take a step back, to reflect on our lives and our relationship with God and others, to acknowledge the sin that binds us and grow more into the people God is calling us to be, we at Christ Lutheran will lean into God’s call to truth. We will start with Pilate’s very real question: what is truth? Tonight, as Lent begins, we ask God that question, and listen for the truth God reveals to us in scripture. In all of our readings for today, we hear the truth that we have, all of us, turned away from God, in different ways at different times. We have chosen to depend on ourselves and our own power. We have taken advantage of the privileges we have in ways that have done harm to others. We have gotten lost in our attempts to seek approval from others instead of following the way of Christ. We have forgotten our call to care for God’s creation, for the earth and all that lives on it. Tonight, as Lent begins, we hear the truth of our sin and brokenness. And we also hear the truth proclaimed by the prophet Joel that while we are still lost, God is calling us to return, to seek God with our whole hearts. We hear the truth from Paul that now is the acceptable time, today is the day, and that there is always new life in Christ. Jesus tells us in Matthew that God is with us, knows all the things we hide, and calls us to trust in the love of God to lead us home. The God who sees in secret knows that we have sinned, and the God who sees in secret knows the desire we hold in our hearts to return to God. We as Lutherans know that we are sinner and saint, and this truth is revealed to us over and over in scripture. Our brokenness and sin, the truth we want to bury, is uncovered. And the call of the God who shaped us out of the earth with their hands and breathed Spirit into us, that promise of faithfulness even when we stumble, the reality of our beloved-ness, the truth that we are sometimes unable to see, is revealed. We journey these 40 days of Lent together, seeking to follow more closely Christ, who entered into our humanity to show us the ways of God. We follow Jesus of Nazareth, who came to testify to the truth. We receive ash tonight as a symbol of our brokenness and sin, and of our mortality — the truth that we came from dust and will return to dust. The ash traced on our foreheads or on our hands also reminds us of the truth of the forgiveness, faithfulness, and love promised us by the God who formed us out of the dust. Over the years, I have come to believe and know the freedom that comes from truth. Our scriptures proclaim the promise that the God who created us will never abandon us. The God who sees in secret knows everything about us, and even when we stumble, calls us home. We are called to that truth. And that is good news indeed. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 The post Broken and Beloved appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
12 minutes | 20 days ago
When Jesus Left the Synagogue
February 7, 2021. As we gather again for worship in our homes, Pastor Meagan reminds us how Jesus took his ministry out of the synagogue and expanded, into homes and neighboring towns. Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39 *** Transcript *** Last week the Gospel of Mark told us how Jesus got started in his ministry — the calling of the disciples, the proclamation that the realm of God is here, the amazement of the people at the authority Jesus carried in his teaching and the casting out of the unclean spirit. Jesus spent time in the synagogue and embodied, in what he said and did, the good news of God’s love, and claimed in his actions the authority of God, over and above the authority even of the temple. This week Jesus does something really awesome: he leaves the synagogue. And this feels significant, in this time when it has been almost a year since we have worshipped together in our sanctuary. I personally have worshipped from my guest room, my living room, my backyard, my parents’ backyard, my parents’ living room. It’s been almost a year of worshipping from homes, vacation places, and even once I think from a boogie board! As many times as I have heard this passage, the detail of Jesus leaving the synagogue and taking his ministry to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house has mostly escaped me. But this year, it seems like just about the most profound thing Jesus could have done as he began his ministry. A few years back, a Lakota elder shared with a group of United Theological seminarians that Lakota tradition teaches that our stories are rooted in place, not time. And according to that tradition, the valley below Fort Snelling, just blocks from Karen’s and my home in the Twin Cities, is the birthplace of creation — a sort of Garden of Eden. It is also the literal birthplace of many Lakota people whose mothers traveled days and weeks to get to that place so their children could be born there. No matter how much time passes, their stories and the story of creation itself are alive there in that sacred place. And in this experience of exile we have realized, if we didn’t before, the sacredness of our temple, our sanctuary where I now stand. So many of you have told me how much it means just to see our altar in my Zoom screen on Sunday mornings. We are all longing for the time when we can return to gathering in person here, hearing the organ live rather than via video, drinking coffee and eating meals together in our Fellowship Hall. If we didn’t know it before, we certainly know it now: our sanctuary is sacred space. And this week, Jesus leaves the sacred space of the synagogue. And the first place he goes, just as we did when we left our building behind, is home. Not his home, of course, but a home — the home of Simon’s mother-in-law. And Jesus’ ministry does not pause or end when he leaves the synagogue, but expands, as he continues to preach and heal and the word spreads of what he is doing. In a very real way, Jesus demonstrates for us that it is not just the synagogue that is sacred space. We who have celebrated communion in our homes, heard the word in our homes, blessed and celebrated community and even our furry family members in our homes, grieved the death of beloveds in our homes, know this. Home is sacred space, too. And still, before the end of that first chapter of Mark, Jesus moves again. After what must have been an exhausting day, as the people of town filled the small home seeking wisdom and healing, Jesus goes to find a deserted place where he could be by himself and pray. Even Jesus believed, as Isaiah so eloquently says, that “Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength.” I am probably not the only one feeling especially worn out these days. I am sure many of you are also done with COVID, ready to celebrate with abandon in this time when we’re still called to care for one another with caution. In these days when we are often just one step ahead of weariness and exhaustion, how comforting it is to know that we are not alone — even Jesus needed God to renew his strength. When the disciples find Jesus, he doesn’t return to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house or to the synagogue, but moves onward once again. Sacred space, as Jesus shows us, is bigger than the temple, bigger than Simon’s mother-in-law’s house, bigger than the town, and Jesus’ ministry expands to neighboring towns. That too is sacred space. In fact, Isaiah tells us, there is no place that God isn’t. The God who created all things is present in all, to the very ends of the earth. One of the most sacred places I have ever had the privilege of being was the two-room home of a family in Tanzania, where we sat on bales of hay to eat homemade cakes and drink tea sweetened with rare and precious sugar, served by the mother of five whose face glowed with pride at having something to offer us. All places are sacred. Mark tells us that one of the things that happens in sacred places is healing. It’s worth taking a moment to think about this, as Miss Kate talked about. We are painfully aware with over 400,000 having died from a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be done with us yet, although we are certainly done with it, and with the losses we have experienced in our own congregation and our own lives, that healing as we would wish for it doesn’t always happen. We know from our own experiences that sometimes mental and physical disease persist despite our best efforts. And that can leave us wondering where our healing, our miracle, our resurrection is. Mark starts his gospel by proclaiming the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. But sometimes, when brokenness seems to overwhelm, it can be hard to trust and believe that the good news of Jesus’ presence and healing is still happening today. We are part of this dynamic, transformative, and yes healing Spirit that is always moving and breathing around us. Do we believe that? Do we believe the sequel can happen? What does healing even mean? A colleague who lives with disabilities suggested that healing is not so much a restoration to wholeness physically, as if the person healed was not a complete or full human before, but a restoration to community, dignity, and agency. In the midst of the stories of healing in our gospels, Jesus so often not only offers physical healing, but raises people up, brings them back into community, names their humanity and their dignity. In today’s story, Simon’s mother-in-law is initially received as one who simply needs care, as an elderly widow who is in fact ill. Jesus goes to her, and yes he removes her fever, but the true transformation is a restoration to dignity and place in community that allows her to serve — to minister, as Jesus and the disciples did — as well as be served. The question of who receives healing, why and when, is one that we human beings have been wrestling with since the beginning of time, and we still wonder and ask and lament when healing doesn’t come as we hope. And yet, as Miss Kate suggested, the promise of God stands. In Christ, we know that even in the face of illness and suffering and death, God is present with us. In Christ, we are seen and known, our dignity as a child of God is assured, our lament is heard by a God who has experienced suffering and death for themselves. The ministry of Jesus expands again, and again, and again, all the way to the cross. And because of that we can trust that even our places of brokenness, loss, and death are sacred. All places, all time, all lives are sacred. And today, as we gather and worship together on our Zoom screens, we know that more than ever. Christ is present in the sacred space of our homes, bringing the good news of God’s love, restoring us to our community in sometimes surprising ways, lifting us up and renewing our strength when we are exhausted, naming us and calling us beloved, and sending us outward to discover and proclaim the sacredness of God’s presence in the places — and the people — around us. And when we come back to our sanctuary, and we will return, we will do so with great joy and celebration, knowing that that is only the beginning. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic The post When Jesus Left the Synagogue appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
10 minutes | a month ago
Called to Be
January 24, 2021. What has happened for you this week? What if you were asked what happened in the realm of God this week? These feel like very different questions. Today’s sermon is on our readings: Jonah being called to travel to Nineveh, and the disciples who are called to leave everything behind and follow Christ. How are we being called to live into the people God created us to be? Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20 *** Transcript *** Jonah had quite a week, right? If I asked you to tell me what had happened in your life this week, what would you say? Things that stick out for me would be watching the inauguration, celebrating my one-year anniversary of my ordination, writing a sermon, Facetiming with my parents, cleaning the house, Karen starting a new job and school, and watching a new garage go up in our back yard. In the larger world, there is the continual news on the virus and the vaccine, and this week the devastating news of the suicide bombings in Baghdad. What has happened for you this week? Now, what if I asked you what happened in the realm of God this week? That feels like a really different question, doesn’t it? I hold the grief of 400,000 beloveds who have died of COVID in the US as of this week, and their loved ones and their friends, and I think of the country coming together to pray in our grief in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday evening. I think of Worship last Sunday, as we heard the Word of God, and as Jesse reminded us, the invitation to put on our spiritual headphones so that we can hear God’s call in our lives. And prayer all over our country as we witnessed the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris — prayers of hope, fear, joy, anger, and disappointment, prayers for peace, justice, healing, and transformation. And I think of the inspiration and challenge of the example of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and the justice-seekers of today to follow every day the call of God, especially when it’s most difficult. Especially when we might be having, as Jonah did, a really bad day. It does feel like a very different question, doesn’t it? It leads to quite different answers, asking us to shift our view from the events of this world, to the movement of the realm of God. And as I look at our readings today, it seems as if all of them are calling for this kind of turning, this kind of change of perspective. The disciples, and Jonah, and Paul’s readers, are called to see not so much the future, as what God is already doing right in front of them. Jonah is called to leave his home and travel to Nineveh, and preach God’s word to a people that have lost their way, to call them to repentance, so they have the opportunity to change and turn back to God. Jonah wrestles with this, feeling that they don’t deserve that chance. In the process, Jonah is challenged to recognize that God doesn’t see things as we do, in neat black and white categories, but meets all of us where we are, constantly offering us the chance to let go of our sin and brokenness and follow God’s call. Constantly responding to us and where we are, even if it means changing God’s mind, as Mr. Roger pointed out. The disciples leave behind their homes, their families, their livelihood, to follow Christ who calls them to be fishers of people instead. And as they leave their nets, they also leave the debt and corruption that ensnared them — the fishing industry was controlled by the government, and they barely made a living after the taxes were paid. The word aphiēmi that is used for “leaving” their nets can be translated as letting go of sin and debt, entering into a new freedom, and it is sometimes even called the jubilee verb. The disciples are called to leave behind the systems that have them bound up, and see what God is up to, as what doesn’t matter so much falls away. They leave behind their blood family, create a chosen family around this new mission and vision of God’s realm, and they continue to widen the circle as they invite others — including their blood family — to follow as well. And, Jesus promises to make them fishers of people. Fishermen like the disciples were in that time rather unremarkable, holding little notice and claiming little attention from those around them. So calling these people was an interesting choice for Jesus, but not so surprising as God often calls the least expected. And as Jesus called the disciples, he called them not only to leave behind that which bound them, but also called them into freedom, and says he will make them fishers of people. Jesus is promising to transform these unremarkable fishers so they could become their truer selves, the beloveds that God created them to be. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, he is inviting them to do the same — to let go of being dependent on the things of this world, to leave behind that which binds us, and trust in the God who will always be faithful no matter what is happening in this world. And we are each called today, as Mr. Jesse said. As Jonah, and Paul’s listeners, and the disciples were called to leave what was comfortable and familiar, to turn away from empire and seek God’s realm, we are called to do the same. We know when Jonah is called, he runs! He doesn’t want to let go of his perhaps comfortable judgement of those he sees as less than, and we don’t actually know if he ever really does. He struggles, as we often do. The disciples in contrast are said to follow Jesus immediately. And that for me begs the question: what was it about Jesus that they were drawn to? What did he reveal to them? Why do we follow Jesus today? Why do we resist, and what do we find ourselves running from? In the end, from all these stories we see that the core of the call is to understand that God is present in it all: the garage, the new job, anniversary, housecleaning, and tragedy and joy of world events — and Worship, prayer, and the call to justice. Because ultimately the call we hear in all of our scriptures today is a call to see all things in this world with God’s eyes and heart. To open our heart and align our spirits to the vision God has for us and for creation. We are called to live into the people God created us to be, to be transformed by knowing the presence of God in our lives. There is so much about our world that is broken today, so much that binds us, so much that blinds us from seeing God at work. And there is profound hope in the promise that the realm of God is growing, transforming, and bringing life all around us every day. National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman shared on Wednesday a poem for our times that speaks to this promise, and our call. I leave you with some of the words from her poem, “The Hill We Climb.” “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade We’ve braved the belly of the beast We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace And the norms and notions of what just is Isn’t always just-ice And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it Somehow we do it Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished” She ends with this line: “When day comes and we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:5-12, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, Jesse Helton, Roger Rose, Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb The post Called to Be appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
12 minutes | a month ago
Listening, Truth, and Relationship
January 17, 2021. Pastor Meagan’s sermon today is on the importance of listening to God and to one another, speaking the truth even when it’s hard, and being in relation with and really seeing one another during this difficult time. Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20], Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, John 1:43-51 *** Transcript *** Is anyone else feeling kind of overwhelmed and muddled in the last couple of weeks? It kind of feels like there is no end to the information, the emotion, the events, challenges that are presenting themselves at a pace that’s almost impossible to keep up with. We talk about listening, and sometimes I wonder, how do we even begin to do that, where there is just so much coming our way all the time? And as I sat down to read the scriptures and prepare for Worship and to talk with you today, I struggled for a long time to focus on what God was saying to me, and to us, this week. However, you might know I am a firm believer, as Melissa pointed out, that no matter what is going on in the world — no matter what the confusion, no matter the emotions, no matter what — God will always speak to us through our scriptures. And there is no reason why today should be an exception. So, in the spirit of keeping things simple, there are three things that jumped out at me from our readings today that I think can help guide us as people of faith who are struggling to navigate an ever-more chaotic world. The first is, as we’ve said, to listen to God — and to one another. I spoke with a family member a day or two after the events at the Capitol last week, to see how they were doing with all that had taken place. She shared the fear, the disillusionment, and the horror that we’re all feeling, of course. But what really stands out from that conversation is a plea: we have to listen to one another. Everyone is upset, angry, frustrated, and feels left behind. We have to listen to one another. And we are called to listen to God. In our reading from Samuel, we hear the story of a young person — Samuel was probably only about 12 years old — who was awakened by the voice of God. He didn’t recognize it at first, but he heard it, and he did his best to respond saying, “Speak, your servant is listening.” And we too are called to listen for the call of God in our lives. It says in the Samuel reading that the voice of God was rare in those days, but still God spoke to Samuel, and Samuel heard him. God has always spoken in many ways, throughout the scriptures — sometimes through a literal voice, a burning bush, angels, dreams, prophets, a rainbow in the sky. God has spoken throughout history, and even into modern day. If you have seen the movie “Selma,” you may remember that very profound scene where the marchers for justice arrive at the entrance to that bridge, and they pause when they see all of the police waiting there for them. And then, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, followed by all of the marchers behind him, kneeled and bowed his head, seeking guidance from God as to what he should do next. Then he rose, and in silence he turned around and left the bridge. His fellow leaders were in disagreement about whether or not they should have done that, but Dr. King knew that God had called him, in that moment, to wait for another day. And we know the rest of that story — the day did come, and the marchers went to Selma to claim their rights as citizens and human beings. And God still speaks to us today — through our scriptures, through the prophets of our time, through our neighbors, family, friends, and sometimes even through those we disagree with the most. And God speaks to us in prayer, too. Where is God calling you, today? How is God speaking to you, in these most chaotic times? The second thing that stood out to me in today’s readings is that we’re called to speak truth, and receive truth, even when it’s hard. Young Samuel hears God’s voice, and when he responds that he’s listening, he is called to share the truth of sin and brokenness with Eli — his elder, his mentor, his adopted father. We know that Samuel was scared to do this, but Eli was ready and invited — even commanded — Samuel to tell him everything that God had said. So, Samuel tells Eli of God’s anger at the way he has allowed his sons to act out of selfishness, greed, and abuse, disregarding the human dignity of those visiting the temple, and dishonoring the God whom they were to serve. Samuel shared the hard truth, and grew into a person who everyone knew they could trust. Eli heard the hard truth, owned the mistakes he had made, and he was changed. Dr. King also told hard truths. He shared a vision of community where all lived with one another, seen and accepted as they are. And he said, to white religious leaders of good will who nevertheless criticized his actions, “I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s greatest stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Council or the Ku Klux Klan but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” That is what Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his letter from the Birmingham Jail. And I hear this same hard truth from my colleagues and friends of color today: when we don’t embrace the dignity, challenges, oppression, and pain of others, we do them violence, just as surely as if we wielded a weapon. We are called to speak hard truths, as Samuel did. And we are called to listen and receive hard truths when they are given to us, as Eli did. The third thing that stood out to me in our readings today is that we’re called to be in relationship, to see one another. We’re together in this journey, of speaking and listening, called to fully see and know one another as fellow beloveds of God. Eli has been deaf to God, but when God persists in calling Samuel, Eli understands and can guide Samuel in how to listen for what God is saying. Samuel doesn’t know it’s God calling until Eli points it out. In our gospel today, having received an invitation from Jesus to come and get to know him, Philip invites Nathanael to join him. We hear in the reading that Nathanael is skeptical at first, wondering if anything good can come from this itinerant preacher from Nazareth. But Philip says, “Come and see.” See for yourself who this Jesus is. Hear his words, get to know him, and then you can decide. So Nathanael goes, and what he discovers is that Jesus really sees him. Jesus even sees his doubt, identifying Nathanael as a person in whom there is no deceit. And being seen, being known, and embraced as he is, transforms Nathanael. Have you ever had a moment when you felt really seen or heard? What were the things that helped you to know you’d been seen? What did that feel like? I have been fortunate to have many people in my life who have seen me as I am. Those experiences of being fully seen and known have been some of the most transformative times of my life. Seeing and hearing someone as they are is love at its best. When people have truly seen me, or heard what is in my heart, I’ve been able to see things in myself that I hadn’t heard before, as they have shown me who God created me to be, and revealed what God is calling me to. The psalmist today sings of the God who knows us intimately, every part of us, from whom we cannot hide. And we are called to offer that gift to one another: the gift of seeing others as they are, letting God love them through us. These are, I believe, prophetic words for our time. God is calling all of us to listen, to God and to one another, to speak and receive hard truths, and to be in deep relationship with one another and the God who created all of us. This is not easy, but it is our call, and we are not alone on this journey. Back to the story of Samuel, you may notice that God calls Samuel not just once, but three times. God didn’t give up on Samuel, and he doesn’t give up on us, either. God is calling us, and together we can hear the voice and respond: speak, your servant is listening. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20], Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, John 1:43-51 The post Listening, Truth, and Relationship appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
13 minutes | 2 months ago
Truth, Empire, and the Long Road Home
January 10, 2021. Pastor Meagan’s sermon today is on the feast of Epiphany, and what it means for us in these days of racism and violence. Readings: Matthew 2:1-17 *** Transcript *** Today, we are celebrating the feast of the Epiphany. We are celebrating Christ with us and God leading us. I was finishing my sermon on Wednesday afternoon, January 6, when Pastor Kendra came across the hall from her office and told me to turn on the news. I watched with a mix of shock and horror as thousands of armed white people climbed walls, broke windows, and entered and interrupted congressional session in what was by clear definition an attempted coup. I have been sickened as I have heard the pain of colleagues and friends of color who know just how differently this would have turned out if the coup had been led by people of color. And so, the sermon I had written has changed, as our worship has changed, in light of what has unfolded in front of us the last few days. Epiphany tells us a story about the three kings, following the star, traveling from far parts of the earth to see what God is up to. They make a pit stop at the palace of King Herod when the star disappears, before continuing on their journey. It’s a familiar story, showing us that even the kings come before Jesus to bring gifts from all corners of the earth, so that they can worship God, Emmanuel. And this is certainly an important message of this story. But what I have realized in this time more than ever is that Epiphany is teaching us about truth, and empire, and the persistence and faithfulness of God’s surprising guidance and work in this world. Epiphany literally means, in one definition, a sudden revelation or insight, an awareness of a truth that wasn’t apparent before. I think about when I realized that I was not, and never would be, perfect, a revelation that left me at once horrified and giddy with relief. Or that moment when I saw my parents as actual human beings for the first time. (Yes kids, this may happen to you too.) I think about those major national events of my lifetime that have changed forever how I see the world, like the explosion of the Challenger, the attempted assassination of President Reagan, the attack on the World Trade Center, and of course the events of January 6, 2021. Epiphany is about truth revealed, and that is not always a comfortable or welcome thing. Because often the truth God shows us challenges us to see things differently, to acknowledge issues and problems and barriers within ourselves, to change our minds on things we thought we were certain of. And often, the truths God reveals are a threat to the empire, the powers and privileges that shape our world, in some ways making us feel safe. The three kings brought news to Herod of what they saw God doing — bringing a new king into the world — that threatened everything he had. And look at what Herod did — when the wise people, who he tried to make allies to his empire, failed to return to tell him where he could find Jesus, he sent his soldiers to kill all the babies, to try to prevent this “new king” from taking his power. We don’t really know how many children were slaughtered on Herod’s orders, and he may in fact have done many worse things, but it was certainly among the worst things we can imagine empire doing. And in our country, these last months, we have empire threatened now, willing to use any means to hold onto the little power they have left — even if, we realize especially after this week, it means figuratively speaking burning everything. The good news is, Herod, the empire of Jesus’s time, didn’t succeed. And neither, Christ Lutheran family, will the empire of today. The journey will not be easy, far from it, and we are a long ways from the end of it. But still, God is here, among us. The good news of God in Jesus Christ is that God’s work in this world cannot be subverted, or prevented, or even delayed. Empire notwithstanding, God continues to guide us in the most surprising of ways. As the three wise people, these three kings, arrived in Bethlehem, they had been on the road for months, perhaps even years, as they studied the skies, following a strange convergence of stars or planets that seemed to indicate something amazing was on the horizon. They weren’t sure what would come of it all, but they did believe that whatever they found when they got there, it would be worth their trouble. We don’t know where they came from, except from “the East.” We do know, from Matthew’s telling, that they travelled together at least part of the journey, and they all ended up in the same place: a stable, not in Herod’s throne room, not in Jerusalem or any of the other large imperial cities, but in Bethlehem of all places, where a baby had been born to a poor couple who were far from home. And as surprising as the scene might have been for its seeming insignificance, the wise people somehow knew that they were exactly where they were supposed to be. There was no way to tell what would happen from there, and the journey was not over for these kings who had already traveled so far, but they had seen what they knew to be truth. Matthew tells us they resisted Herod, the empire, and continued on a different path. And God continued to lead them. We are in our own time in a moment of Epiphany. On our TV screens and laptops and newspapers on January 6th, we saw clearly the truth of the damage caused by the sins of racism, violence, individualism, and lies. We saw unfolding in real time what the empire of our day is willing to do to hold onto power. And in the days since, we have seen hope, as conflicts have been resolved (at least for now) and the immediate questions that led to Wednesday’s events have been answered. But Christ Lutheran family, just as the three kings continued their journey long after they left Bethlehem, our journey continues also. Colleagues from across the country who gathered for a January 7th Zoom meeting exhorted us to recognize that part of the challenge for us as people of faith is to see the brokenness in ourselves, as well as in the world. We as Lutherans know we are sinner and saint, and we have all benefited from, and contributed to, the broken systems of racism, poverty, oppression, and division that have led us to this moment in our history. The full truth that is being revealed in our Epiphany must be heard and embraced, before healing can begin. We as people of faith know that God is present and at work. God is even now guiding us to leave behind the empire of our day, to renounce systems and powers warped by racism and greed and untruth, and follow where God is leading us by another path, guided by truth, justice, grace, and love, as frightening or unfamiliar or surprising as it might be. We have been on a journey of our own this last year, haven’t we? We were just beginning to get to know each other when the pandemic came and so much of what we had planned, and what was familiar to us, was necessarily changed. In our own lives and homes, we have made countless decisions about how to keep ourselves and our families safe, navigated new ways of working and studying in person or online, watched and prayed for family members who were ill, cancelled and changed plans for holidays and vacations, said goodbye to loved ones who died, and welcomed new life. We have grieved countless losses and celebrated joys of all sizes. We have been tired, lonely, anxious, giddy, grateful, and so many other things. So much has happened, and we have traveled so far in the year that seemed to go on forever. And God has been with us through it all. Guiding us, as the star guided the three kings. Giving us hope. Bringing us together, as our Isaiah reading says, from all corners of the world, even if it is over Zoom. God has shown us that new life comes out of death in Christ’s resurrection, even in a pandemic. That we can share the abundance of God’s table in communion, each from our own homes. That prayer can cross oceans in ways that seem tangible. That simple things like a bag of groceries, Advent gifts, Christmas lights, sidewalk chalk messages, phone calls and emails and notes, can mean more than we ever knew before. So in the midst of the sometimes frightening and ugly truths we are faced with, we know we can trust that God is with us now. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which we will sing in a minute, in the midst of the Civil War when his son had just died, offering profound witness to this truth. The journey of the wise men, the revelation they experienced, their courage in defying Herod, and God’s faithfulness in guiding them through the unknown teaches us this. God is here, showing us truths we need to see, leading us away from brokenness and death, and guiding us on a new way home. Where have you seen the star, this last year? What truths have you learned, about yourself and the world? What signs have you seen of God’s transforming, creative, life-giving, abundant love, in this community, your families, our world? And where is God leading you, and us of Christ Lutheran, next? Amen. *** Keywords *** 2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Matthew 2:1-17 The post Truth, Empire, and the Long Road Home appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
12 minutes | 2 months ago
December 27, 2020. From the small snippet we have about the adolescent Jesus, we are assured that in Jesus, we have a God who knows exactly what it means to be human. Pastor Meagan’s sermon today is on the good news of Christmas for us as Christians, that in Jesus we are never alone on our human journey, because God is there, in the tiniest details of our daily life. Readings: Luke 2:22-40 *** Transcript *** Christmas Day 2020 is over. We have gathered for Christmas Eve Worship, in the ways we could this season. We gathered in our households, Zoomed in our extended family to share Christmas greetings, opened presents, ate special meals with those closest to us. We probably haven’t taken down the decorations yet, but we might be starting to think about it — even if there are still almost two weeks left until Epiphany arrives and Christmas is officially over. And in this pandemic time, we may be feeling extra lonely, missing those we couldn’t be with this year. We may be feeling tired, from working hard to find new ways to celebrate Christmas. We may be feeling discouraged, wanting this pandemic to be over and feeling like Christmas just wasn’t what we hoped for, and wondering when we will finally be able to celebrate together. We may be joyful, having been surprised by the new and creative things that happened this year. Or peaceful, knowing that God is present in this messy world after all. And however we are feeling, Jesus was born. God is among us. And the Spirit is at work in this world of ours, just like she has been since creation. So, now what? What happens next? Because the birth of Christ, we know, was just the beginning of the story. We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood, really. Luke provides us with a detailed story of Jesus’ birth — where he was born, who was there, the shepherds visiting after the angel came to them. We are told in Matthew of the visit of the wise people, and the Holy Family leaving soon after for Egypt, when Jesus was probably no more than a couple of years old. Then, there are just two stories of Jesus’ childhood, before the story continues with Jesus as an adult. In today’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph, faithful Jewish parents, bring their son Jesus to the temple to fulfill the rites of dedication, and once again the prophets speak. Anna had been in the temple much of her adult life, waiting for the arrival of the one she knew God would send. She tells everyone there that Jesus, this little babe-in-arms, is the one for whom they had all been waiting for so long. Simeon sings one of the most beloved prayers of our scriptures, proclaiming that in Christ all that God has promised has been fulfilled. Then, in the verses following today’s gospel, we have a story of Jesus around the age of 12, leaving his parents and going to the temple, where they finally find him. And then, nothing, until Jesus is somewhere around 30 years old, and he begins his public ministry. One can imagine Jesus’ baby book, the first several pages full of pictures from his early days, a note stuck in the back about how Mary and Joseph found him in the temple when he was 12, and then, blank pages until he was a grown man and the world around him started to really take notice of what he was saying and doing. So parents, if you ever feel guilty about not having a complete baby book for each of your children, don’t worry, you aren’t the only one. But let’s go back for a moment to that scene at the temple, and Jesus wandering away from his parents. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for three days. It reminds me of when I was young, and my grandmother was visiting us and babysitting while my parents were out of town. All of a sudden, my younger brother Phil was nowhere to be found. Panic ensued, as my grandmother started looking for him anywhere she could think, enlisted the neighbors to help, and we all went around yelling his name. They were just on the verge of calling the police when someone finally thought to look in the boat, which sat in the driveway with a cover on it to keep rain from getting in. Sure enough, my younger brother, who loved (and still loves) boats, had managed to undo enough snaps on the cover to slip inside, and he had climbed in and taken a nap. Found at last. It probably felt like forever to my poor grandmother, who was dreading the thought of having to call my parents to let them know she had lost their child. But really, it was likely only about 20 minutes or so. Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for three days! Three days of walking, asking everyone they encountered if they had seen Jesus, trying to come up with more ideas of where to look, imagining the worst. If my grandmother dreaded calling my parents, Mary must have been horrified at the thought of having to account to God for losing track of His son! And then, after all of that, there he was: confidently and clearly explaining the scriptures to the temple teachers, while they asked him questions and were astounded at his wisdom, and the young Jesus seemingly unconcerned about how desperately his parents must have been searching for him. It is no wonder then that Mary is at once flooded with relief, shocked at finding him in the temple, where she and Joseph hadn’t thought to look until then, and angry at seeing him so calm when they had been so worried about him. This is not a peaceful, serene Mary, but one as frantic as my grandmother was at losing my brother, as panicked as any of us would be if we could not find a child in our care. And so, Mary calls Jesus, the 12 year old Son of the living God, to account. “How could you do this to us? Wander away for so long? Did you not ever once think about how terrified we would be, searching for you all this time?” Jesus’ answer doesn’t really satisfy his parents, as they don’t understand it. But as we listen today to Jesus’ words we notice that at the age of 12 Jesus already related to God as his father, and knew he belonged in his father’s house — an unusual thought at the time. It’s as if Simeon and Anna’s inspired words had seeped into his heart and spirit, and he knew God in a surprising way. Luke also tells us that, having wandered away from his parents so disrespectfully, Jesus went home with them and obeyed them, and grew up and learned and gained wisdom, as we hopefully all do. And the next we hear of Jesus, he is an adult and preparing to enter public life, after so many quiet years of living the seemingly ordinary life of a young Jewish boy/man in first century Palestine. And so, we know that Jesus did not just go straight from innocent baby to preacher who was known to everyone around, including the Roman leaders, with nothing in between. And Mary and Joseph raised Jesus just as all Jewish children around them were being raised: loving him, teaching him, bringing him to the synagogue, and yes, freaking out when they thought he was in danger. Jesus lived, as we do, with parents, family, friends, work, synagogue life, school, and everything else that went along with being human, just like we do. He upset his parents, as all children do. He grew up, as we all do. From the small snippet we have about the adolescent Jesus, we are assured again that in Jesus, we have a God who knows exactly what it means to be human. In the midst of this ordinary life we lead, knowing Jesus means that God is right here with us — not just in the big things, but in all of the ordinary, everyday things that go along with being human. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, shows us that there is no place and no thing where God is not. And this is the good news of Christmas for us as Christians — in Jesus, we are never alone in our human journey, because God is there, in the tiniest details of our daily life. With Anna and Simeon we can rest, knowing that in Christ, God has broken into this world of ours. We can rejoice, knowing that God’s promises have been, and are being fulfilled. With Mary and Joseph, we can ponder all of these things in our hearts, and grow in our awareness of God in our midst. Christmas Day is just the beginning of the story. The Spirit of God that created all that is, and came to earth in human form in Christ, comes to heal, transform, redeem, and create today. On this first Sunday of Christmas, 2020, I leave you with these words from Howard Thurman: “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.” And now let us sing, as Simeon did, of the trust and the hope that we have in Christ. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 2:22-40, Howard Thurman, COVID-19, coronavirus The post Now What? appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
7 minutes | 2 months ago
Nine Months Later… Ready or Not!
December 24, 2020. On this Christmas Eve, God comes to us not in the big things, but in the smallest of the particulars. Reading: Luke 2:1-20 *** Transcript *** Nine months ago we took, as Bishop Candea suggested, a pause in gathering in person. The pause grew, and we celebrated Easter and then Pentecost on Zoom. We have celebrated baptism, and communion, and funerals. We have continued to adapt as summer moved to fall, and Advent began. And here we are, nine months later, greeting anew the birth of God in the flesh, ready or not. Whether the tree is trimmed, or not. Whether the presents are bought and wrapped, or not. Whether the food is ready, or not. Whether the house is clean, or not. Whether our church building is open, or not. And that is quite fitting, really. Because when you think about it, how ready could Mary and Joseph have been to welcome this new babe, when they were many miles from home, having barely finished a long and exhausting journey before Mary goes into labor, only to find out that somehow or other, their reservation at the inn must have gotten lost? And yet, the labor continued, somehow they found a place to stay, and Jesus is born. Ready or not. And yes, the angels sang, and the wise people are on their way, following the star — that amazing light in the sky that is marking the place where God has just broken into the world. But inside the stable, what you see when you look in the door is Jesus lying in the manger, Mary resting, and Joseph keeping watch. Nothing there gives any indication that the whole world is about to be transformed. The world Jesus is born into — under Roman governors and emperors, and puppet religious leaders appointed by Rome — is about to be turned upside down. But in an ironic sort of way, most people have no idea what has taken place. Jesus was born to parents whose job is to follow directions, present themselves where they’re told, for Joseph and Mary to work as hard as they can to support the growing family, to care for and protect their child from all the dangers that may present themselves as Jesus gets older. There is nothing remarkable, as you peek in the windows, about this family. And yet, it is this family to whom Jesus is born. And the first people to hear that news, that the promise of God to bring justice and healing and redemption to this broken world is being fulfilled, are not the wealthy wise people, or the emperor, or the high priest, but the shepherds in the fields. The shepherds were not ready, either. While the rest of the world was following the order to go and be counted, they were in the fields, watching their sheep, almost oblivious to the chaos around them. They were people without a home or a family heritage, or money. They were, in the eyes of the emperor, not worth counting in the census, not worth sending soldiers to usher them to comply with the law. And it is to them, these herders of sheep without a name or a country, that the angel first announces the good news to all the people. It is for them the angel came, and the heavenly hosts sang. And they were the first to go to the place where Jesus lay to see for themselves what God was doing. I wonder tonight who the shepherds are who are hearing the angels bringing that first word of good news. They may be singing in the tent city here in St Louis of hope for a new life for those who have no homes. They may be offering a gentle lullaby to nurses and aids and doctors and staff and patients in COVID ICU, letting them know that God is present, even in the midst of illness and despair. They may be greeting those desperately seeking a new life in this country as they cross the border, letting them know they, the strangers, are not strangers to God. They may be with those who are not sure where they will find the money to pay their rent, and put groceries on the table, when they are still out of work. As the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol declares, “It is Christmas here too, you know!” Jesus is the God of all the world, the creator of all that is, breaking into that time and that place — and this time and this place — so that we can all, along with the shepherds who were the first to hear and share the news, know that the God who is bigger than we can possibly imagine, is also as small, and holdable, and accessible, and vulnerable, as this tiny baby, whose fingers and toes we can count once we step over the threshold and draw close to the manger. God comes to us this night not in the big things — the world and the universe and the mountains and the seas — but in the smallest of the particulars. As we gather, in our cars or on our Zoom screens in our homes, the baby Jesus invites us to pay attention to the details, the miracle that is revealed when God shows up in tiny nose, fuzzy hair on an otherwise bald brown head, in the sound of gurgles and cries and burps, and the wiggling of brand-new arms and legs and fingers and toes. This night, now that it has arrived, we don’t have to understand or prepare. The angel is calling to us, and we can join the shepherds and go to see for ourselves what God is doing. And the heavenly hosts will lead us in song: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to God’s people on earth. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Luke 2:1-20 The post Nine Months Later… Ready or Not! appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
11 minutes | 2 months ago
Following the Star, Claiming the Promises
December 20, 2020. Have you ever had a moment when you realized that your whole life was changing, that something was emerging that you couldn’t quite see yet? This year, of all years, we really need to know that there is something much bigger than us going on, that there is order in this chaos that we are living. Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Luke 1:26-56 *** Transcript *** Have you ever had a moment when you realized that your whole life was changing, that something was emerging that you couldn’t quite see yet? I can think of several times when I knew that transformation and mystery was happening — and fear, even terror. When I first said out loud that I was gay. When I moved into my first apartment, living on my own for the first time. When I made the decision to leave my job of nine years and go back to school full time. And when I got the phone call from the Call Committee here at Christ Lutheran, one Sunday morning just about a year ago. My pastor at my home congregation describes me as having a look of shock and wonder and disbelief as I shared the news with her a year ago. I’m not much of an astronomer, but my wife knows enough to be able to point out Mars and Venus and Jupiter in the sky at night, and I can usually spot them when she does. And I do enjoy looking at the stars, even if I can’t find any constellation besides the Big Dipper. There is something about the stars that, like the ocean, takes me out of the minutiae of my daily life, and reminds me just how big this world is, and just how small I am. The wise people knew far more about the night sky than I do. And although Jesus hadn’t been born yet, and they had no idea what it meant, they knew because of what they saw that something was up. The wise people probably didn’t suddenly see the star after Jesus’ birth, and begin their journey after he had been born. They had been watching the sky for years, and the unique star that they saw probably caught their eyes months prior to that sacred night in the stable in Bethlehem. And when they saw it, they knew that the world was about to change. They knew that something was about to happen that was worth traveling for days or weeks or months, worth lying to King Herod, worth giving up their treasure for. And soon, the wise people will be greeting a child whose birth was revealed to them by the stars they watched at night — the child whose birth, as insignificant as it might have seemed, would change everything. Jesus hasn’t been born yet, but the wise people already see it coming. They are living, as we Lutherans do, in a world that is, and is not yet. Mary sang of it in our gospel today, and in our opening hymn from Holden. After hearing from the angel what was going to happen and traveling to see Elizabeth. Mary’s song is really quite remarkable, as Debie Thomas points out in her blog this week. The angel brought Mary news that would shake any unmarried teenager — she is pregnant, with no good way to explain how that happened, and by tradition and law could be easily punished, beaten, ostracized, even killed. And yet, when she greets Elizabeth, her first words are ones of deep joy: “My spirit rejoices in God.” I can only imagine that her journey to Elizabeth must have been quite a wrestling — with herself, with God, reconciling and trying to understand what has just happened to her. Mary goes on to say that God has seen her in her humanness — poor; female in a world that didn’t value women; living in a brutal, occupied land; young, not yet married. God saw her just as she was, and was mindful of her. Somehow, out of all the people in the world, out of all the people in Nazareth, God saw and knew Mary intimately. And he was mindful of her. Then Mary the prophet, who was living in a broken world, full of injustice and hunger and poverty, saw and claimed the vision of God’s promise already at work. God has not only seen Mary, but all who are on the edge, as the hungry are filled and the marginalized and forgotten and abused ones are lifted up. The strong and the powerful, it seems, are already taken care of in this world, so God is especially mindful of those who have been pushed aside. And in the middle of the world still bound with injustice and pain, Mary sang of the world she knew God was bringing into being. “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” As Mary sings, she echoes the faith and the hope of many who came before her — Hannah, and Hagar, and the psalmist, and all the prophets, who proclaimed the hope and promise that is now, but not quite yet. Jesus hasn’t been born yet, but the wise people are on their way, following signs in the world our God created that pointed to things much bigger than themselves. And this year of all years, a year of pandemics and fires and elections and racial tensions, so much chaos, we really need to know that there is something much bigger than us going on, that there is order in this chaos that we are living. And in our time, that transformation that Mary speaks of, that the wise people saw coming, continues. Christmas isn’t here yet, but we know Christ is coming. And our world is in just as much need of transformation, healing, and re-creation, as the world the wise people traveled 2000 years ago. The prophets of today are claiming the promise anew, like Kelly Brown Douglas claiming that God is freedom, William Barber II declaring that people on the margins are seeking transformation and justice and healing and not a return to a disparate normal, Valarie Kauer’s revelation that the chaos we are living in is the darkness of the womb, not the darkness of the tomb, and that it will bring new life and not death. Jupiter and Saturn are close to aligning, and tomorrow they will come together to show us a sign. Astronomers today think that what we will be seeing in the sky if we venture out tomorrow evening after sunset is perhaps the same sign the wise ones saw so many years ago, the star that gave a glimpse of the promises of God to come that led the wise people to Bethlehem. The very same star that showed them that something new, something world-changing, was about to happen. In this time of COVID-19, as we have stayed away from our church building for a time, we have learned what Nathan tried to tell David so long ago — God is building a house, has been building it for millennia, a house not of brick and mortar but of people, of us. And Christ Lutheran family, God is still building us up, inspiring us, breathing new life, healing, and transformation into this broken world. We can look to the skies as the wise people did, and know that Christ is coming. We have just a few days left — I bet some of the kids could tell us even how many hours we have left — and in this moment we join all the people who for millennia have been claiming and proclaiming the promise. This was not a one-time event that happened 2000 years ago and was complete, but a movement of the Spirit of God that began with creation and continues on today. We are not alone. We can see the star, hear the words of the angel Gabriel, and know that something new is happening. With the prophets of yesterday and today, we can embrace all the change and fear and grief and wonder that that brings. And then, we can join Mary in joy, promise, and hope, and sing with her as our spirits rejoice in the promise coming to us in Christ. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Luke 1:26-56, COVID-19, coronavirus The post Following the Star, Claiming the Promises appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
7 minutes | 3 months ago
December 6, 2020. What does the good news of Jesus mean for our world? Today’s sermon is on the first chapter of Mark, and is an invitation to see God’s creative, redemptive work in the world. Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1: 1-8 *** Transcript *** We read today from the first chapter of Mark, and he tells us right off what his purpose is in writing. He is sharing the good news with everyone, the good news of Jesus Christ. And of course, as we worship today on this second Sunday in Advent in 2020, we’re eager for good news — eager for Jesus to be with us, for the kingdom of God to be revealed in all of its fullness, for all that is broken in this world to be healed and redeemed. So just imagine for a moment that you turn on the TV, or check in on your Facebook page or your Twitter feed, and instead of the latest news on election recounts and transitions, or COVID statistics, or crime reports, you see this first line from the Gospel of Mark: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” With all that’s happening these days, we could all use a little good news, right? So amazed, you quickly do some fact checking, and you find this news — the good news of Jesus Christ — is being shared all over the place, on all the major networks. And although some of the details are still fuzzy, there is wide agreement on the important part: God has come to earth, in Jesus, and our whole world is about to change! So still wondering what this is all about, you read some more of Mark’s account, and you notice that he doesn’t go straight to Jesus, but he takes a bit of a detour, giving us some backstory, telling us first of John the Baptist — the one preparing the way, crying out in the wilderness, calling for people to get ready for the coming of God. It refers back to older stories, like Isaiah, that tell us about the need to make straight the highway, lift up the valley, lower the mountain, so the way of God will be made clear. So you show these reports to your family, and talk it over, and together you wonder why this would be necessary. After all, God made the mountains and the valleys, right? So isn’t God capable of coming without us re-shaping God’s creation? So a bit further in, Mark’s story says that John the Baptist was calling the people to change, and they were coming, from all over, to acknowledge how they as a people had lost their way. They left behind the distractions of their daily lives and their work, and they went to the wilderness so they could hear the good news better. They were called to leave, at least for a while, their alliances to the powers of this world, to acknowledge the ways they had contributed to systems that left people poor, and hungry, and pushed to the margins. John called them to come together, from everywhere, crossing all the lines that usually divided them into groups, or teams, or tribes. So you talk this over some more, and you come to the conclusion that maybe this preparation, this time of getting ready, is not so much about making it easier for God to “get through,” as it is about helping us be more ready to notice and welcome and receive and share that good news that the prophets bring us today. And as you read the article again, or listen to the reporter on TV reviewing what we know so far, you notice that John says all of this starts by naming and letting go of all the stuff that has gotten in the way, repenting and confessing our sin and brokenness, all those things that come between you and God, and you and God’s people. It starts by remembering your humanity, and your baptism. It starts by remembering again the truth of who you are as God’s kids. So you set down your smart phone — or turn off the TV — and sit quietly for a bit trying to get your heads around what you’ve just heard. And then one of you asks the question you’ve all been trying to answer since you first heard the headline, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: what now? What distractions from your daily lives do you need to leave behind, so you can notice, and welcome, and receive, and share the good news of God’s love in this world in Jesus Christ? Who are the voices you are hearing, who are crying out in the wilderness today, telling us that God is at work in this world here and now? What does that good news of Jesus mean for our world? How are you called to share this good news with the people around you? Because Mark’s message wasn’t just for the people of his time, but for us too, in this broken world that we live in. The letter from Peter tells us that with God a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day — no matter how long we feel we’ve been waiting, no matter how late God seems to be, God’s promises are sure, and we can trust that God is at work even when we can’t see it. John’s call to the wilderness is an invitation to see God’s creative, redemptive work in what might seem chaotic, confusing, wounded, and even desolate. That headline is echoing, 2000 years later: the Good News of Jesus Christ, Son of God. And it is only the beginning. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1: 1-8, coronavirus, pandemic, COVID-19 The post Good News! appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
11 minutes | 3 months ago
Room on the Couch
November 29, 2020. It is so much more than the birth of a baby that we await in this Advent season. In her sermon today, Pastor Meagan invites us to support each other in our commitment to take seriously the call to keep watch for the presence of God in our midst. Readings: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, Mark 13:24-37 *** Transcript *** So thinking about all this waiting, I can still feel the anticipation that filled me as a child when Thanksgiving came, and I knew Christmas was “just around the corner.” When we were expecting company, I would watch from our couch in the living room, because it had a great view of the street and I’d be able to see our guests arriving. I would spend the entire month of December, figuratively speaking, leaning over the back of the couch, trying to make the time go faster! I was desperately curious about every detail of the parties that were being planned — what food would be served, when my cousins would come in from out of town, what service we would attend at church, what Santa would bring me, and could I please, please, please go along when my dad went to pick up my grandmother and my great aunts? Every minute seemed like an hour, hours like days, days like weeks. Christmas was all I could think about, and at the same time it felt like it would never get there. Advent is a time to follow what Jesus calls us to do in Mark — stay awake, keep watch. And I certainly had that down, even if I was more focused on parties and presents than on the birth of Jesus. Time has changed since then, or perhaps it’s my perception that has changed. Now rather than being painfully slow, the month of December flies by so quickly that I hardly have time to realize that it’s Advent before suddenly here it is — Christmas Eve. Being who I am, I am always prepared, at least in one sense. Presents are bought and wrapped, the tree is trimmed, food for the family meal is ready. But spiritually and emotionally, I’m always taken by surprise when Christmas comes. I spend more time on my to-do list and less time leaning over the back of the couch. And as the years go by I find myself yearning for the time that I spent as a child simply anticipating. Our effort to be present and wait during Advent is certainly not helped when we have to walk past several aisles of Christmas decorations in the store in order to get to the Halloween costumes in mid-October, all while listening to “Deck the Halls” and “Frosty the Snowman” piped through the sound system. Everything around us seems to call us to a flurry of activity: buy, bake, order, send, and hurry up because time is running out! And of course, it is important to do the things necessary to get ready to welcome and celebrate with family and friends. But in the midst of all of this activity, on top of the regular daily life that continues, it’s easy to forget that Advent is about waiting, and hope, and it’s particularly easy to forget what we are waiting and hoping for. So, what are we waiting for? The obvious answer is that Advent is a season of waiting for Christmas, Jesus’ birth. But it is so much more than the birth of a baby that we await. God, in all God’s fullness — the God who, as Isaiah described, makes the mountains quake, the God who Mark tells us had the power to make the sun dark and the stars fall, the God of all creation — came to live with us in the messiness of life in the person of Jesus. We remember not just the historical event of Jesus’ birth, but the reality of God’s presence and work in us and in the world, here and now. Advent is a time to remember that God is with us today, a time to live in hope. When we look at the world, it can sometimes be really challenging to have hope. All we need to do is turn on the news these days, and we know we live in a broken world. Every decision we make — about work, school, Worship, our social gatherings — is impacted by the pandemic that is raging worse than ever. Like one of the kids said, are we done yet? Are we done? Most of us are planning Christmas celebrations that will look quite different from what we’re used to, and we already grieve that loss. We listen, and we hear the voices of nurses, doctors, and other staff at our community hospitals, who are stretched to — and far beyond — their limits. We hold in prayer those who are ill and struggling for breath, and family members of people who are ill and those who have died. Our communities are in pain, as racial injustice, poverty, and violence are on the rise. And we are in the midst of political turmoil that seems to impact so many things, and make many of our relationships more complicated than ever. And for those who have experienced losses in the last year — those who have lost loved ones or relationships, or who have moved from beloved homes filled with memories, or who are living with the realities of unemployment or illness, Advent and Christmas carry the pain and grief of knowing that this year will not be like the ones before — and perhaps no Christmas will ever be the same. So today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we take a few minutes to hear those voices, feel that pain, and ask the question of how we can have hope, and see God at work, in the midst of it all. We can take comfort in the midst of this brokenness, knowing that the pain of this world is not new. In the verses before our passage from Mark, Jesus describes war, betrayal, murder, destruction. And he encourages his followers, promising that nothing is too much for God to overcome. With the psalmist, we can bring the brokenness of our communities, and our own pain and brokenness, to God, and cry out — “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, shine forth. Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” The miracle of the hope that we have in Advent is that we are waiting on a God who has never turned away from our pain. As Christians today, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, whatever grief we live with in this season, whatever challenges we face, we await the birth of Jesus knowing the rest of the story — Jesus lived, taught, challenged, loved, forgave, healed, called. And Jesus died — and rose again. Death was not the last word then, and it is not the last word today. Jesus transformed people’s lives, and we are invited to put ourselves completely in God’s hands, like clay ready to be formed by the potter, willing to be changed, to be made new. In Advent, we’re called to live in hope that God is with us today, to trust that the kingdom of God is at hand. Waiting, anticipating, living in hope don’t easily find their way onto our “to-do lists,” but in this moment, for this season, it may be the most important thing for us to do. We don’t know the day or the hour when the kingdom of God will be fully accomplished, but we can keep watch, and if we do, we will see glimpses of it. We can see God at work in the way people love and care for each other, in voices courageously speaking truths that are hard to hear, in the beauty of creation. And we can call out like a watchperson — Hey, look, there it is, God is here, did you see it? — so those around us will also know that we have great reason for hope. We are called to witness to God’s presence by being the hands and feet of God in the world ourselves, by showing God’s love and care for others and calling for justice when it is due, so that others can see God at work through us. And most of all, we can put our trust in God, who sends Jesus to show us that no matter what is happening in our lives and in the world, we are never alone. I plan to spend a lot of time leaning over the back of the couch this Advent, anticipating God’s coming into the world anew, trusting in hope in God’s faithful promise. I invite you to join me, so we can support each other in our commitment to take seriously the call to keep watch for the presence of God in our midst. We don’t know the day or the hour, but there is plenty of room on the couch, and it has a great view. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, Mark 13:24-37, pandemic, coronavirus, COVID-19 The post Room on the Couch appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
5 minutes | 3 months ago
The Choice for Gratitude
November 26, 2020. In her sermon for Thanksgiving, Pastor Meagan preaches that love and gratitude are choices we make that can be extremely challenging at times, but we can trust that God is with us in the struggle. Reading: Luke 6:27-36 *** Transcript *** I remember first being introduced to the E.E. Cummings poem “i thank You God” as a musical arrangement for a cappella choir many years ago, and I remember feeling my breath catch as I realized while we rehearsed the piece that the second half of these profound words were a complete sentence, a question: “how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any — lifted from the no of all nothing — human merely being doubt unimaginable You?” How should any human experiencing the wonder of creation doubt the God who created it? I repeated these words so many times in my head and out loud, each time feeling a deeper sense of groundedness in my own being and all its senses, connectedness with the world around me, that I am tasting touching hearing seeing breathing — and with the God who created it all. This whole poem is such a deep invitation to life and to “yes” as Cummings says. In this year, perhaps more than others, as we have encountered so many challenges and changes, so many “nos” — to being in person and going to movies and museums and traveling and holiday traditions in school buildings and offices. This year, as both of our congregations experience transitions and all of us are navigating almost constant adaptation, we are in desperate need of life. And yes. In this time when we are separated from so much, we need to be reminded of the deep connections that, in spite of it all, never fail to persist. We know this year that experiencing these connections, feeling the gratitude that comes from knowing our place in creation, sometimes just happens — and sometimes requires a conscious and intentional choice. At times gratitude is not just an emotion we feel when things are easy, but a decision for yes when things are at their most difficult. Our gospel today doesn’t talk specifically about gratitude, but it does speak to the challenges that we as humans face sometimes. Loving someone who loves us, being good to those who are good to us, Jesus says, is often easy to do. It doesn’t take a lot of effort or thought, just as feeling grateful when things are going well comes without our trying. It becomes much more difficult and complicated to love when the other person does not love us. It is especially hard when we are challenged to love someone when we must also maintain boundaries and distance to keep ourselves and our families safe when there’s been abuse and violence. Many of us have discovered in these months around the election that it can be hard to love when we have fundamental disagreements on issues that feel so important. We humans, Jesus knows, can be tempted to offer love easily to those who are doing so with us, and withhold it from those who are not offering us the love we think we need. Love, as Jesus describes it, is not merely an easy feeling that flows without effort, but a choice that we make every day to allow the God of love to love through us. And gratitude, like love, is a choice we make — one that can be extremely challenging at times. In this season of so much loss, it can be hard to recognize what we have and the gifts we are receiving, even in the midst of the grief. The really good news is that when we humans struggle, we can trust that God is with us in the struggle. We can trust, as Jesus affirms, that we were created for love — we were created by a God of love after all — and as Cummings says, we have a God who lifts us from the no of all nothing and fills our senses with the creative love of God until we are ready to embrace the yes with hearts full of gratitude. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Luke 6:27-36, E.E. Cummings, i thank You God, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic The post The Choice for Gratitude appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
13 minutes | 3 months ago
A Different Kind of King
November 22, 2020. As we continue to rethink and reimagine everything we’re doing these days, maybe it’s time to reimagine what it means to say that Jesus is our king, and what Jesus’ kingdom looks like. On this Christ the King Sunday, we intentionally leave the palaces, and the crowns, and the money, and the power behind us, and we see Christ the servant. Readings: Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46 *** Transcript *** So, a new kind of king. We’ve already talked a little bit about this. What do you think of when you hear that this is Christ the King Sunday? What is your idea of royalty? Even though the United States hasn’t had a king or queen since we declared our independence from England nearly 300 years ago, we’ve probably all seen a king or queen, or a prince or a princess, at least on TV. Maybe you watched Princess Diana get married to Prince Charles, or shed tears as her funeral procession wound through the streets, carrying William and Henry while they mourned their mother. You might picture a large, beautiful palace, with lots of gold, ornamentation, intricate carving, statues by famous artists commissioned by kings and queens past, bustling with servants who keep everything immaculate and take care of every need of the royal family. Perhaps you see young royals, being instructed in the proper ways to dress, speak, sit, walk, stand — ensuring that they will know how they are supposed to act as royalty. You might imagine the grand hall, with the royal leaders sitting on their thrones, ready to make proclamations and lay down orders that no one would dream of opposing. Power. Glory. Wealth. Unquestioned rule. Perfect royal dress, food, speech, and behavior. And in our reading from Ephesians today, the description of God lifting Jesus above all people, putting all things under Christ’s feet, ensuring that Jesus’ name will be known and revered above all others, certainly seems to lean into the idea of Jesus as king, ruler of all, with a power over everything else in all creation that can never be challenged. A king who wields power over creation, and utilizes authority to send those who do not do enough into eternal torment. And yet, there are some details in the story that reveal a slightly different picture of Christ our king. Today being Christ the King Sunday seems a good day to reflect on what it really means to be a king — and especially, what it means to us today to say Jesus is our king. What is it we are celebrating today? Many times in the gospels, we hear stories that indicate Jesus is not the kind of Messiah people were expecting. They thought the Messiah would be a great military leader, ready to challenge and overthrow the occupying rulers who oppressed them so badly. They anticipated Jesus being someone so powerful no one would be able to stand against him. He was, they believed, coming to rule and not to serve. Jesus was not what they expected. He was given the title King of the Jews, but when Pilate asked him about this, Jesus said, enigmatically, that his kingdom was not of this world — and he left Pilate to figure out what that meant. We still, today, are tempted to lift up and even idolize those who have power and strength, and we can easily miss those who are in the margins — those who are weak, hungry, and powerless. Too often, we as Christians see serving others as something that we do because we are told we should, because God has done so for us. And that’s certainly true. But we can easily carry this further, and sometimes come to feel that we need to serve in order to be worthy of God’s love and welcome in God’s kingdom, even though we Lutherans claim the grace and mercy of our God. And our gospel today can easily be read — or misread — to tell us this. If we feed the hungry, visit those in prison, clothe the naked, we will be judged worthy. And if not, we will be sent to eternal punishment. And all around us the world too often lifts up and celebrates above all else those who have power here on earth, and we even hear it said that God has given that power. And those who do not have power, those who live on the margins, are denigrated and demonized. We even hear, sometimes, that challenging those who hold power here, leaders who have wealth and the capacity to affect people’s lives — for ill or for good — is the same as challenging God. But maybe, as we continue to rethink and reimagine everything we are doing these days, it’s time to reimagine what it means to say that Jesus is our king, and what Jesus’ kingdom looks like. Because something tells me that Pilate never quite understood. But Jesus himself gives us a lot of clues in the parables where he tells us, “The kingdom of God is like this . . . .” Lutheran Pastor and Bishop’s Assistant Libby Howe shares that when Pope Pius XI established Christ the King Sunday in 1925, he hoped it would inspire Christians of his time, and us today, to do just that. He saw that, like today, people were getting caught up in the empires of their times, prioritizing and valuing economic and social systems that benefited a small number of people in power, at the expense of so many others. He witnessed, all over the world, wealth that depended on poverty, systems of law that worked in favor of those with money and other resources and disproportionately penalized and incarcerated those without. Pope Pius XI saw a culture that cared far more for those like us than it did the stranger. On the heels of World War I, Germany and other parts of Europe and the United States were fostering a culture that ultimately allowed all of the “others” — non-Christians (especially Jews), people of color, LGBTQIA people, those who had disabilities, immigrants — to not only be cast out, but to be murdered, while those who were not targeted, those seen as privileged and desirable, ignored, watched, supported the efforts, and sometimes even cheered. Pope Pius XI established this day in hopes that we as Christians would be reminded that we are called to follow not political leaders, or wealthy decision-makers, or those who put nation and power above all else, but we are called to honor and follow Christ. Where some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time proclaimed “we have no king but Caesar,” we are called to turn our hearts to Christ. Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate never quite understood what that meant, and as we watch and listen to what Jesus is telling us, and notice God’s creative and redemptive acts through all of our scriptures, we begin to see that the kingdom Jesus is talking about is unlike any earthly kingdom we have ever known. Jesus tells us in last week’s parable that the servant who had the courage to challenge and oppose his master and refuse to take advantage of those around him is the hero of the story. The story Jesus shared of the wise and foolish bridesmaids a couple of weeks ago reveals a God who cares far more about us than he cares about oil. And today, Jesus wants his listeners — us — to know that if we are looking for Christ our King, we will find him in the eyes and stomachs and bodies and hearts of those who have nothing. And we’re back to the tripwire of thinking that the way to get God’s approval and love is by doing good, that we need to earn our place. Interestingly, the sheep in Jesus’ parable don’t know that they are serving Jesus. The sheep, apparently, serve their community not because they’ve been made to, or because they’ll get a reward, but because they are sheep. And we, followers of Christ our king, serve one another, ensure that God’s bounty is available for all, value creation and seek justice, not because we are made to, or because we will earn anything, but because we belong to God. Jesus tells us his kingdom is not of this world — and it isn’t. But it is always, and every day, in this world. The kingdom of God is not a place, but is the creative, redeeming, abundant, loving movement of God that leads us closer and closer to who we were meant to be all along. We’re entering into Advent, a season of waiting and watching and preparing and seeking Christ in this world, and this feast that we celebrate as we end one year and prepare for the next shows us where to start. So this Sunday, Christ the King, we intentionally leave the palaces, and the crowns, and the money, and the power behind us. We see Christ the servant, the one who refused to give in to the empires of this world, and we do the same, not because he told us to but because, in the end, we can’t help it. Like the bridesmaids, we may fall asleep. Like the first two servants, we may be swayed by the promises of the empire at times. Like the goats, on some days we may be blind to the world around us. But still, we belong to God, and Christ’s kingdom is coming. In fact, it’s already here! And in a world where there is so much pain, and weariness, and grief, and confusion, that is truly good news. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46 The post A Different Kind of King appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
20 minutes | 3 months ago
A Convicting Parable
November 15, 2020. Guest Pastor Karen Scherer preaches on the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25. Readings: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30 *** Transcript *** Okay, would you all please pray with me? Holy and loving God, we pray open our hearts and our minds this day to receive your word and free us. In your holy name we pray. Amen. Well I’ve got the sunlight coming in on me now. I was thinking it was going to be overcast, but I’m going to be sort of like Moses. I’m going to shine so much you may not be able to see me. But I hope that you will hear my word today, the word that I have gleaned from our lesson today. I’m going to go back today to the beginning. In the beginning, God’s ruah, God’s spirit, God’s creating breath, hovered over the waters of chaos. And God spoke creation and order. Heavenly bodies above, and stars and suns and moons and planets and bodies of earth and water below, were formed and separated. And God said, “It’s good.” And then God spoke, and systems of life and creatures flowed from the earth. Things that fly and walk and slither and crawl, things that grow and sustain the earth. And God said, “It is good.” Then God created human beings out of the earth. In God’s image God created them, with the same spirit of God, the ability to imagine and create and love. And God gave them responsibility to look after and care for the earth and its systems. And God even gave them instructions. And God laughed with delight and said, “They are good.” What a mess we have made, of ourselves and of God’s good creation. Such a mess. But God chose — rather than to wipe us out and just start over — God chose to come among us, Emmanuel, to be with us, to save us and recreate us in God’s image, again. And God has chosen to do that, we know, through Jesus, God’s son, Emmanuel. This I believe. And I believe that this parable God speaks to us today through Jesus, through Matthew, is about just that: about how far we have fallen, how far we have twisted our purpose for being, how far we are from the human beings God created us to be, and the consequences of that. You know, for 50 years I was taught that this parable — of the talents as we call it — was about using our talents and money in service to our master, which was always defined as God or Jesus or the church. And that it was about being good stewards, much as Jesse related to us today. But I always felt quite uncomfortable with the twist at the end, of the master being as harsh and greedy and cruel as the fearful third slave said he was. Because truly it turns out he is just that. When he takes away what the man had saved, and now returns to him and then gives it to the one manager who really doesn’t need it. And the master calls the third slave wicked and lazy and worthless, and commands he be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Did that not make you a little uncomfortable? A little uncomfortable, as you heard this parable read today? And the use of the language of “master” and “slave” — and I know that that was pretty normal in Jesus’ day, but has a very different ring to us today — but the use of that language just adds deeply to my conclusion, of rejection of this parable as one about the traditional form of stewardship interpretation. I believe that this parable is not really about stewardship in the traditional way of thinking, but that it is about how thoroughly messed up we have become in this world of haves and have-nots, and about how badly we have betrayed the goodness of who we were created to be. So let me try to explain, try to unpack this for you if I can, give you a little bit of background. I’m sure that you’ve heard that talents were not coins like pennies and quarters and half dollars. But talents were hefty, precious metals like gold and silver, that weighed 80 to 100 pounds, and that a single talent was worth approximately 20 years of an ordinary laborer’s wage — a staggering amount of money to Jesus’ peasant audience. How did the elite of that time amass that kind of wealth? They lent money to the farming poor at exorbitant interest — which by the way was against Jewish laws on usery. And they systematically stripped those debtors of their land, and they did it this way: often the people who took such loans, at rates between 60% to 200% sometimes, did so out of desperation — the people who took out these loans — putting their fields up as collateral and in last-ditch efforts to save their livelihoods. Inevitably their efforts would fail. Drought, illness, too little crop yield, and then foreclosure was not far behind. The poor man would have no choice but to surrender his ancestral land, and watch as the wealthy elites repurposed his field for profit. And then the poor man joined the multitudes of landless day laborers, who couldn’t know from day to day where their bread would come from. This is the situation Jesus describes in the parable of the talents, I believe. The three slaves in the story are the wealthy masters, retainers, or household bureaucrats — essentially the middlemen who oversee the land and the workers, collect the debts, and keep the profits coming while the master travels away on business or goes to rest at his seaside home in maybe Caesarea. And it is understood by everyone involved that the slaves are free to make a little interest on the side, these middlemen, by charging the farmers additional fees or interest. They can do this as long as they keep the money flowing for their master. So, of course the name of the game is exploitation, and no questions asked. And the only rule is a turn of profit. Turn as huge a profit as possible. And two of the slaves do exactly that. They do as they’re told: they take their talents out into the world and double them on the backs of the poor. When the master returns and sees what they’ve accomplished on his behalf, he’s thrilled. He invites the two enterprising slaves to enter into his joy — the joy of further wealth, further profit, further exploitation. But the third slave? The third slave in this story carries out the Jewish law. He buries the heavy talent in the earth. He hides it, literally taking it out of circulation, putting it where it will do no further harm to the poor. He was being faithful to the law, to the instructions if you will, that God had given God’s people. And he did this knowing full well what it will cost him. The slave, afraid yet faithful, speaks truth to the master, speaks truth to power. “I knew that you were a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” In Greek, the phrase “a hard man” means one whose eyes and heart, mouth and ears and hands and feet, are rigid, non-functioning, and arrogantly inhumane. “I knew that you were a hard man.” By acting and speaking the truth, this third slave refuses to participate in a messed-up system that goes against God’s will for human beings. And for doing so he is deeply shamed by the master and the others, and is fired, thrown out. And without a job, without land, he’s as good as dead, thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. I sort of wondered, could this anticipate in fact what will happen to Jesus? Because this comes just before his suffering, his arrest, his crucifixion. I believe this is a convicting parable about how far we have fallen, how far we have twisted our purpose for being, how far we are from the human beings God created us to be. Yet there is an urgency of hope embedded in the placement and the timing of this parable. For you see, I believe it is an antithesis to the parable that Jesus tells that follows, that you will encounter next week on Christ the King Sunday, the parable of when the Son of Man comes. And it is, yes, a parable of judgment — but a parable of mercy as well. We often hear it called sheep and goats, the parable of the sheep and goats. This parable leads into that parable. This is how messed up we are. “But when the Son of Man comes.” Pay attention to these parables. Pay attention to what Pastor Meagan will tell you next week. This was a time of urgency for Jesus. As he faced his arrest and coming crucifixion, he speaks truth to power, the power that we have that has messed up things. This is a time of urgency for Jesus. It is a time of urgency for us as well to hear this word. But I say to you friends, know this: Jesus Christ — Son of God, Son of Man, Emmanuel — is God with us. Is with you. For he entered into our messiness, spoke truth to our twisted power, interrupted business as usual for the sake of justice and mercy, suffered rejection, impoverishment, loneliness, and crucifixion, to bring us back to God and to begin God’s new creation. It is through baptism into his life, death, and resurrection that we are being created in God’s image again. And it is through the lens of the Son that God sees our goodness still. Through God’s living word the Spirit is working, you see, to soften our hard hearts. The Spirit is working to open our blind eyes and see what we have become, and what we are to be. The Spirit is working to open our deaf ears to hear God’s word, and to open our clenched fists so that we might be open to neighbor, to our siblings, that we might care for one another and be knit together as one humanity. And that we might care for the earth again as we are meant to do, as we are meant to be for the earth: its caretakers. So friends in Christ, hear the words of Paul, put on the breastplate of faith and love — and for a helmet, the hope of salvation that God is healing this world, has healed it through Christ Jesus. For God has destined us, Paul writes, not for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. And may the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Karen Scherer, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30 The post A Convicting Parable appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
11 minutes | 4 months ago
Are You Prepared?
November 8, 2020. Pastor Meagan’s sermon today is on Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, and being prepared in the midst of so many long hauls. Readings: Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13 *** Transcript *** I am a planner. I always have been, since birth. As a kid, I loved to read Nancy Drew mystery books, and when I read the Tale of the Twister, it offered a list of things to include in an “emergency preparedness kit” and I was all over it. I assembled the most complete backpack of supplies I could manage at the age of 9 — water, flashlight, batteries, granola bars, duct tape, even toothpaste. My brothers got a lot of mileage teasing me when I insisted on bringing the kit on a boat ride one day — until the lights on the boat went out, after dark. And my kit, if you recall, included a flashlight, which we were able to use to aid our way home. I have rarely felt more vindicated in my passion for preparing than in that moment. This desire to plan ahead has followed me into adulthood, and when we were heading out to be with my mother-in-law in her final days in a Wisconsin hospital and weren’t sure how long we would be gone, I made a list of over 30 things to do before we left so we would be ready for an extended absence. And, I got them done in a day! Part of me, when I read today’s gospel about preparing for God’s coming, immediately wants to get out a piece of paper and pen — or maybe the task list on my phone — and begin making my checklist of things to do. Fellow planners back me up on this: isn’t that what Jesus is telling us? To be prepared? To get everything ready, so that we aren’t taken by surprise when God shows up? In spite of the passion I have for planning ahead and preparing, I have to admit that I find Jesus’ parable, of the wise people who planned ahead and had a good stock of oil for their lamps, and the foolish people who didn’t have enough oil, a little disturbing. After all, no matter how well we prepare, we may never be fully ready for what actually happens. I don’t think any of us felt prepared for a pandemic — I certainly didn’t, and still don’t, although it’s not from lack of trying. This story of the unprepared, foolish people who miss their opportunity to be with the bridegroom definitely triggers anxiety, and assuming that Jesus is the bridegroom, it leaves us with a rather unforgiving image of our God. If you have enough oil, it seems to say, you’re in. If not, you’re out. The poor, foolish bridesmaids live out the worst nightmare for a planner like me — having failed to plan well enough, they miss their chance, and they’re left in the cold. And although the wise bridesmaids don’t overtly judge the foolish ones who don’t have oil, their decision not to share their oil is rather harsh. At least Matthew leaves out the often-mentioned “wailing and gnashing of teeth” that is the punishment for those who are turned away from the banquet! As we look more closely, though, some interesting details are revealed that may help us to understand this parable perhaps a little better. For one thing, Jesus tells us that it wasn’t just the foolish bridesmaids who fell asleep. They all did. None of them were awake and waiting for the bridegroom when he approached. The bridesmaids, the foolish ones, weren’t any better off in that regard. And then, there is the oil. The wise people had oil to spare, and the bridegroom had arrived. Was there really not enough to light all the lamps? Couldn’t they have split the oil among them, like Martin divided his cloak? They just needed enough oil to get them back to the banquet hall, after all. It seems a little selfish not to share, when the light would benefit them all in the end. Theologian Debi Thomas, in her blog “Journey with Jesus,” offers an additional perspective on the oil situation. Perhaps, she suggests, the problem isn’t so much that the foolish ones didn’t have enough oil and the wise ones did but wouldn’t share, but that they all believed that having an abundance of oil was necessary in order to be allowed into the banquet hall. They all thought that the bridegroom cared more about the oil than he did about them! It is, Thomas points out, a very human thing to feel like we can’t present ourselves for the banquet, or whatever challenge or opportunity is in front of us, unless we are completely prepared. The wise people, with their extra oil, probably didn’t want to wait for the bridegroom to arrive. They were tired, we know, and fell asleep because it took so long for him to get there. They were probably as impatient as we were waiting for the last of those election results to come in, perhaps feeling that familiar catch of breath every time they thought they saw a glint of light in the distance the way we did when our browser recycled or we thought we saw a breaking news banner on the top of the page and thought, maybe it’s finally Nevada, or Pennsylvania, or Arizona. And then we sighed and sat back again, until the next time, and the next. No, the wise people probably didn’t want to wait, but they realized that they might have to. And so, they were prepared not just for what they hoped for — the eventual coming of the bridegroom — but for what they knew might be a very long night. If they were anything like me, they probably not only had extra oil, but some food and drink and blankets as well. And so, if we set aside their selfishness for a moment, we can appreciate and learn from them the wisdom of being ready not just for what we hope for, but for the very long wait and journey that it will take to get there. We are in the midst of so many long hauls, family of faith. The pandemic, with its treatments and eventual vaccine that we know so many people are working so hard on, but it still seems like it’s taking far too long, certainly much longer than we thought it would take when we began that journey in March. The continued pain and woundedness and division of racism in our country, which people of color and allies have been living with and addressing for so many years. And people are still suffering and dying in its wake wondering, “How long must we wait before justice comes?” The wise ones were prepared for the long haul, and we are wise too if we also prepare for the long haul. But we are foolish if we think that our preparation will make what we wait for come any faster, or make us any more acceptable to the one for whom we are waiting. The wise ones could have shared, like St. Martin did his robe, and not been loved any less. The foolish ones, had they stayed, would have been loved just as well without oil, but they didn’t realize that, and they missed seeing the bridegroom because they thought they weren’t ready enough as they were. The long haul is not an easy path, is it? It is not what any of us choose. It’s tiring. It can wear us down, if we aren’t ready — and even if we are. And it can leave us feeling unworthy and raggedly unacceptable, even if the truth is that the bridegroom we are waiting for loves us no matter how little oil we have, or how soundly we fall asleep while we’re waiting. Because worst of all, the long haul can make us forget what we are really hoping and waiting for to begin with. We can forget that no matter how long it takes, the bridegroom is coming! All of the prophets, and Jesus himself, remind us of this all the time. There will be a banquet. This pandemic will end. The election will be resolved. There will come a time when racism, homophobia and transphobia, poverty and injustices of all kinds will be overcome by the love of God. And we are invited to wait and watch and participate in the reign of God as it approaches, knowing that it will come. Amos reminds the people that it’s not so much about getting everything right so that we can make God’s spirit come on this earth, but about recognizing that God is already here, at work in the world all around us. It’s about letting God’s justice roll down like water, like an ever-flowing stream. We’re invited into God’s reign, which is coming not someday way in the future, but is happening right now. And no matter how prepared, or unprepared, or raggedy, or tired we are, we are all invited, and known, and loved. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13, Debi Thomas, Journey with Jesus, coronavirus, COVID-19 The post Are You Prepared? appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
9 minutes | 4 months ago
Celebrating the Saints
November 1, 2020. Pastor Meagan’s sermon on this All Saint’s Day celebrates all the saints who have come before us. Readings: Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12 *** Transcript *** Some years ago, we got word that Joanne O’Neil, a beloved administrator of the church and school that we attended as kids, had died. Although she wasn’t a family friend exactly, Joanne was one of those iconic figures in our lives for all of our growing up years — one of those steady, ever-present people who always seemed to have space and time in her office for anyone. She seemed to particularly love those who were expert trouble-makers in class, like my youngest brother, perhaps because she had a spark of that rebellious nature in herself. Upon hearing that she’d died, as a young adult, I remember calling my youngest brother and saying to him, “So bro, who’s the adult now?” Who’s going to take the place of this iconic figure who was just always there, embodying love and grace in her unique way? And we both realized — we were now the ones called upon to be those iconic ever-present people in the lives of those coming after us. We were now the adults. And we wondered with each other, as young people in our early twenties, what that even meant. Today is All Saint’s Day, that specific day each year that we remember those people who have died. We grieve again in community the loss of those who are no longer physically with us, whose deaths have left a gap in our contact lists, our tables, and our lives. We remember those who have, like Joanne, made an impact on our lives, blessed us, helping to shape in many different ways who we are as people of God. We grieve, and we’re grateful. The reading from the first letter of John today says that we continue to be transformed by the love of the God who created us, and even if others don’t understand, they can’t help but notice. And we don’t know yet, John says, what we will become. Jesus fleshes this out for his disciples in many ways. But in today’s reading, the gospel, through the beatitudes Jesus lifts up empathy, a capacity for love and grief, humility, mercy, passion for justice, truth, and God’s shalom as some of the ways that God’s love can be embodied in this world. Jesus encourages his followers to aspire to live out these ideals, telling them, in effect, that when you are empathetic, humble or merciful, or when you grieve someone you’ve lost, or seek truth, justice or peace, you are experiencing God’s realm on earth. And beyond that, theologian Raj Nadella suggests that we are invited to participate in the kin-dom of God by actively noticing when we experience these things, and living out the second part of the beatitudes — showing mercy, working for justice and peace, offering comfort, approving and affirming truth. As we all know, we human beings are not God. We’re all in process, becoming more and more the people God created us to be, and it is in our relationships with one another that God works this transformation in us. There are many people in my life who have helped make me the person I am, who have embodied the love of God and the beatitudes for me in ways that have changed me forever. My Grandma Anne had a faithful sense of humor, and a generous spirit — she would have given the shirt off her back to anyone, and in her gruff way showered the love of God on those around her. My neighbor Gail, whose children I babysat for years, had a capacity to really see me with a love that didn’t need to change me that few others seemed to have. And my mom’s sister, my Aunt Kate, who died in February this year, always inspired me with her sense of hungering for justice, her gratitude and joy, and her capacity to walk through the challenges of life with authenticity and grace. Who are the people who have shaped you and made you the person you are today? Who has blessed you? Who has revealed God’s love, and the values of the beatitudes, to you? And how are you different because of their presence in your life? In our reading from Revelation today, John shares a vision of all the saints coming together, brought to wholeness once more. Often when I hear this, I think of the designated saints, those whose lives have been what we might think of as perfect, and who seem to have been — seem to have been — flawless in their capacity to follow God. Today, on the heels of Reformation Sunday, I am reminded of Luther’s conviction that we are all sinner and saint, and I am struck by the statement that these saints gathering are those who have been through the ordeal. They’ve been through struggle, they have fallen short and stood up again, as we all do. They’ve experienced persecution, hunger, grief, and even death, and they’ve found healing in the God who loves and redeems us all. These are the saints. And we too are saints of God, human sinner and saint, called to notice and name when we see God at work among us, and called to embody God’s love in this world for those who come after us, just as others did for us. Called to bless others as we have been blessed. That, perhaps, is the answer to the questions my brother and I had when Joanne died, so many years ago. Who’s the adult? We are. What does that mean? Doing the best we can to be the people God created us to be, modeling God’s kin-dom in our lives, trusting God to bring us through our ordeals, and knowing that even death is not the final word. Every week when we celebrate communion, we are gathered not only with those we can see, but with the entire communion of saints. God’s table is wide, and as we share the meal, all the saints are present. In these months that we have been Worshipping and celebrating communion together via Zoom, perhaps our vision has been sharpened, as we know that in spite of our physical distance, we are still sharing the table of God together. Today, let’s envision that table extending beyond even the reaches of Zoom, making room for all of the saints who have gone before us to share in this celebration together. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12 The post Celebrating the Saints appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
13 minutes | 4 months ago
The Truth Will Set Us Free
October 25, 2020. What does it really mean to be free? Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” His followers were confused, not realizing that they weren’t yet free. Jesus’ reply to them is for us, too: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” In her sermon on this Reformation Sunday, Pastor Meagan delves into these readings. Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36 *** Transcript *** So, as I was thinking about this — the readings that we have today and Reformation Sunday — I called to mind there was this time I was sitting in a restaurant and I was eating dinner (you know, this was back before COVID, when we could do those things) and I heard several thunks. And I turned around and I saw a bird flying around inside the restaurant, banging into windows here and there and everywhere in her frantic attempt to get outside again. She finally landed on the floor, exhausted, and I went over and I laid my jacket gently over her and I carried her through the door outside. I opened the jacket very cautiously, because I expected her to just burst out. But instead she clung for dear life, her tiny talons hooked into the lining of my jacket, afraid to let go and be free. And as I held her I wondered, how often do we do that? We struggle to be free from the things that confine us, and then cling to our cage when the door is finally opened. What does it really mean to be free anyway? And why are we, if we’re really honest with ourselves, terrified of it? Jesus’ followers are confused when Jesus promises that they will be set free, in that moment not realizing that they aren’t free yet. At times we do the same thing again, don’t we? We can be bound up, trapped in familiar ways of doing things, convinced that the way we see things is the only perspective. Without realizing it, we can get caught up in the violence and the “isms” of this world. And we can forget that we need God, and go off on our own, believing we can handle things on our own. And before we know it, we’re trapped in our own illusion of self-sufficiency. And often, we don’t even realize that we’re stuck. Most of the time, we have the luxury of living in the illusion that we’re in control of our lives, even if it is only through the false security of believing that we know what our future holds. Jesus in John promises freedom, and his followers protest, and we might well make the same claim. We live in a free country, slavery was abolished over 150 years ago! What do you mean by saying “You will be made free?” Jesus’ reply to his followers is for us, too: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” We are all trapped in our own brokenness. And on this Reformation Sunday, it’s appropriate to remember that, as Martin Luther taught, we are all both sinners and saints. All of us, at times, forget that we need God. We forget what our true relationship with God is. We are free in one sense. But at a much deeper level, we are all slaves to our own brokenness. We all forget that, as we heard in Jeremiah today, God’s law — God’s word and God’s promise — has been written on our hearts. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. God’s promise of love for all of us, God’s people, and our call to love God and our neighbor, has been coded into our very DNA. Kelly Brown Douglas, in her book Stand Your Ground, which a group of us are reading, says that God is by nature free, transcendent of all the brokenness of this world. And God’s work in us and in the world is about freedom. Freedom to be who we are as children of God. And still, we, all of us, forget who we are. Even Martin Luther was bound by sin — and I think he’d be the first one to admit that. Luther, whose leadership we celebrate today, did and said so many wonderful things. But he also said terrible things about Jewish people. And by doing that, he shared with us a heritage that contributes to hatred of our siblings in faith. Because of this heritage, we Christians can forget that the Jesus we worship lived and died as a faithful Jew, and so we continue to be bound. We are all sinner and saint. Especially when we’re feeling battered or exhausted by life’s experiences, we can get trapped in fear, and ground our hope in our own efforts instead of trusting in God. We can go beyond reasonable steps to take care of ourselves, and feel separated from others, and from God. We can find ourselves tempted and even trapped into doing whatever we have to do to get the outcome that we believe we need. When I get into this mode of thinking, I end up stuck in a black and white story of my own making, terrified of losing control of the way it will end. We all have our narratives, the stories we create that end up binding us and separating us from life itself. Much of the time, we have the luxury of thinking we are in control. But there are times, like now perhaps, where we are painfully aware that we are not. Times like now when the world can feel chaotic and terrifying, when as the psalmist says, the earth is changing, the mountains shaking, the waters roaring and foaming, and the mountains trembling with the tumult of violence, uprisings, a global pandemic, and political upheaval. We can also be bound in the lies that tell us that we’re not good enough. Voices that tell us that we’re not worthy of love, and don’t have anything to offer the world. And yet, at the same time, this lie tells us that we have to earn our place. We believe we’ll have to make ourselves worthy of God’s love, even as we know we’ll never ever get there. Luther struggled with this, daily. I have as well, and I imagine that I’m not alone here. These lies, this denial of our own beloved-ness, are a powerful bond that enslaves us, keeps us from the freedom that God is promising. We are all slaves to our own brokenness, but Jesus made his followers a promise — and makes us a promise today. “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And the truth that Jesus talks about, the truth that will free us, is precisely why we are so afraid of freedom. The truth, as Paul proclaims it in Romans today, is simply this: we have all sinned, and we all need God. Every one of us, without exception. We all need God. And as we hear from the prophet Jeremiah, we are all beloved children of God, and we all have the capacity to know and love and trust God within us, written in our hearts. Coded in our very DNA. Without doing anything, we are God’s beloved. We don’t have to earn it. We just are. What terrifies us about this truth is that when we embrace it, it takes us completely out of the driver’s seat. We can no longer cling to an illusion of safety that is built on our own efforts or beliefs that we are in control. We are vulnerable, exposed for who we are, face-to-face with our own humanity. This, ironically, is the truth that leads us to freedom, the freedom to be exactly the people that God created us to be. We are freed by this truth, because grounded in our own humanity, we can understand Martin Luther’s claim that we are simultaneously sinner and saint. The very truth of our own weakness reveals our need for God, and our identity as God’s beloved children. The promise of the covenant Jeremiah talks about is our promise. God’s law has been written on our hearts, God is our God, and we are God’s people. In the core of who we are, God has written the law of love, justice, faithfulness, and forgiveness. This is the promise of our baptisms. And as our illusions, addictions, and sinfulness die in the light of this promise, we can see that we’ve been enslaved. And we can see that we are free. God’s truth empowers us to claim the promise of freedom not just for ourselves, but for all people, especially those who are marginalized, and for all of creation. The truth frees us to call for change where it’s needed, even when it is chaotic and scary. The truth gave Martin Luther the freedom to challenge even the Pope, calling for the reform that was so desperately needed. He pounded nails and hung his beliefs and challenges on the door of Wittenberg Seminary, even though he had no idea how things would turn out, seeking his refuge in God. Empowered by the Spirit, the truth can give us the freedom to follow Luther’s lead, navigate the almost constant change and uncertainty that we are living in, and call for the transformation desperately needed today, in our world and in our church. Like the bird with its talons hooked into my jacket lining, we tend to cling to what we feel sure of, certain that there is nothing to catch us if we let go. The chaos, as the psalmist sings it, does not go away, and times like these can be anxiety-producing and chaotic. God’s promise to us is not that the chaos will end or that change will be easy, but that God will be with us, no matter what. This is the truth, and the truth will set us free. And you can trust in God, in faith that God will not leave you hanging. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36, Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground, coronavirus, pandemic The post The Truth Will Set Us Free appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
8 minutes | 4 months ago
Made in God’s Image
October 18, 2020. In today’s gospel reading about paying taxes to the emperor, the religious leaders are trying to draw Jesus into a trap, and he knows it. But if Caesar’s image on the coins belongs to Caesar, then God’s image belongs to God. And we, who have been made in God’s image, belong to God. Readings: Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22 *** Transcript *** There is no right or easy answer to the question that the religious leaders ask Jesus today. And that’s intentional — the religious leaders are trying to draw Jesus into a trap, and he knows it. Jesus knows he is being flattered, he knows they are trying to catch him off his guard. And if he says yes, of course pay your taxes to the occupying tyrant, he will alienate those who trust him to help them find a way out from under, as well as violating temple law. If he says no, you don’t owe anything to the king, the leaders have grounds to have him arrested by the Romans — which of course they did anyway, eventually. He never tried to hide his alliance with those on the margins, after all. Jesus is caught between a rock and a hard place, isn’t he? And his answer is really nothing short of brilliant. By making them produce the coin, he is compelling them to demonstrate their alliance with the empire, with Rome, something they didn’t necessarily want to do. Instead of successfully forcing Jesus to choose a side, the leaders revealed to everyone watching that they already had picked a side! The lives they lived and the privilege they had was made possible by the same empire that made the lives of so many others miserable and oppressed. The denarius in their pocket, bearing the image of the emperor, was proof of it. But before we get too comfortable with ourselves here, it occurred to me that if I am honest with myself, I can’t judge the leaders with that denarius in their pocket without acknowledging the denarius that I hold in my own pocket. It’s kind of like Jesus telling his listeners in another conversation that they should not try to remove the speck from their siblings’ eye before removing the plank from their own eye. There are many ways in which I have benefited from systems in this world that do great damage to others — banking with institutions that support payday lending, buying clothes made using unjust labor practices, getting food that is not sustainably produced and does damage to the earth and to other communities, and many others things. And although we’ve made changes to live more justly, sometimes it seems like there is no way to escape some of these alliances that I have — that we all have if we’re honest — with the empire of our day. I know that I, like the leaders who are trying to challenge Jesus, are carrying that denarius in my pocket, too. Once the coin has been produced, Jesus makes clear this connection, claiming that because of the image on the coin, it belongs to the emperor. And that got me thinking about images and belonging — and this is where we get to the good news! Especially today, as we celebrate in this community Sloane’s baptism that happened yesterday. Because although the denarius has the image of the emperor, we have been made in the image of God! We go back to Genesis and the story of creation, and we know that God made us in God’s image. And if Caesar’s image like those on the coins belongs to Caesar, as Jesus suggests, then God’s image belongs to God. We, who have been made in God’s image, belong to God! Throughout sacred scripture, we’re told over and over that we belong to God. The psalmist sings in Psalm 96 of the god who made all things, and describes all of creation singing out of joy, not because God commanded it, but because it can’t help itself. The heavens are glad, the earth rejoices, the seas roar, and the fields exult! Paul tells the Thessalonians that he has seen them embody the spirit and promise of God so well, that they don’t even need to say it, everyone just knows whose they are. We too can embody God’s promise in our world. We can makes choices, one decision at a time, that reflect God’s love and abundance and justice, and challenge injustice, violence, and the myth of scarcity. We can practice opening our hearts and our lives to those who are wounded and left out by today’s empire, embodying welcome like Paul says the Thessalonians did. Being the image of God is not something we do only here, within these virtual walls of Christ Lutheran Church, but in our neighborhoods, our families, our workplaces, and our schools. The image of God that we are can be reflected in all areas of our lives, in particular these next few weeks in our civic life. First, we vote, and we encourage others to do so also. And second, we bring our faith to the polls, claiming God’s promise and desire for the well-being of all people and all creation. And every time we celebrate a baptism, we remember this promise. Like the Thessalonians, more and more we grow in our capacity to reflect the image of the one who formed us out of clay and breathed life into us. We’re reminded that even those we might think don’t belong — like Cyrus, that Persian king who Isaiah calls God’s anointed — they are all God’s children. We remember that we too were formed with great creative joy, and are made in the image of the one who continues to create us all anew today. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s. Today we recall our baptisms, as we celebrate in this community Sloane’s baptism. We claim in the baptismal water and words the promise that we are made in God’s image, and belong to the God whose image we bear. So today, we give ourselves to God, and ask God to keep forming and shaping and teaching us throughout our lives, and we go out from here to embody God’s love and justice in the world — not because we are commanded to do so, but simply because we are God’s, and we just can’t help it. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22 The post Made in God’s Image appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
12 minutes | 5 months ago
The Raggedy Guest and the Values of God
October 11, 2020. Pastor Meagan’s sermon today is on Jesus’ parable of the petulant king and the raggedy guest, and how they can wake us up to envision our own communities and conflicts differently. Readings: Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14 *** Transcript *** Is anyone else feeling weary this week? The pandemic is ongoing with no break. We struggle with how to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, knowing that the weather is fast-changing and soon being outside isn’t going to be an easy option. And that all seems to be weighing in on these last days. And the tension and anxiety around the upcoming election, and the stark divisions over issues that carry so much importance, certainly don’t help. My family and I have always seen things differently from one another. So many times over the years I’ve had to remind myself that it is not my job to make sure my family members agree with me, especially when it comes to issues at all related to politics. And in our world today, with so much hard division between one party and the other, so much chaos happening in so many ways, and so much at stake, that’s become particularly difficult. And I have to admit, I have not been very good at remembering this of late. Maybe I need to practice Red Light, Green Light when I’m getting into that mindset. It doesn’t help that my youngest brother happens to be a committee chairman for the opposite political party from the one that aligns best with my views, and that my dad and I have diametrically opposed sources of news. It is so easy to get focused on particular personalities, specific issues, and get to arguing about statistics or perspectives on things, isn’t it? I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Red light! Once again, thankfully, we find that there really is nothing new under the sun, no problems that God hasn’t taught us about, nothing that God hasn’t seen before. In our passage from the letter of Paul to the Philippians today, we find that Paul is addressing what we might call political divisions that are happening among the leaders and people of Philippi, 2,000 years ago. There was a lot at stake for the young church, as they navigated their way through so many challenges and decisions. People argued over a lot of things — who should lead, who could belong, how to practice their faith with integrity with an increasingly diverse community. So we aren’t the first to get lost in personalities and fights over particulars, and struggle with how to live out our faith when so much is changing. Paul is definitely speaking to worry, anxiety, and stress, which I think we can all relate to these days. Thankfully, Paul has some wisdom to offer us, and not surprisingly, his solution brings us right back to what is really important. Paul starts out by counseling Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in Jesus. I’ve always read this as meaning that we need to agree with one another in everything — be of the same mind — but what jumps out at me today, in this divided world that we’re living in, is the phrase “in Jesus.” As this resonates, it dives deeper than surface agreement on a personality or decision, going from sharing opinions to sharing values. Paul calls the Philippians, and us, back to the God-given values that Jesus embodied for us. And he gets specific. Joy, gentleness, gratitude, truth, honor, justice, purity. Being of the same mind in Jesus doesn’t take away our differences, but Paul suggests that it does unite us as we find our common values. And it starts with rejoicing, and being grateful. Perhaps this is something we can do with our stoplight: rejoice and be grateful. And then we have the gospel. The religious leaders and Jesus’ disciples, like us, are also trying to figure out how to live their lives in faith, to make sense out of what it means to embody the kin-dom of God in this world. Jesus offers a very different and perhaps complementary answer from Paul, and as he does so often, Jesus talks in parables. And this week’s parable, I have to say, is quite a challenge! What on earth are we to take from this petulant and violent king, the rude people who ignore the king’s invitation, and the raggedy guest who gets bound and cast out into proverbial weeping and gnashing of teeth? Jesus is on a mission, these few weeks, to help us see not only the invitation to the joy and abundance of God’s kin-dom, but our own resistance to the invitation that God offers us so freely. Starting with the king. He’s throwing a party, and no one wants to come. How could they be so rude as to blow off the king?! It’s so easy to make things about us isn’t it, even when it’s about our faith. The king, it seems, has gotten caught up in what others think of them, and is badly offended when they don’t get the recognition they think they deserve. When you look at how the king acted though, it’s no wonder people blew off his invitation. And it’s easy for us too to get off track quickly, when we get caught up in our own agenda, and forget to delight in the community around us and let our gentleness be known to those around us. And the first round of guests, the ones who don’t come? They all have reasons — maybe really good ones, although Jesus suggests otherwise in this case — and the truth is, so do we sometimes. We take for granted the invitation we’ve been given to community, and ignoring the call to share gratefully in the abundance of God. And then, there is the second round of guests. These guests are not the first choice of the king, but still they’re invited. They accept the invitation and all is well, until one of these last-minute guests has the audacity to show up in the wrong clothes. Often, we judge the guest, taking this as a cautionary tale about the need to dress properly (figuratively speaking) for the heavenly banquet. But theologian Debie Thomas in her blog proposes an alternative reading, and a question: what if this “ragged” guest is actually Jesus? What if the invitation to us today is to realize that it is not God who is judging and critiquing our worthiness, or other people’s worthiness, to enter the kin-dom, but us? Maybe today, we can let the absurdity of this image of a king, God, who sets a town on fire because the “worthy” people don’t show up at his party, invites the “regular people” only because the important people wouldn’t come, and then throws out the guest who doesn’t observe protocol — we can let all that wake us up to envision the kin-dom, and our own communities and conflicts, differently. To realize that when we demand compliance with arbitrary protocols, we cast out Jesus, the one we most want to welcome. We can dream of an abundant table, in the presence of our enemies, that needs no barriers or requirements because it has enough for everyone. And all who show up are transformed by the grace of that invitation. This brings us back to Paul, and the conflict among the Philippians. Rejoice, he tells us, first and always. When worry sets in, ask God for what we need with gratitude. Rather than seeking agreement on non-essentials, keep our focus on the values that bring us together as people of God. Truth. Justice. Honor. Jesus, the ragged guest at the feast, may not say anything, but he models for us an unwillingness to give in to the petty arguments and rules, he highlights the injustice of the arbitrary boundaries and barriers, and stands firm in his opposition to a king who clearly cares more about himself than he does about the community around him. Paul tells us to focus on the values of our faith, to ask God for what we need, and practice gratitude — all pillars of living out our faith, and rest for our weary souls. As you heard from Jesse today, and will hear from Carolyn and others in our Adult Forum later, taking care of ourselves and nurturing our community is the foundation of well-being as people of God. The stress of trying to agree may not disappear, but it lessens. Our worry fades. We have the courage and strength to stand firmly for truth, honor, and justice, in our families, our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools, and the ballot box, led by Jesus the ragged guest. And the promise is that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ. Thanks be to God! *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, COVID-19, coronavirus, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14 The post The Raggedy Guest and the Values of God appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
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