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Christ Lutheran Church
12 minutes | a month 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 | a month 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 | a month 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 | 2 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 | 2 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.
13 minutes | 2 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 | 2 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 | 2 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 | 3 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 | 3 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 | 3 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 | 3 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.
11 minutes | 4 months ago
Tenants in God’s Vineyard
October 4, 2020. The parable of the wicked tenants is a powerful story that contains the entire gospel message. In his sermon today, guest preacher Jon Heerboth delves into the meaning of this reading, and what God expects of us. Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46 *** Transcript *** Well, that’s quite a parable. Sometimes it is hard to interpret the parables. “Why did you always talk in parables?” we ask Jesus, along with his disciples. The disciples were right there with Jesus and struggled to understand what he was talking about. What chance do we have? The parable in today’s gospel is easier to interpret than many, but its meaning is difficult to accept. Jesus is in Jerusalem. It’s a couple of days after Palm Sunday. The people welcomed him with loud hosannas. It’s been a long time since the light first shined on Jesus’ listeners in Galilee. Many miles have been walked, many words have been spoken, and many wonders done. Jesus has been through the towns and cities of Galilee. He’s been in the synagogues teaching and proclaiming, talking about the kingdom of heaven. He has healed every kind of disease and affliction, he’s been in Gentile territory, and he’s been in Judea. It’s been a long time, many miles walked, many words spoken, many wonders done. Everyone has heard about him or gone to see him. Now Jesus arrives at the temple in Jerusalem, and he puts them on notice. He ran off the people who were selling. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of the dove sellers. He said they were turning a house of prayer into a den of robbers. And then he went back to healing the sick and lame and restoring sight to the blind. In the gospel lesson, the leaders of the temple came to challenge Jesus. They were the wealthy, the religious elite of their day. They depended on the money spent at the temple to maintain their power. You have to hand it to the chief priests and the elders: when Jesus told them the parable about the bad tenants, they got it. They understood right away that Jesus was talking about them. Jesus showed them the truth, that they were looking after themselves and their own wealth rather than tending to the needs of God’s people. Jesus held a mirror to them, and they did not like it. They wanted to arrest him, but didn’t want to offend the crowds he drew, who thought Jesus was a prophet. This parable is a powerful story that contains the entire gospel message. God’s people — the vineyard — were producing fruit, but the tenants were not returning any of that fruit to God. God sent prophets, but they were rejected. Jesus is the son of the landlord who came to reclaim what rightfully belongs to his father, but his mission was violently received by the father’s own tenants, the very religious leaders who were confronting Jesus on the temple grounds. Jesus told them that the stone that the builders rejected would become the cornerstone. That would be the Lord’s doing, and would be amazing. Jesus also told them that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to the people who produce the fruits of the kingdom. We’re going to retell that whole gospel story in the Apostle’s Creed in a few minutes. That’s the centerpiece of our faith. To reclaim the fruits that rightfully belong to the Father, the Son sets out to restore the world to its divinely created order. Jesus’ own ministry revealed what that would look like: the sick made well, sinners forgiven and restored, the poor cared for, so that the people would praise God. Jesus was here to bring wholeness to a broken world and to give us a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. He showed us what God wanted creation to look like. It would be easy to read this parable and turn our eyes to our pastors, our bishops, and the churchwide leaders. Like the high priests in Jesus’ time, they are God’s tenants in the institutional church, and should make sure the landlord is receiving the fruits of their labor. Let’s not leave the entire job to the church leaders though. When we lived in the country some years ago, our neighbors were all farmers. They were all tenants whose farming had expanded far beyond their original fields. They rented almost any productive parcel of ground they could find. They farmed the land and returned to the landlord cash rent, or a share of the crop — or both, depending upon their agreement. The farmers I knew, and they were very successful indeed, worked hard to keep their landlords happy. They cared for the land. The most conscientious cut the weeds in the ditches to keep the fence lines looking neat. One farmer I know made a point to travel around the country to visit his landlords in person during the winter. If the landlords were unhappy they would rent to another, and the farmer would lose production. We are all like tenants, aren’t we? God has given our congregation and ourselves vineyards to tend. We have our personal lives and families. We have our professional lives. We have our friendships and other relationships. We have our faith and our worship together. Our landlord expects us to produce and share the harvests from every aspect of our lives. When we read again the words of verse 43, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who produces the fruits of the kingdom,” we know that our landlord will hold us to account. In the lesson from Isaiah, the prophet was speaking for God to Israel asking, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done?” The vineyard was Israel and Judah. God’s people were his pleasant planting. That vineyard produced only wild, sour fruit. What was the sweet fruit that God expected? God demanded justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry of oppression from the poor of the day. The prophet tried to hold the leaders accountable. What more was there for God to do? Nothing? Then God would tear the vineyard down and stop the rainfall, and God’s people would soon be gone. Well what are the sweet fruits of God’s vineyard? What is God looking for from us? Fortunately, Matthew doesn’t make us guess. If we walk back Jesus’ many steps to the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, we can listen again to the words from the Sermon on the Mount. Who bears the fruit? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The mourners, the meek who inherit the earth, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers who will be called the children of God, the persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, those who are reviled and persecuted and falsely accused for Jesus’ sake. Remember, they did the same thing to the prophets who came before. If we are committed to a church that bears fruit, we ought to be feeding the poor — not giving cover to the rich. We ought to be concerned about preserving the land God gave us, in terms of the earth and climate change. We ought to be concerned with treating all of God’s creatures equally, and not give support to those who have made it their business to be divisive, within the church and in our society as a whole. We don’t want to stand behind Jesus and wag an accusatory finger at his opponents. We should put ourselves in the shoes of the high priests and the elders, and allow ourselves to be confronted by what Jesus has to say. When we step back from the lesson and examine ourselves, we can find bits and pieces of the rebellious and self-serving tenants. Our charge is to render unto God what is God’s. For anyone called by God to a particular ministry, namely all of us, there is temptation to claim ownership of that ministry and to confuse service with entitlement. When we feel a sense of entitlement, we close ourselves off to what Jesus is doing in the world. We are no longer serving Jesus, but are protecting ourselves from him. Paul wrote about his own sense of entitlement. He said if there was anyone who had reason to be confident, he had more. He listed his pedigree, his compliance with the law, his status as a Pharisee. As a conscientious Pharisee he was a zealous persecutor of the church. He was totally without blame. Paul says all of that is rubbish. It counts for nothing before God. He lost everything he thought mattered, because he learned that righteousness before God can only come from the work of Jesus Christ. Like Paul, we learn that all of the stuff we think we own and in which we trust is rubbish. Everything that matters is God’s. As tenants in God’s vineyard, we can say with Paul, “But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Let us pray for God to bless us all, but to extend a hand of particular care to our pastor and professional staff at Christ, so that they may continue to remind us that we are all tenants in vineyards that are the Lord’s. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jon Heerboth, Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46 The post Tenants in God’s Vineyard appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
10 minutes | 4 months ago
Actions Speak Louder than Words
September 27, 2020. We are all being transformed, called to humbly embody God’s justice for all of creation, one action at a time. And actions speak louder than words. Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32 *** Transcript *** As I reflected on our readings this week, and the story that Alena shared of the Archangel Michael, the phrase “actions speak louder than words” kept echoing through my head. The parable Jesus tells his listeners describes one son saying he won’t do something his father wants him to do, and then thinking better of it and doing it anyway, and the other son saying of course he would help, and then choosing not to. It’s pretty clear in the end who did what their father asked of them. What each of them said in this parable is not nearly so important as what they did. Michael too, in Alena’s story, went beyond words and took action, and stood against the evil of Lucifer. Actions speak louder than words. I thought of the classic 1988 movie “Working Girl” — starring Sigourney Weaver as Katharine, a high-powered executive woman, and Melanie Griffith as Tess, her new and naïve employee. Tess finds out how true it is that actions speak louder than words. Katharine sounds so supportive, promising to present Tess’s innovative ideas for consideration. And then she comes back to tell Tess that her ideas had been rejected. But Tess finds out later that Katharine lied — Tess’s ideas were approved, but Katharine took credit for them. Katharine said one thing, and did another thing entirely, and her actions definitely revealed far more of who she was than her words had. I’m sure we can all think of times in our own lives when someone said something, perhaps believing deeply they were speaking the truth and that they would keep their promise, but like the situation with Katharine and Tess, what actually happened didn’t match their words at all. As an LGBTQIA person, I have learned that the words “all are welcome,” far from being the end of a conversation, are not enough on their own, and that hearing stories about commitments kept and actions taken that show how a community lives into that promise is far more revealing. Actions speak louder than words. Perhaps like me, you yourself may have said you would do something, and not done it. It’s easy, isn’t it, to blame the religious leaders in today’s tale, laying responsibility solely at the feet of the Sadducees? But the truth is we’ve all been there — perhaps truly wanting to make the commitment we are giving voice to, perhaps wanting to say the thing we know we should say, maybe if we’re honest wanting to look better than our sibling who has just told our parent, “No!” It’s one thing, isn’t it, to say that we’ll do something, or that we believe something, and quite another to put those words and beliefs into action. Debie Thomas, in her entry for this week on her blog “Journey with Jesus,” says this: “We are meant to be uncomfortable, to be confronted, to ask ourselves: which son am I? Am I the child who makes promises I fail to keep? Am I the daughter who talks the talk, and sincerely believes that my sacred-sounding words are enough? Am I the son who doesn’t see repentance as a lifelong business, a business that didn’t end at the altar call, or the confirmation service, or the baptism, or the newcomer’s class at church, that first drew me to Jesus?” Actions speak louder than words! And action, people of Christ, especially action that meets criticism and judgment by the world around us, is not easy. It is slow, hard work that results in change. Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” And lack of action, we know, can do immeasurable harm. It’s how Nazism rose in Germany. Inaction contributed to slavery lasting for 400 years on this continent. And inaction allows for the wounds of racism, violence, poverty, and homelessness to continue in our country today. It is why someone could shoot Breonna Taylor, in her own apartment and — as we found out this week — not be charged. Edmund Burke said, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.“ Action — and sometimes inaction — speak louder than words. At times, we say the “right thing” and do the “wrong thing,” and at other times we say the “wrong thing” and do the “right thing.” Debie Thomas continues: “Or am I the son who says the wrong thing, but finally repents and obeys, anyway? The child who might not sound all spiritual and sanctified, but still does the work of love and mercy when the rubber meets the road? The daughter who recognizes that God is still at work, here and now, doing new things, transformative things, salvific things? The son who changes his mind when new truth, new life, new possibility, and new hope, reveal themselves?” Our reading from the letter of Philippians today is all about transformation. Jesus, out of radical, reckless, love, offers himself completely to God, and to us. And the promise Paul shares with us is that Jesus’ supporting act of surrender changes us, too. We are empowered to not only speak justice and mercy and truth, but live it out, the way Jesus did, in actions as well as words, as Alena suggested. With Jesus, we can face the evils of this world like the Archangel Michael did, and not turn away. For us as humans, on our own, this is not possible. In our reading from Exodus, we hear that one more time, the Israelites are struggling to trust that they will be OK, and one more time, God shows them that God will provide what they need to take the next step — this time, by bringing water from a stone. God provides for us, too. Putting our faith into action is not about our own strength, or earning our place with God, but about being transformed by God, turning outward to think of God, others, and creation, before ourselves, trusting as Paul says, that God is at work in us. Actions speak much louder than words. More in these days than ever it seems, it is so important to remember how much damage inaction can do. We are all being transformed, called to humbly embody God’s justice for all of creation, one action at a time. Each day we can ask, “What am I being called to do? How can I embody God’s love and justice, for my neighbor, for my community?” And when we’re unsure of what to do, or afraid, God has shown that they will guide us and provide what that need — perhaps even sending angels to walk with us on the way. With the psalmist, we can pray: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.” Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, questioning, Alena Horn The post Actions Speak Louder than Words appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
12 minutes | 4 months ago
God’s Justice and Our Belonging
September 20, 2020. Pastor Meagan’s sermon today is on the story of the laborers in the vineyard. As we learn from our readings, God’s concept of justice doesn’t look like ours. Readings: Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16 *** Transcript *** Once there was a woman who owned a small company that makes clothes. Business was steady and things were going well, and then the pandemic hit. She and her leadership team watched in shock, with the rest of the country, as sales plummeted. One of the team suggested that they make masks, and quickly they saw that had been a really wise decision. They had managed to keep most of their staff on with the help of a PPP loan, but soon they needed to hire more people to handle the extra workload. First, they hired a tech specialist to manage their online orders. The next week they brought on two people to help make the masks, and work on new designs for special fits and needs. Two weeks later they hired another person to deliver masks locally to larger clients like senior residences, care centers, and schools. The time came when all of the new staff were receiving their first paychecks, and although of course their hourly pay was supposed to be confidential, the delivery person exclaimed in surprise when they saw their check, and one of the long-time staff couldn’t help but overhear. They were frustrated because it didn’t seem right that someone who was so new to the staff, and only a driver after all, was getting paid so well. They went to the owner of the shop and complained. The shop owner replied, “Friend, I haven’t hurt you; we agreed on your salary, and you have been paid. Spend it as you wish with gratitude. I choose to pay our new staff a just wage also. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” Sound at all familiar? Comparison, fairness, justice, and deserving are so much a part of our culture, and when someone gets something we don’t think they deserve — or when we don’t get something we think we do deserve — we are annoyed. It raises all kinds of questions of value, and belonging, and we’re tempted to judge who is deserving. We’re all at least somewhat invested in the idea of fairness and justice. The thing is, as we learn from this parable, and from the story of the manna in the desert, God’s concept of justice doesn’t look like ours. So, what do we learn of God’s justice, from our readings today? It’s easiest, perhaps, to look at where the justice of God and our concept of justice conflict. Our sense of justice says, “There is no free lunch. We get only what we earn.” Has anyone heard that? Anyone maybe said that? I certainly have that message in me that says I need to earn my place, earn love, earn approval, and at times it’s even felt like I needed to earn the very air that I breathe. And I suspect I’m not alone in that. God’s sense of justice says look, every evening there’s meat to eat. Every morning there’s bread. No need to store anything away, no need to earn it, no pay being docked if you don’t make your quota or have to stay home with your sick child. Every evening and every morning, God provides what we need for the day. And Luther, in the Small Catechism, reminds us that this isn’t just about food and drink, but about trusting that everything we need — clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like — is provided for us, and for all people, by God. It may not look as we expected. Did you notice, the Israelites saw the manna and at first they were like, “What is that?” But unexpected as it may be, God provides enough for everyone. God’s sense of justice is that all people have what they need, for the day. Our sense of justice says, we have a right to judge whether something is just or not — that justice is based on values of fairness and equality, objective values that we can measure. Think of Jonah, and how upset he was at seeing God’s mercy for the Ninevites. Or the older son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, angry because his father showed compassion and abundance toward his younger sibling, who had abandoned the family and spent his inheritance. I remember vividly how frustrated I was when a classmate received a higher award than I did at our science fair, when I had helped her at the very last minute to put her project together — and I had spent weeks working on mine! And God’s response, as today when the workers who came in first were jealous of those who came in last and still received what they needed, is that it’s not up to us. God’s sense of justice says that we’re called simply to ensure that God’s abundance is available to all without judgement, and whether something is fair or equal is up to God, and not us. Our sense of justice is grounded in what seems right for us. Like the long-time worker in the clothing shop, we can often slip into wanting to be sure we are getting what we deserve. We can, out of fear perhaps, be afraid of not having enough, and feel like the only way we can be sure is to prevent others — people who are not us — from having more than we do. As hard as I have tried to divest myself from companies that I know don’t treat their employees fairly, I admit that I’m still guilty at times of making the choice for convenience rather than justice. God’s justice is grounded in relationship. Belonging. The Israelites are in it together, all getting what they need to continue their common journey. And the workers are all paid, so they can all have food and shelter and safety, so that they can continue their common work. And here’s the thing — in the end, as God sees it, everyone belongs. As Jesse was saying, we are all interconnected and dependent on one another. God’s sense of justice is about relationship and belonging. And this brings us back to the first thing about justice. We can trust that God’s plan is to provide all people with what they need, for the day. And when we have that trust, we can let go more easily of what is fair or equal, and see more clearly the deep belonging that we share with all of God’s people, and all of creation. And if we discern with God’s sense of justice, we will see the damage that racism, anti-LGBTQIA action, ableism, economic oppression, and sexism, have done to us. We will know deeply the brokenness of a community that does not allow all people access to the bounty that God has provided, the woundedness that comes from denying people what they need to survive. Today, I am thinking so much about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of many who, like the shop owner in our story, imagined and worked for a sense of justice quite different from what is often lived out in this world. The notorious RBG claimed that laws that separated people on the basis of gender, preventing women from accessing education, employment, financial resources, and so much more, were not just, in spite of the fact that so many in power were convinced otherwise. And she continued to work for justice for all marginalized people right up until her death two days ago, at the age of 87. Like our shop owner, RBG can inspire and empower us as people of faith to live out a new vision of justice that is truly about trusting in God’s abundance, ensuring that it is available to all of creation, and it is based in a belief that all people belong, in our communities and in our world. When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating the intimate presence of God in our midst, and we’re experiencing in a bodily way the abundance of God, in the smallest things, like bread and wine. Just like the Israelites did. We can see how God is providing for us, and for all people, each day. We can more easily see what we do have, and know that it is enough. And we’re sent out share the good news in that awareness — there is enough for all, and God means for all of God’s children to have what they need, for this day. I invite you to take a step back today, and notice. Where is God providing for you today? Like Jesse said, who are the people that are participating in sharing in that abundance? And how can you ensure that God’s abundance is available for all people, as God intended? Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16, coronavirus, COVID-19, Paycheck Protection Program, Jesse Helton, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, questioning The post God’s Justice and Our Belonging appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
11 minutes | 4 months ago
Forgiving 77 Times
September 13, 2020. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. This morning, Pastor Meagan preaches on the challenges of forgiving. Readings: Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35 *** Transcript *** In the 12-step community, step 9 is the process of making amends — going to those that we’ve harmed and doing what we can to make things right. As we do this, we often discover that the people we have harmed may also have harmed us, leading us to hold those resentments close. This can make acknowledging our own part in what happened in our relationships very hard to do. After all, who wants to admit that we did something that hurt someone, when what they did seems so much worse? The process of sweeping our side of the street, so to speak, is often long, sometimes taking years. As we think about letting go of our own resentments and making amends for what we have done, often sponsors will suggest that we divide our list of people to whom we owe amends into three parts: those to whom we’re ready to make amends, those to whom we’re willing to consider making amends, and those to whom we are convinced we will never, ever, ever make amends. The harm they have done to us feels insurmountable. Once the lists are made and the process of making amends begins, we set aside that third list. We start with the first one, and we slowly work our way toward healing and strengthening our relationships, asking God to guide that process. Over time, we find ourselves dipping into the second list, those to whom we were willing to consider making amends. We have experiences of asking for forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves, and we begin to trust this process of letting go of past wrongs. And often, sometimes when we least expect it, we realize to our surprise that one of those people who was on our third list has moved over to the second. We find ourselves willing to consider forgiving, and acknowledging our own part, to someone we never thought we could possibly forgive. This 12-step wisdom teaches us that forgiveness is not a quick and easy thing. Like Jesse said, there are so many things that can make this a challenging and complicated process. Letting go of what someone else has done, and acknowledging our own mistakes, and taking care of ourselves, and holding good boundaries takes a lot of time. This is not something we expected, or decided, or chose necessarily, but often it becomes something that happened to us, when God stepped in. And this, I believe, is the main gospel we receive from our readings today. We know from these scriptures that this wisdom is far from new. Joseph was attacked by his brothers. They considered leaving him for dead, and then sold him into slavery, where he lived for years. When they stand in front of him in today’s reading from Genesis, we are told that when his brothers ask his forgiveness, and he gives it, Joseph cries. He claims God’s work in the healing that’s happened in his life, and is happening in his brothers’ lives. Yes, they intended harm, and they did it, Joseph tells them. And God transformed it. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over years, as Joseph faithfully followed the path God laid out for him. Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. In Jewish tradition, seven is the number of completion, of wholeness. Seventy is the number of wholeness times ten, the number of commandments — and we know from our own Lutheran teaching that none of us are capable on our own of keeping those commandments. We try, and we fail. And grace enters in. I like to say that the reason Jesus tells his disciples to forgive seventy-seven times, not just seven, is that he knew that’s what it would take. Over and over, asking for help, taking the step, falling, and starting over again, until we are complete. Whole. And through it all, as Paul tells the Romans, we belong to God. Whether we live, or whether we die, we belong to God. Last week, love — not love that comes easily, but love that takes time and commitment and work, and ultimately is impossible without God. This week, forgiveness. In the end, it’s all about relationships, with ourselves, with others, and with God. Jesus embodies and teaches God’s wisdom for our life in community, and it’s so core to who God is that it even shows up in the way Jesus taught us to pray! “Forgive us, as we forgive others.” And as beloveds who belong to God, we learn that God forgives us, we come to forgive ourselves, too, and understand how connected we are with all of our fellow humans. When I have struggled to forgive, one of the most powerful ways I’ve learned to invite God in is to pray the Prayer of St. Francis. You might be familiar with it — “Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith.” At a time when I had to frequently encounter people by whom I felt wounded, I would take the time to pray this prayer, for them, and for myself, by name. Asking God to love me and love through me, because I was empty. Asking God to bring healing for my woundedness, and in the process, seeing their woundedness as well. Claiming the faith of God, for them and for myself. I had long drives at that time, and sometimes I would find that it had taken me the entire drive — nearly two hours — just to get through the prayer. So this morning, I invite you to call to mind someone for whom you would like to pray, someone for whom you feel ready to pray. If you think of someone who you realize is on your third list, that list of people who you will never be ready to forgive, it’s okay to set them aside for today. Pick someone else. So having in mind this person that you’re ready to pray for today, we will pray the St. Francis Prayer together for them, for ourselves, and for each other. So, take a breath and let us get ready to pray. Lord, make me a channel of Your peace, not mine, with my sibling Where there is hatred in me and around me, fill me with your love, and let it overflow so that it surrounds my sibling Where there is injury in me and around me, fill me with your healing and forgiveness, and let it overflow so that your healing and forgiveness surrounds my sibling Where there is doubt in me and around me, fill me with your faith, and let it overflow so that your faith surrounds my sibling Where there is despair in me and around me, fill me with your hope, and let it overflow so that your hope surrounds my sibling Where there is darkness in me and around me, fill me with your light, and let it overflow so that your light surrounds my sibling And where there is sadness in me and around me, fill me with your joy, and let it overflow so that your joy surrounds my sibling God, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled by my sibling as to console them To be understood by my sibling, as to understand them; To be loved by my sibling, as to love them; For it is in giving that we receive, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35, Jesse Helton The post Forgiving 77 Times appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
12 minutes | 5 months ago
We Are All In Debt
September 6, 2020. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The sermon today is on God’s call to fulfill the law by embodying God’s love. Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20 *** Transcript *** Did you catch what Paul said in the letter to the Romans today? Like we were just saying, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” That’s an amazing statement! Take all of the law encompassed in the Old Testament, and it can be fulfilled by simply loving one another. Rather than attending to what can seem to be an endless list of rules, we can trust that if we love our neighbor, we’re doing God’s will. For those of us who can get bogged down in details, this is really liberating. The only thing we need to do is love one another. It’s not always as simple as it seems, however. In the time of Jesus, faithful Jewish leaders debated long and hard about the statement “Love your neighbor,” particularly asking who their neighbor was. Jesus was part of these faithful discussions, and as we’ve seen time and time again, Jesus often presents us with a challenge to view things from a different perspective. During one such conversation, Jesus shared the parable of the Good Samaritan, which forced his listeners to see the Samaritan, a hated enemy of mainline Jewish people, as the neighbor who saved them from the ditch. Jesus calls us not only to love, but to love without distinction. Even in small things, this is not easy. It can be hard to love the person who cuts us off in traffic, the person who gets too close to us without a mask in the grocery store, the neighbor who turns their music up at 10pm, the fellow church member with whom we’ve never gotten along, the frequent dog walker who doesn’t clean up when their puppy visits our lawn. The question of who we should consider to be our neighbor, who is worthy of love, is still debated today. And the truth is we are, often without realizing it, tempted to draw a line defining who is and who isn’t our neighbor. Many in the United States wrestle with how to respond to our neighbors from the South who come to this country out of desperation. Police officers and community leaders here in St. Louis, and in Detroit, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle — so many cities around the country — are separated by thick walls of hate and fear. We struggle to get along with the family member whose political beliefs around these issues and others seem to go against our very core. Divisions along racial lines are more volatile than ever as the realities of racism, and the evil of white supremacy, are visible in all their ugliness. Just this week, in Webster Groves, white supremacist tagging was left in several places around our neighboring churches, making it clear that even in Webster, hatred and oppression are present. These things happen, and it’s heartbreaking and appalling. At the same time, those of us who don’t live with this experience daily might find it hard to see as neighbor the person whose pain and anger at ongoing systemic oppression and violence is expressed in ways we don’t understand. Loving one another in fulfillment of the law doesn’t sound so simple when we understand that Paul was talking about loving those we find it difficult to love. In Matthew, Jesus says that if a neighbor who has sinned against us will not listen even to the church, we are to consider them to be a tax collector or a Gentile. This text has often been used to justify shunning or excommunicating someone who doesn’t measure up. But if we’re to understand what Jesus is really saying here, we need to remember that, far from separating himself from tax collectors and Gentiles, Jesus often found himself the center of attention for doing precisely the opposite. Jesus talked with them, listened to them, ate with them. Jesus loved them as they were, and called them, especially, to the fullness of life. We’re called to love not only when it’s convenient for us, not only when our neighbor is someone we like and approve of, but to love everyone we meet, without condition. Even more unthinkable, perhaps, we’re called to love those who have hurt us — those by whom we feel betrayed, or misunderstood, or abused. Sometimes we’re called to love by doing the incredibly difficult work of maintaining boundaries and distance to prevent additional physical and emotional harm, for the safety and health of ourselves and our families. And love is meant to be active. We’re called to practice it, in our community of faith, our families, and our neighborhoods. In Ezekiel today, the prophet says God does not want anyone to be lost. We’re called to embody God’s relentless love, using the scriptures as our guide. We’re called, as Moses was, to go toward the injustice, the pain, the woundedness, and proclaim God’s redemptive justice and mercy. Love one another. What does that look like? Is it even possible? The truth is, if our one primary directive, the fulfillment of all the law and the commands of God, is to love one another, to owe no one anything but love, we all fall short. None of us can love another to the fulfillment of the law. And yet, there it is. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” We owe our neighbors love. And we are all in debt. We see evidence in the readings from Ezekiel and the Gospel of Matthew that God understands our plight, knows our indebtedness. In the verses immediately following this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that we are to forgive “seventy times seven times” when our neighbor asks forgiveness. When — not if — we fail to love, Ezekiel tells us we’re to invite each other back to God, and remind ourselves of who we are called to be. We’re all in debt. And the God of love knows this, and promises forgiveness, and life, no matter how far we fall. And it is precisely where we fall that God steps in. When I have struggled most to love, because I feel overwhelmed by my own pain, anger, judgment, the wisdom of my mentors and companions on the road has led me straight to the cross, in two steps. One, often to my chagrin, is to remember and embrace my own humanity, my own capacity to make mistakes and harm others. If the person I struggle to love is imperfect, so am I. And Christ who travelled this human road to suffering and death understands the pain I bear — the pain that we bear — and our struggle to embody love. Two, is to pray for those I don’t want to love. Not that they will see the light and come crawling to us on their knees, although that’s tempting sometimes, but to pray that they have the very things we hope for ourselves. Healing. Justice. Mercy. Joy. Give them to the love of God, who can love them when I can’t. It is precisely where we fall that God steps in. For us as humans, on our own, loving to the fulfillment of the law is not possible. But with God miracles of love and healing are possible, and they happen every day. It is the love of God revealed in Jesus that redeems us from our debt. The love of God in Jesus enables us to love our neighbors, even when it’s difficult. God’s love in Jesus empowers us to speak words of promise and truth, to embody God’s unbounded love and justice for all people. Edmund Burke said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” We are called to act, to claim, out loud and clear, that God’s love extends to the very margins, and that racism, and hatred, and oppression are evils that cannot stand in the light of that love. We humans do this so imperfectly, but still, the call persists. We are all in debt. But through the grace of God we are forgiven, and we are deeply loved and capable of loving. Where can God’s love work in and through you to heal brokenness in your life, your family, and especially today, in your community? “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” God calls us to fulfill the law by embodying God’s love today, for we are redeemed by God’s love for each of us, today and every day. Amen. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20 The post We Are All In Debt appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
10 minutes | 5 months ago
Barefoot on Holy Ground
August 30, 2020. When Moses sees the burning bush and hears the voice of God, he is told to remove the sandals from his feet, for the place on which he is standing is holy ground. Today, God is calling us too. And Pastor Meagan reminds us that, like Moses, we too are standing on holy ground. Readings: Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28, Exodus 3:1-15 *** Transcript *** In case you haven’t already figured it out from the children’s sermon, I love going barefoot. The first thing I do when I enter my house is I take off my shoes and socks, so I can free my feet to feel the hardwood floor as I walk. And when we bring the cats out in the backyard, I go barefoot unless the wood and stone are hot enough to burn my feet. I love feeling all the different textures — the smooth wood of the deck and stairs, the knobbly cement and stone of the patio, the tickly grass between my toes, and the air and sun playing on them as we sit. There’s something really grounding for me about going barefoot. It helps me to feel connected somehow, to the world around me and to the god who created it all. And being grounded, I can be ready to start a new thing: ready to learn, ready for things like Sunday School and Confirmation and Adult Forums to begin for the year. Ready perhaps to hear God, like Moses did. We all know Moses’ story. He was a Hebrew, and he should have been murdered by the midwives, because Pharaoh had ordered them to murder all the Egyptian boys. But they saved him. Because those midwives, Shifra and Puah, they didn’t follow the law of Pharaoh. They followed the law of God. So Moses lived, and was taken in to be raised in Pharaoh’s house, as an Egyptian. For some years he doesn’t realize who he is, and when he does, he can’t take the pain of his people. In a moment of anger and grief, as he witnesses yet another injustice, he murders an overseer and then runs for his life. In one sense, Moses creates a great life for himself. He finds community, he marries, he tends his father-in-law’s animals. But in another sense, Moses has lost a great deal. He is cut off from his people, and his history. Even God. Then Moses sees the flame in the bush and he hears the voice, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground!” He takes off his shoes, and he walks closer to the bush, and he is grounded again. God reminds Moses of who he is, and who his people are. God tells Moses who God is: I am. The one who has always been, the God of all Moses’ ancestors, the one who created all things, the one who is in that moment alive and present in the flame in the bush in front of Moses. Not just I was, or I will be, but I am. And God tells Moses that he hears the cries of the Hebrew people, of Moses’ people, and that he always has. Moses couldn’t bear the pain, but God can, and does. And he calls Moses to return, promising to be with him, to give him the words he needs to speak, to claim God’s justice for his people. In spite of his fear, his uncertainty about his abilities to take on this task, perhaps his shame about how he’d failed before, Moses goes. Not just I was, or I will be, but I am. Throughout history, God has always heard God’s people. God heard the Hebrew people. God heard the cries of Rizpah: the sons she had with King Saul had been murdered, and she stood watch mourning and wailing for months until they were buried. Mary, Jesus’ mother, claims that God has heard her, and not only her, but the cries of all who suffer. Not just I was, or I will be, but I am. In Stand Your Ground, the book about the history and pain of white exceptionalism and faith that a group of us at Christ Lutheran are reading together, author Kelly Brown Douglas writes, “In telling his poignant story of life in a concentration camp during the Jewish Holocaust, Eli Wiesel recalls ‘a most horrible day, even among all of those other bad days,’ when he witnessed the hanging of a child . . . . Wiesel heard a man cry out, ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ To that question, Wiesel said a voice inside him answered, ‘Hanging from this gallows.’ ” And this, as Moses learns, is where God always is, when people are in pain. God hears the cries of all of those wounded by the systemic racism in our communities. God heard the cries of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and just this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake, who was severely injured in a shooting. God heard the cries of several others who were shot by a white supremacist while calling for justice in Kenosha. God heard the cries of the more than 180,000 who have died from COVID-19 now, and he hears the grief of those who loved them, and those who are still struggling to recover from being ill. God hears the cries of those who have lost loved ones, and homes, and jobs, to the devastating wildfires in California. God hears the pain of those recovering from the destruction of the storms in Iowa, and the catastrophic hurricanes that have borne down on communities in the Gulf. God hears the cries of all the officers in the police and military, who face daily the pain and struggle of our community. God hears the cries of those who are unemployed, or not paid adequately, who can’t feed and clothe and house themselves and their children. God hears the anguish of those living with mental illness and addiction, isolation and loneliness, and the despair of their families. And then, family of faith, God sends us. But not without preparing us for the work ahead. God teaches us who God is — the god who is always present, the god who hears people’s cry. God teaches us how to live in community. Moses is sent with Aaron, and we are sent with one another. Paul, in the letter to the Romans today, talks about persevering in faith when our life together is hard, and loving our enemies in concrete ways, making room for God to be God in our lives and in the world. And as we see with Peter today in our gospel from Matthew, knowing that we will make mistakes, God continues to teach us. God reminds us that no matter what, above any nation, state, or flag, it is God who made and sustains us, our faith in God that guides us, and Christ whom we follow. As people of faith, every year we come together for Sunday School, Confirmation, Adult Forums, Bible Studies, so we continue to ground ourselves and learn more about our God. Hearing Moses’ story reminds me that we, like Moses, are standing on holy ground. God is calling to us too, and is right in front of us. Taking off my shoes, reading passages of scripture, lighting a candle, can all help me to remember that I am on holy ground. How do you “holy ground” yourself, so that you can hear God’s voice? *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28, Exodus 3:1-15, Whirl Story Bible, coronavirus, pandemic The post Barefoot on Holy Ground appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
10 minutes | 5 months ago
What is Your Superpower?
August 23, 2020. God has given all of us gifts, not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. What gifts did he give you? What are your superpowers? Readings: Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8 *** Transcript *** A few years ago I got to go to Heifer Ranch in Little Rock, Arkansas with a group of youth. We spent a week doing different projects around the ranch — taking care of their animals, tending the crops as they grow for their CSA, packing food boxes. And we gathered to learn about food justice all around the world, and the benefits that a community can get from having healthy animals, and even how to make pizza completely from scratch, with just goat milk, corn, oil, and tomatoes. We even made our own cheese from the goat milk. The cornerstone event of being at Heifer Ranch, though, is a night in what they call the Global Village. The Global Village is a long trail around a lake, with houses set up that look just like what you would find in places all over the world — from Guatemala, the Philippines, Thailand, and many other places where Heifer International has worked with local communities to address issues of poverty. And they also included a refugee camp. So I was assigned to the Appalachian House for the night with three of our ninth grade boys, two of whom were Cub Scouts working toward Eagle Scout. One of them was a Master Fire Builder — which was a great asset for our house, because the first task of the Global Village evening is to trade what you have for what you need to make dinner over a fire. Fortunately for us in Appalachian House we had all the firewood, and that made our job of trading for food and supplies really easy. To add some extra challenge to the experience, one of the kids in every group was told that they were pregnant, and so they wore a water balloon in a sling the entire time that we were making dinner. The boy in our group assigned to wear the balloon happened to be the Master Fire Builder. He had been so excited about the evening, and expected to make good use of his fire-building expertise. But once he put the sling on with that heavy water balloon, and we arrived at our house and began to get settled in, our Master Fire Builder quickly realized that he didn’t feel like he could do anything at all while wearing that fragile, cumbersome balloon. “I can’t do anything!” became a refrain. It turns out, the other Cub Scout in our group was quite a good fire builder himself, and after a short time the two Scouts were busy at work discussing the best way to set up the fire, and which sticks would make the most viable kindling. As I watched them, I noticed that our Master Fire Builder was not only really good at building fires, but also had a really profound way of supporting and empowering his friend, offering insight and encouragement in a way that allowed his friend to recognize and develop his own gift for fire building. In the meantime, our third Appalachian villager just kept finding ways to help. He gathered sticks and broke them down. He cut carrots, and then potato, and went for water. He washed the dishes, helped stir the pot, and transferred food into bowls so that we could eat. And I still say today, I think we had the best dinner in the entire camp! Scrambled eggs, carrots, potatoes, and onion. And the Cub Scouts even knew how to make really good rice — not the instant kind — over the fire, something I would never have been able to accomplish. And later in the evening, when we noticed that there were two wasps in the house where we were sleeping, I found myself able to trust them when they assured me that the wasps were as tired as we were, and would not bother us overnight. The gifts that each Appalachian House member had were all valuable, and together they allowed us to eat well, stay safe, and have fun along the way. So a mere six months ago, February 26, we celebrated Ash Wednesday together — my first Worship time as your Pastor. Remember that? Time gets so weird in times of transition, doesn’t it? Karen and I can hardly believe that we haven’t lived here forever. I have a hard time remembering what it was like before. And yet it’s only been a short time, really. A short time in which I have learned so much already. And part of what I have experienced in these months is what my Appalachian House team learned during their night in the Global Village. I noticed it first in that Worship Team, as various gifts of creativity, organization, Biblical knowledge, and music came together in a way that energized all of us, and give us life now as we continue to re-imagine Worship in Corona-tide and beyond. I have seen it in the ways in which gifts we didn’t need in the same way before — gifts for making use of technology in so many different ways — have become essential, and Mike and Dave’s willingness to share those gifts has supported our Worship life together as we join in Worship from all over the country, even at one point from the middle of a lake! Most recently, I have been so grateful for those who have expertise in building maintenance and construction, as we have faced multiple challenges in caring for the Mead Center. And this is exactly what Paul talks about in our reading from the letter of Romans today. God has given all of us gifts — each one of us — not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. Isaiah tells us we were formed out of the earth to bring God’s love and justice to the world, and God continues to teach us and form us. Paul calls us not to give in to the messages that we hear that tell us we need to stand on our own, look out for ourselves, or that we don’t have anything to give others, but to be transformed by the Spirit, and recognize our place in the body of Christ. To recognize that we, as God’s children, are all parts of one another, and if any one of us is missing, we all lose out. Christ’s body is not complete without us. And as we grow in wisdom, we get better at seeing God at work in us, in others, and the world around us. And we continue to learn about the gifts we have been given throughout our lives. All of you heading back to school this year have the chance to work on building the gifts you already have, discover new gifts you didn’t know about before, and to help your students and your classmates and your friends discover their gifts too. School can seem disconnected from our faith lives sometimes, but really it is sacred space to learn about who God created us to be. And those of us not in school are called to keep learning, too. This week, at our Council meeting, we talked about the visioning work that we’re beginning. We’re asking those big questions — where are we today? What is working well for us, and what needs to be transformed? Where is God calling us, as we look ahead to what is in store for Christ Lutheran Church? Asking these questions can be a little scary, because change is hard. And it can be really exciting, as we unleash the gifts among us in our family of faith, and seek God’s will for how we can be church in our community today. And one of the important places to start is to recognize the gifts of God among us. I asked the Council when we met this week, and I asked the children this morning, and I ask you now: what are your superpowers? What are the gifts that God has given you, to be shared with your family, and your neighborhood, and this community of faith? In a moment I’ll share some of the gifts that the Council shared at their meeting, and we’ll pull the white board back up and see some of the gifts that the kids named as well. So, as we did with the kids a little bit ago, take a minute to share your superpowers with us by typing them in chat, and I will do my best to add them to the white board as we sing the Hymn of the Day. The promise of God stands firm, in the midst of pandemics and all the challenges we face in our life. God’s word will guide us, and we all have a place in the body of Christ. What are your superpowers? *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8, community supported agriculture, Karen McLaughlin, Mike Wagner, Dave Ringkor, coronavirus, COVID-19 The post What is Your Superpower? appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
14 minutes | 5 months ago
Nevertheless, She Persisted
August 16, 2020. In today’s gospel we see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. He claims that all are beloved, and yet he refuses to help the Canaanite woman and calls her a dog. Nevertheless, she persisted. And she shows us something of what it means to be a protestor, of the highest order. Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28 *** Transcript *** Is anyone else feeling kind of tired this week? Like you’re spinning your wheels and you’re not getting anywhere? As if no matter what you say or do, it’s falling on deaf ears? I am so tired of looking at other people’s eyes over their masks, or seeing them in little squares on our Zoom screens. Weary of wondering how to spend free time, holidays, with options so limited, always calculating the risk. Parents, teachers, and students are wading through pages of plans and protocols and weighing all the choices for the upcoming school year — none of them ideal, all of them hard. And we all want more than anything to be fully in community, safely. There are many who are living in loneliness, and grief, and isolation these days. Perhaps highlighted a bit as we edge back to “normal” but we can’t quite get there. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like one more Zoom meeting, and I’m going to go soak my laptop in the water pooling on the Mead Center roof! But maybe I should just sit that Zoom meeting out instead. We’re all a little weary in different ways, experiencing stress and grief, and to be honest, some trauma. Our brains are understandably a bit sloggier than normal, and our capacity perhaps lower than we feel it should be. And then today, we have this gospel. The one where Jesus, Jesus, calls the Canaanite woman, who is just trying to save her daughter, a dog. Maybe we should just sit this reading out? Or maybe, if we take a moment to breathe, there is something to be learned from the story, as there always seems to be in the end. For one thing, if you are feeling worn out today, we can hear in this story that we are not alone. The Canaanite woman comes to the square, crying out for help, and nobody listens to her. And although she doesn’t say how long her daughter has been possessed, we do know that this isn’t the first time she has made her plea. The disciples say she keeps yelling, and they ask Jesus to send her away or make her stop. When Jesus says her problem is not his responsibility, she is not his responsibility — in spite of the fact that she as a Canaanite is of the house of David just like Jesus is — the woman comes right up to him and names their common ancestry saying, “Son of David, help me.” And this is when Jesus, the Son of God, equates her to a dog. Maybe he should sit this one out! Just because our brains at their best learn really well through repetition, if we take a look at how Jesus taught and the stories he told, we will see that this is not the first time Jesus has addressed the place and beloved-ness of someone seen as an outcast, someone like the Canaanite woman. Jesus likes to give us the same message again and again, to make sure we can get it, and that’s especially helpful with our brains a little bit foggy. And most of the time, the lesson is: all are beloved. This message starts for us today with our Isaiah text: “Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” No limits to God’s embrace all through the Older Testament. And Jesus’ ministry carries that through. Think about the Prodigal Son. He too is unheard, outcast, and he calls himself a servant not worthy of sonship. And his older brother would certainly have agreed. But their father claims him as a child. God claims them both as beloved. The Good Samaritan was rejected by those around him simply because he’s a Samaritan. But as the parable unfolds, we come to see that this person we least expect — the Samaritan, of all people — is the one Jesus chooses to lift up as good, the one we will come face-to-face with when we are laying in the ditch. And then there is the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, lepers, Zacchaeus and other tax collectors, and on and on. There are countless examples of God welcoming the outsider, Jesus lifting up the outcast. And still, today, Jesus takes away this woman’s humanity by the language he uses — explicitly excludes her from the message he himself has given us over and over, that all are included as God’s children. I think we all have those days, don’t we? When as hard as we try, we in our humanity fall short of our ideals. We speak about patience, and turn around and snap at those closest to us. We do our best to embody grace, and then growl through our mask at the cashier checking us out at the grocery store, or snarl over the phone at the person trying to solve our internet issues. We preach forgiveness, and then we realize, it means the neighbor whose dog won’t stop digging up our lawn, too. We claim, as Jesus did so many times, that all are welcome, all are beloved, and then we become aware that although we find it easy to welcome people with disabilities, our community, workplace, or school is not actually welcoming for LGBTQIA people. Or we hear the voices of our black siblings, and come to realize that, in so many places where we take our comfort and belonging for granted, they do not feel valued, heard, or even safe. We all have those days — and we all have those barriers within us. Matthew shows us a Jesus who is fully human, as well as divine. And in today’s gospel we see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. And we learn from what we see Jesus doing in this story how we are called to respond when we are caught in our blind spots, when we hit a wall. We don’t know why or how it happened. Maybe Jesus was tired, and caught off-guard by the woman’s plea and the disciples’ reaction. Maybe Jesus wanted to demonstrate in full ugliness what we shouldn’t do, almost like a living parable. However it happened, in that moment the Canaanite woman doesn’t challenge his words, but says that even dogs deserve to be fed. She reflects Jesus’ words back to him, highlighting just how awful his comment was. Called out, Jesus doesn’t make excuses, or explain why he was right or what he really meant. He hears her, perhaps for the first time. And then, Jesus heals her daughter. In the end, this story is about Jesus. But it is also very much about the Canaanite woman. The one with the ill daughter. The one seen as an outsider. The one called a pest, and then a dog. The one who had cried out, over and over. The one who had been unheard, and explicitly excluded. And yet, she didn’t give up. They tried to push her away and silence her. Nevertheless, she persisted. The Canaanite woman, family of faith, is in truth a protestor, of the highest order. One of the more famous writings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is his letter from the Birmingham Jail, which he wrote while imprisoned for his own persistence as a protestor. In it he says, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The Canaanite woman seems to have known this. She knew Jesus could heal her daughter, knew she was worthy of healing. And like Dr. King, Annie Lee Cooper, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement, she didn’t allow attempts to silence her to stop her as she sought what she so desperately needed. In all of our history, people claiming their right to justice and dignity and their place among God’s children have done as the Canaanite woman did. Slavery ended, women achieved the right to vote, LGBTQIA people claimed their right to exist, and so many other injustices have been righted because of people whose voices have rung out persistently over the years, including today, as black people demand that the long history of systemic racism and brutality against them end. Even in our church, people who have been shuffled to the side or out the door have claimed their place in the pews and the pulpits, living out the courage and desperation of the Canaanite woman in their own times and places. Because of their persistence, this year we celebrate the anniversaries — 50 years since women could be ordained, 40 years since the first black woman was ordained, and 10 years since the Churchwide Assembly voted to allow ordination for LGBTQIA clergy. All of this took not days, weeks, or months, but years of sacrifice and courage and persistence, people following the lead of the Canaanite woman insisting she be heard. So we of the soggy brains and weary souls and short tempers can take heart today. The Canaanite woman was tired too, but her persistence succeeded. And even Jesus hit those walls and barriers and tripped up sometimes, as he embodied the vision that God’s love and mercy are for everyone. But that vision rekindled. The promise of God to Isaiah, and Jesus’ challenge and invitation to live out God’s justice, persist, just when we think we are ready to sit this one out. Paul assured us God’s mercy is wide when we fall, and the Canaanite woman is leading the way. Thanks be to God. *** Keywords *** 2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexed, asexual, 2009 vote The post Nevertheless, She Persisted appeared first on Christ Lutheran Church.
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