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St. Paul on God’s Love

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV)

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Continual Resurrection

+ A sermon for The Second Sunday of Easter (Year B) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on April 8, 2018 +

Texts: John 20:19-31


Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

My friends, welcome to the Second Sunday of Easter.
It’s been a week and things are starting to go back to normal – the lilies have started to droop, the candy from the baskets have been mostly eaten, and although we will continue to proclaim “Christ is risen indeed” for the whole 50 days of Easter, the alleluias are already starting to sound a little stale in our mouths.
We’re a week into the Easter season, but we can already tell that last maybe week wasn’t the seismic event we were hoping for.
The world didn’t change overnight.
The realities of this world still surround us and we might wonder where the resurrection has a place.
Whether it really can subvert the fear and death that surround us.

We talked last week about the fear that is prevalent in Mark’s version of Easter and how that is the prelude to the new life of the resurrection.
Interestingly, John’s version almost sees an inverse.
Peter and the other disciple, John, run to the garden tomb and find it empty and they leave in amazement.
There is a joyous and wonderful scene with Mary Magdalene and Jesus who calls her by name and commissions her to spread the good news to the disciples.
John’s Easter story is full of new life, joy, and celebration.

But then the fear creeps in. Continue reading

A New Beginning

+ A sermon for The Resurrection of Our Lord – Easter Sunday (Year B) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on April 1, 2018 +

Texts: Mark 16:1-8


Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Jesus Christ is risen today, alleluia!”

“This is the feast of victory for our God, alleluia!”

“Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!”

You might be able to tell from the songs we have sun this morning and the flowers and the dressings of the church that this is a special day – this festival celebration where we remember the triumph of our Lord over the forces of death and destruction that sought to end his life – and the new life that has sprung from the cross and the empty tomb.

fearful-yet-overjoyedBut after that gospel reading, these songs may sound a little tone-deaf.
We didn’t hear celebration and rejoicing, but terror and amazement.
We didn’t hear songs of triumph, but a deafening silence.
So what are we to make of this gospel reading in our Easter celebration?

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Cross of Death, Tree of Life

+ A homily given for Good Friday at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on March 30, 2018 +

Texts: John 18:1-19:42


How did we get here?
How did we find ourselves here at the foot of this cross as we see our Savior hanging there?
How did everything go so wrong?

For three years, Jesus spent his ministry challenging the systems of oppression and death that surrounded him.
He lived among the outcast and the marginalized – ate with them, healed them, walked with them, loved them.
He stood up to those who were in power – criticized corruption, subverted tyrannical structures, advocated for religious reforms.
He inspired many and he frightened many.
His was a message of love and a vision of justice for all people.

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“Crucifixion of Jesus” by Paul Oman

But this message threatened those in power so much that they schemed to execute him.
They took this man of hope and they put him on a sham trial, they killed him as an enemy of the state and threat to the peace of Rome.
They mobbed together to lynch an innocent man so they could protect their own power as his mother and his followers can only watch in horror.

On this night we remember how God came to us bringing love and justice for all people and it was so offensive to this world that we literally wanted to kill God-With-Us by nailing Jesus to a cross.
That we were so threatened by God’s vision of peace and love that we murdered Jesus in the most humiliating and barbaric way we could think of.
It’s enough to leave us feeling hopeless – feeble – alone.

During the past year, I have talked to so many people who have felt powerless to change the realities of this world.
War, hunger, discrimination, corruption, and violence seem to remind us daily that there are evils in this world that we cannot easily change.
Systems of oppression, racism, sexism, and queerphoba tell us that there is still so much work to do.
The loss of innocent lives: Trans lives, black lives, children’s lives condemn us and show us that we are still crucifying innocent Christs all around us.

Each time an innocent person suffers at the hands of injustice and violence we see Christ crucified again. Continue reading

A Different Meal

+ A homily given for Maundy Thursday at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on March 29, 2018 +

Texts: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Meals are a special time for many people.
They can bring people together around a table for conversation, exchanging ideas, and some quality time together.
So many cultural values can be seen through the lenses of food and mealtime – who gets to eat first, if there is a significance to the dishes being served, whose recipes are being used.
You can learn a lot about a culture by watching how they eat together.

Food is important in life milestones too – events like birthdays and weddings and funerals often have a special meal as a major component.
These meals help us celebrate or commemorate as we surround ourselves with family and friends.

As with these other aspects of our lives, our religious life revolves around meals too.
These meals bring us together with people who love us as we share the stories of our faith.
This week our Jewish friends will gather around a table and ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” as they start the Passover Seder.
During the holy month of Ramadan, our Muslim friends break their fasts with great iftar feasts.
Bose-ultimacenaetiopicaEach week, we join Christians around the world as we gather around this table as we share in the Lord’s Supper and remember the night Jesus commanded us to eat this bread and drink this cup – the night in which he was betrayed – this night.

For the nearly two thousand years since, Christians have been gathering together around a shared meal – the same meal that Jesus instituted on this holy night.
Since the very earliest days of the Church, this meal has been our focal point – the heart of our assembly together as followers of Christ – the core of our common worship.
And even though we share this meal nearly every time that we gather, it’s one that cannot loose its significance.
We know that this meal is different.
Continue reading

You Matter in the Cosmos

+ A sermon given for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year B) at Fullness of God Lutheran Church, Holden Village, WA on February 4, 2018 +

Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39


Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Holden Village

I remember the first time I ventured up this valley – three years ago for a J-Term class with my seminary.
Somehow after a most of a lifetime living as a Lutheran in the Pacific Northwest, with parents who had visited the Village many times dating back to their college days, and as someone has sung Holden Evening Prayer as long as I can remember, it took going to seminary in Chicago to finally get me to the Village.
And until that point, whenever I had to shamefully admit that I had never been here, the reactions were all the same: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you since the beginning? How have you never been to Holden?”

When the time finally arrived, I eagerly gazed out the windows of that old school bus as we made our way up the valley and the majesty unfolded before me.
Especially after a couple years in the flat Midwest, the sight of the mountains, the trees, and the flowing creek reconnected me to a vision of God’s glory that I had been sorely missing in Chicago.
It was as if I was remembering how the beauty of the creation that now surrounded me showed me of the beauty of God.

It’s a similar feeling that I get when I stand on the ocean shore and glimpse the vastness of the life-sustaining waters that cover this earth.
Or when I study astronomy and ponder the enormity and beauty of the universe.
It’s a sense of peering into the beauty of a God who created all these things and by beholding the majesty of the whole creation having the chance to peer into God’s own self.

And it’s a humbling experience too – when I solo hike to Hart Lake and find myself surrounded by high mountains and countless trees and unseen critters, I recognize myself as a mere interloper, nothing more than a minor disturbance in a squirrel’s day.
When I compare myself to the great Pacific Ocean, I feel as small as an individual pebble on the beach.
milky-way-rocks-night-landscapeWhen I gaze into the night sky and try to count the multitude of stars and imagine the planets that orbit them and the innumerable galaxies with their own sets of billions of stars and planets, it can be hard to not feel absolutely insignificant compared to the immensity of it all.

And yet, in our first reading from Isaiah, we hear the Prophet’s assurance that the Creator of the universe, the molder of the Earth, the carver of the mountains does not stand distant from us, but loves us deeply.
This God who stretches out the heavens like a curtain chooses to care about what is happening in our lives and in our world.
Isaiah was writing to comfort his people living in exile – a people who were beginning to wonder if their God was powerful enough to overcome their Babylonian captors.
The Prophet reminds the exiled nation that their hope is in their God who created all things.
That the God of Israel does not remain secluded and remote but constantly works in and among the people, raises up prophets and leaders to guide them, and moves in the community to inspire visions of a new reality of God’s perfect design.

The Prophet’s words speak again to us this evening – a reminder of the hope that we have in our God.
The same God that created the heavens and the earth cares deeply for what happens in this world and in our lives.
When tyrants rule their people unjustly bringing fear, discrimination, and warfare, our God comes into our communities to offer refuge and an alternate vision for God’s perfect reign of love and peace.
When the demons of this world cause us as individuals to doubt whether we are enough – good enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, smart enough – our God comes to offer assurance and renew our strength.
When we feel so utterly beaten down by the tormentors of this world that devalue us because of our gender or orientation, our language or skin color, the shape of our body, or physical or mental illness, or whatever else, our God names us again as God’s beloved, and lifts us up like an eagle to regain our God-given value.

What is so amazing to me is that the same God that created the cosmos also crafted you together and is crazy about you.
The same God that slung atoms into being also knit you together and adores you beyond imagining for exactly who you are.
The same God who brought all things into being has come again to this place to call you by name and declare again to the universe that you are God’s own beloved child.

jesus_mother_peterWe see a beautiful example of this in the healing story we have heard in Mark’s Gospel.
We find Jesus in Capernaum preaching and teaching and then we witness this remarkable of healing.
He comes into the home of his disciples Simon and Andrew and finds Simon’s mother-in-law.
We really know so little about this woman that we don’t even know her name. But we can make some educated guesses about her – she’s a widow, which is why she’s living with her daughter and his husband.
As a woman she is surely looked down on by this culture and as a woman whose husband has died, she has almost no societal value. And she is laying down sick with a fever – quite possibly close to death.
And in walks Jesus who reaches out his hand and lifts her up, healing her of the fever.

In a society that discounts her as worthless, Jesus comes to be with her.
In a culture that looks down on her, Christ gazes into her eyes with love and compassion.
In a patriarchal structure that can’t even be bothered to record her name, the very same hand that created the universe reaches out to her, lifts her up, and proclaims her as beloved by God.

And she responds the only way she can – she rises and she serves.
Not because she was a woman, no matter the gender roles at play.
Not because that is a woman’s place in the home, despite what centuries of Church tradition would have you believe.
She rises to serve because that is what a follower of Christ is called to do.
She responds to this gift of life and love by sharing that life and love to those around her in service – just as Christ calls us each to do.
She models for us what Christian discipleship looks like – using the life and love she has received from Jesus to spread God’s love in the world.
When the world dismissed her, Jesus saw her and loved her.
And even though society assumed she would never be anything, she became the bearer of Christ’s love and the minister of that love to her neighbors.
Jesus healed her from her fever, yes, but also from the lies that tormented her and told her she was worthless by giving this woman the most significant of roles – the chance to bear and spread the same creative and redeeming love that spun the cosmos into being.
And by serving, she was united into the mission and ministry of Christ.

Where has this world brought you low?
How has this world beat you down?
What gives you doubt about your own self-worth, your humanity?
When have you been told you’re wrong or broken or not enough?
It can be in these times where we doubt the work of God – where we yearn for God to be active in our lives.
It can be these times when we need healing the most that we wonder if that healing will ever come.

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Jesus Heals the Mother-in-Law of Peter, Rembrandt sketch

But despite all of this, Christ comes to each of us to reach out his hand of healing and love.
We may not see him face to face but can feel Christ in the embrace of a loved one, the presence of a friend, or the kindness of a stranger.
And we can be sure that Christ is here and God is active in our lives.

Because the Creator of the rivers and lakes, the icecaps and the oceans uses the waters of your baptism to claim you and proclaim to the cosmos that you are God’s beloved child, a person of immeasurable significance.
The same God that created all the plants and vegetation that has ever been chooses to come among us again in the bread and cup we will share to reunite us into the Body of Christ that is at work in the world.
The One who fashioned humanity in the image of God gathers us together into community so we can experience that same love of Christ in each other as we serve one another as agents of God’s healing life.
And our God raises us from our doubts and torments and calls us to use this gift we have been given to follow in Christ’s example to share the love that brings us life as we serve our neighbors and the whole creation.

The mighty God that Isaiah proclaims to us and who chose to put on flesh in the person of Jesus never tires of the work – the sustaining of the universe, the strengthening of the weak and downtrodden, and the lifting up of the lowly.
Sometimes it can be hard to see where our God is working in our world, but most often we can look at the actions of those around us – those reaching out in love and healing, caring and sacrifice, ministry and service – and see the face of God.
And we can look at ourselves, insignificant though we may sometimes feel, and see where God is yearning to work through us.

Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The Creator and sustainer of the universe does not grow weary and does not stay secluded, but continues to work in our world, moving in and among our community, dwelling in our bodies, spreading God’s healing and redeeming love to all creation.

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Risky Business

+ A sermon given for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)/Ordinary 33A at University Lutheran Church on November 19, 2017 +

Texts: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30


Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

This week, the residents of Tromsø, Norway will mark an annual event – right around November 21st each year, the sun will be so low in the horizon that it won’t peak above the mountains that surround this small northern city.

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Tromsø in the polar night

For the next two months, the city will live through what they call the polar night – a time where they will not ever directly see the sun.
Here in Seattle, we know first-hand that dark and gloomy winter days can lead to seasonal depression – a case of winter blues that can be hard to shake after weeks of cold and drizzly gray.
So we can imagine that the residents of Tromsø may experience a similar or even more extreme version of these blues.
But when social psychology researcher Kari Leibowitz studied the residents, she found remarkably low rates of seasonal depression. Leibowitz attributed this to the mindset with which these Norwegians approach winter. “People view winter as something to be enjoyed,” she writes, “not something to be endured.”

Having lived nearly all of my life in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, I know that winters can be a challenge with such limited light.
But rather than succumb to the gloomy weather, Leibowitz writes that the people of Tromsø embrace these months as a chance to do winter-y things like cozy up by a fire, be with friends, and even enjoy the outdoors. After all, it’s pretty difficult to go skiing in the summer. Continue reading

Semper Reformanda – Why the Reformation is Still Relevant 500 Years Later

+ A reflection on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses +

Reformation Sunday 2017


 

I’ve always loved Reformation Day.

Growing up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the last Sunday in October always meant dressing up in red, singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and remembering the genesis of our denomination when a German monk named Martin Luther (supposedly) nailed the 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
The celebration was always a highlight of my personal liturgical calendar and I assumed it was a highlight for every Lutheran congregation – its unofficial significance far surpassing its official liturgical classification as a “lesser festival or commemoration.”

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All Saints’ Church (The Castle Church), Wittenberg, Germany

But when I started seminary in Chicago, I discovered that many Lutheran congregations in the city barely recognized Reformation Sunday.
Some only nominally mentioned it with no singing of Luther’s most famous hymn and not a scrap of red paraments in sight.
I wondered why in the unofficial capital city of the ELCA, this banner day of Lutheranism had seemingly been relegated to a liturgical footnote.

As I learned more about the history and practice of Reformation Day, I began to see the understandable hesitancy in its commemoration.
For nearly the entire history of Lutheranism, Reformation Sunday has been a symbol of division among the church catholic. Lutherans have utilized the day to celebrate their triumph over the “papists” and look to their glorious past. For centuries, the “hordes of devils” filling the land in Luther’s hymn were consigned to be the Roman Catholics.
It quickly became clear to me why this celebration was quickly going out of vogue. Continue reading