+ A sermon given for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A) at Wicker Park Lutheran Church on May 14, 2017 +

Texts: 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

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

Goodbyes are a difficult thing for me. Knowing it may be a while until I see friends and loved ones again is never easy.

In my family, it’s also not uncommon for goodbyes to last close a really long time – once we start saying goodbye, we keep talking and talking. It sometimes takes three or four goodbyes before someone finally leaves.
I remember the first time Ryan experienced this phenomena after dinner at my aunt’s house.
It was late and we needed to head home, so I said, “Well I guess we should get going.” Everyone agreed – we said goodbye and Ryan got up and put his coat on.
Then my cousin started another conversation.
About fifteen minutes later, I again said it was time to go with a second round of goodbyes. Ryan moved closer to the door as someone else started yet another conversation.
Exasperated, Ryan finally sat down again and we were there for another twenty minutes.
Finally, the third time took and we left about 45 minutes after Ryan had first put on his coat.
As we got in the car, Ryan asked why it took so long to leave – I looked at him confused and laughed, “That’s just how my family says goodbye!”

Well, here we are and I have to say goodbye to all of you wonderful saints of God at Wicker Park Lutheran Church.
But don’t worry, I promised Pastor Jason my sermon would not be 45 minutes long.
But I do want to use this opportunity to thank you all.
Thank you for welcoming me into this amazing community.
Thank you for partnering with Pastor Jason, Jordan, Mary, and myself in the ministry God has called all of us to.
Thank you for making a commitment to the education of future rostered leaders in our Church both from me and from the future pastors and deacons at LSTC and especially those talented students who will join you here this fall.
And most of all, thank you for being you – for your smiles and your gifts, for your love and support, and for living into your identity as what 1 Peter calls a royal priesthood – children of God and saints of the Church.

foto-charlie-brown-y-snoopy_goodbye_9buz-comUnfortunately, goodbyes are part of life.
I’m preparing to say goodbye to my home of three years, a city that has excited and intrigued me, and a seminary community that has shaped me into who I am as a pastoral leader, as I graduate and get ready to move back to a home across the country – to which I have also said goodbye before.
We say goodbye to friends and coworkers, communities and homes, and a difficult goodbye each time we burry someone we love and commend them into God’s care.
But I also try to trust that it is never a true goodbye – that our love and connection can span time and space as we hold each other in the love of Christ that unites us into one body.

And with all the goodbyes today – we read part of Jesus’ goodbye message to his disciples in the Gospel of John.
I would like to point out that this is also a lengthy goodbye – this farewell discourse takes up five chapters in John’s Gospel! A lot longer than 45 minutes!
With all this talk about Jesus going back to God and making dwelling places for us, perhaps it’s not surprising that most of my experience with this text has been at funerals.
And while it’s totally correct and valid way to read this, that Jesus is going to prepare a place for us when we die, there is so much more than that as well.

rouault_christhis-disciplesJesus is seeing the sadness in his friends’ eyes as he tells them he must leave them and he is preparing them for life when he is not there.
He’s reminding the disciples that they know how to live without him there.
Through his life, love, and ministry, he has taught these people to follow his example and he empowers them to live out this compassion for all people.
Through the cross, they know what it means to demonstrate self-giving love.
Jesus promises them that even though he is going away, he is not abandoning them and promises them that through his love, they have already witnessed the fullness of God’s presence among them.

When Thomas asks Jesus how the disciples can follow him, Jesus replies with the famous line, “I AM the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Unfortunately, these words have often been used to mean that only Christians are going to heaven – that unless you accept Jesus as your savior, you’re not getting one of these dwelling places after you die.
But these are Jesus’ words of promise and hope for his friends.
He’s telling them that through his example they have seen God.
Through his love and healing and teaching and dying and rising, the disciples have come closer to their Creator.

Jesus reminds us that this whole discipleship thing is more than just what happens when we die – it’s about living life following Jesus’ example.
That if we live into Jesus’ love we will partner with God to do amazing things in the world here and now God draws us closer in love.
That if we live into Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we will join with him in putting to death the areas of violence and destruction we see in the world around us as God’s reign expands on earth.
That if we shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, and give sanctuary to the oppressed, we will join with Christ as he builds dwelling places for all people.
Because if we only think about our heavenly home as something that happens after we die, we lose the chance to join with Christ in building the Kingdom of God on earth – the Kingdom that is built on expansive love, boundless compassion, and unending peace.
The Kingdom that we glimpse in Christ’s life, ministry, death and resurrection – and in this Table set by Christ to feed all people.
Christ has laid the cornerstone for this Kingdom and with him we join in its building.

christ_taking_leave_of_the_apostlesPeople of God, through my short time with you I have seen how you have taken on Christ’s calling to you to build up the Kingdom.
Through opening this building to the neighborhood and community groups like AA, you are building up the Kingdom.
By caring for the Earth and creation, you are building up the Kingdom.
By becoming a teaching parish for me and for other future leaders of the Church, you are building up the Kingdom.
By raising thousands of dollars for ELCA World Hunger and the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants, you are building up the Kingdom.
Through feeding hungry bellies with the Night Ministry, you are building up the Kingdom.
And through your interfaith work like a community dinner and dialogue with our Muslim siblings, you are building up the Kingdom.
You, saints of God, are joining with Christ to build up the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.

So as I say goodbye, beloved, I leave you with Jesus’ words: Trust in God. Trust in Christ. Trust in the love and promises of God and continue to join as we build up the Kingdom of God – God’s love made known for all people.

Resurrected Hope

+ A sermon given for the Third Sunday of Easter (Year A) at Wicker Park Lutheran Church on April 30, 2017 +

Text: Luke 24:13-25

Jesus is dead. We saw him die.

Ok, we didn’t see him die, but some of the others did. He had been talking about his death for a while. It made some of us pretty uncomfortable.

But he always said he’d rise again on the third day.
That somehow, he would beat death.
But he died three days ago, and here we are.
No one’s seen him.
I guess some of the women said his tomb was empty and some strange men told them that Jesus was raised – but if that were true, why hasn’t he shown himself to anyone? Seems like more wishful thinking to me.

Jesus is dead.
We thought he was someone special, but he was just human after all.

So now Cleopas and I are heading back home to Emmaus.
We left Jerusalem in silence, both too upset to speak, both knowing what the other was thinking.
Finally, I broke the silence.

“I just thought he was the one,” I said. “I thought, I hoped, that he would be the one who would change things. The way he stood up to the Romans, to the Temple authorities, I thought he could actually make a difference.”

Cleopas looked at me and nodded. “But Rome always wins, doesn’t it? They killed him just like every other troublemaker. I had hoped that Jesus would change things too, but we should have known better. Things don’t change. Empires change, chief priests change, but everything stays the same. How could one man change that?”

“I know,” I replied. “He kept talking about this Kingdom of God coming soon. I guess I expected, well, a new kingdom! A new reality where disease, oppression, and hunger were things of the past. Where we would be free. Guess not that’s happening…”

And just as I was saying this, a man walked up to us. Where did he come from? I thought we were alone on this road. Then he began to speak to us…

Continue reading

Tree of Life

+ A homily given for the Good Friday at Wicker Park Lutheran Church on April 14, 2017 +

Text: John 18:1-19:42

For three years, Jesus spent his ministry challenging authority.
He spent time with the outcast and the marginalized – ate with them, healed them, walked with them, loved them.
He faced those who were in power – criticized corruption, subverted oppressive structures, advocated for religious reforms, and challenged the Roman Empire itself.
He inspired many and threatened many.
His was a message of love and a vision of justice for all people.
crucifixion-mantegnaBut this message threatened those in power so much that they decided to execute him.
They took this man of hope and killed him as an enemy of the state and threat to the peace of Rome.
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.
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 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, Syrian and Afghani and refugee lives condemn us and show us that we are still crucifying innocent Christs all around us.
And yet, we see again today what happens when we challenge these systems, these injustices.
More violence.
More death.

So why on earth would we call this day Good Friday?
Why is it good to be reminded that Jesus died for challenging the system?
Why is it good to see an innocent man executed by the state?
Why is it good that the Empire won? Continue reading

Living Water

+ A sermon given for the Third Sunday of Lent (Year A) at Wicker Park Lutheran Church on March 19, 2017 +

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-42

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

hq720Has anyone else here been watching the new nature documentary, Planet Earth II?
I have.
When the first episode premiered a few weeks ago, I turned it on for some background noise and to catch some glimpses of spectacular natural wonders, but before I knew it I was hooked! I couldn’t look away!
The series has a surprisingly enticing way of bringing to life the dramatic stories that play out in nature all around us – often without our notice.
Now the intricate details of the lives of these exotic animals that are scraping out a way of life in beautiful but demanding climates captivate millions of people around the world, myself included.
Last week, I was engrossed by the literal life and death struggle for a small family of elephants in Africa’s Kalahari Desert as they desperately searched for water.
They trudged through the barren and arid landscape hoping that they would find water before it was too late.
And just when it seemed that the burning sands would be unending, they find a watering hole full of life.
okaukeujo-waterhole-etosh2__largeZebras, antelope, giraffes, ostriches, birds, and more huddle around this small oasis in the desert as they all lapped from this fountain of life.
The animals that traveled for miles to find this water source show that even with the diversity of wildlife – four legged or winged, big or small, they all share a common need of water to live. Continue reading

What’s Your Story?

+ A sermon given for the First Sunday of Lent (Year A) at Wicker Park Lutheran Church on March 5, 2017 +

Texts: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

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

Who are you? What’s your story?

Perhaps you have been asked this question before – “What’s your story?” It’s a question that can tell us a lot about a person.

We each have a story.
On a personal or communal level, stories are important.
They help explain who we are – they help form our identity.
Like how our national identity is informed by the story of the men and women who created this country through revolution and democracy or the countless immigrants who helped make this country great.
Or maybe family stories that give you a certain understanding of who you are and where you come from.
Our congregation has a story, so does this neighborhood, and so do each of you.
Stories are important – they can teach us valuable lessons, they can give us a moral framework for our lives, they help define us and give us a sense of understanding of who we are.

This past week, an important story in the history of the LGBTQ rights movement was told in a new way.
20170123173758572edac61f26060da72167e543c7232d83fThe mini-series “When We Rise” documents four decades of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender activists who marched, fought, advocated, were beaten, and – far too many – died for the rights, dignity, and life of their community. Continue reading

Blessed are the Rejected. Blessed are the Refugees.

+ A sermon given for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year A) at Wicker Park Lutheran Church on January 29, 2017 +

Texts: Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

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

If you’re at all like me, you may feel a little uncomfortable with today’s Gospel reading. These words that start what is perhaps Jesus’ most famous teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, may be about as familiar as they are challenging.
For many people, the list of beatitudes we heard a few minutes ago has become a list of ways to receive God’s blessings in our lives.

This can lead us to a number of questions:

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Am I poor in spirit?

What if I don’t want to mourn or be persecuted? Will I still be blessed?

Do I really hunger and thirst for righteousness? Am I merciful enough or pure enough? Am I doing enough for God to bless me?

This kind of thinking leaves us with a transactional view of God’s blessing – an arrangement where if we do enough, God will bless us accordingly.

The problem with that view, however, is that we will never do enough to merit God’s blessing in our lives. God’s blessing will always beyond our worthiness of receiving it.
And yet, despite that, God still continues to bless us and to love us. Continue reading

God With Us

+ A sermon given for the First Sunday of Christmas (Year A) at Wicker Park Lutheran Church on January 1, 2017 +

Texts: Matthew 2:13-23

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


From AJ+ on Twitter (@ajplus) 12/13/16

There’s a picture I haven’t been able to get out of my head for weeks now. My friend shared it on Facebook and its haunting image has been constantly on my mind. It shows a young couple – a man and a woman – walking through a desolate street. The man’s face is tired and shows a blank gaze as he balances his sleeping child in one arm and a medical IV drip in the other. The woman’s face is covered as the three hastily make their way down the street – their urgency is clear. In his post, my friend quoted today’s gospel text, “And so he arose, took the child and his mother by night, and fled into Egypt.”
tumblr_inline_nhbuf0xywd1qkqzlvEven though this was a picture taken just two weeks ago of a young family fleeing the advancing government forces in the Syrian city of Aleppo, it could just as easily be a picture from more than 2000 years ago of the Holy Family fleeing the advancing government forces in Bethlehem.

Because my friend shared this picture just days before Christmas and because I knew that this was today’s appointed text, this is the image that has colored my celebrations this season.


This is the part of the Christmas story that often doesn’t make it into our celebrations or onto our greeting cards.
This is the gritty reality of the season that pushes us to think beyond the beautiful story we know so well and challenges us to grapple with what it really means for Jesus to come into this world. Continue reading