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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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A Free Invitation

+ A sermon given for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)/Ordinary 28A at Peace Lutheran Church, Puyallup, WA on October 15, 2017 +

Text: Isaiah 25:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14


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

As has been pointed out to me this morning, I am not Pastor Nate.
My name is Paul Eldred and let me say what an honor it is to be with you this morning. I appreciate the welcome that I have received and it is a joy to be among you for worship.
I also bring greetings from Holden Village. I just returned home last night after a time serving there as interim pastor.
And as a wonderful surprise, I was able to welcome my friends Pastor Nate and Bethany when they arrived on Friday, which explains why I am here this morning instead of them!

I remember when I got married a few years ago and the stress that came with planning the wedding.
We had to make sure the food was just right, we had to decide what we were going to wear for the special day, and even doing all the cake tastings and needing to decide…well, ok actually that last part was pretty great.
But nothing compared to the stress of deciding on the guest list.
Who were we going to invite?
Who gets a plus one?
Who were we going to have to cut from the list because we just didn’t have room in the space or in the budget?
And after all this work, we wanted to make sure everyone we invited would be there.

So naturally, when the RSVPs came rolling in, I made a list of everyone who declined the invitation and sent my hitmen to go force them to come to the wedding or burn their houses down.
And when the wedding day came and my cousin showed up in jeans, I of course had her bound hand and feet and through her out of the church and into the alley.

Wait, what?

Of course, this is absolutely absurd.
We don’t do that.
Who would ever do that?
But that is exactly what happened in our gospel text today. Continue reading

Holden Village Eucharistic Prayer

Recently, I had the pleasure of serving as visiting pastor at Holden Village in the north Cascade Mountains of Washington as they awaited the arrival of their new pastors.  During my time there, I publicly presided at the Eucharistic table for the first time.

During a hike on my first weekend there, I was inspired to write the following prayer to use in my inaugural liturgy of Holy Communion.


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Holden Lake

Eternal and Creator God,
all creation is full of your glory.
Your hands molded the mountains
and carved out the depths of the seas.
You formed the plants and creeks,
and breathed life into all creatures great and small.
You gave humanity your own beautiful and holy image,
and every one of your children bears your face.

 

 

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Fireweed surrounding a tree that was burned in the Wolverine Creek Fire of 2015. This picture was taken just yards away from Holden Village.

We praise you for your creative work
and your established patterns of death and rebirth.
How from snows of winter,
you water the abundant life of the seasons.
How from the ashes of fire,
you bring forth rejuvenated ecosystems.
How from their cries of slavery,
you led your people, Israel, into the promised land.
How from Jesus’ death on the cross,
you have grafted us onto the Tree of Life
through Christ’s glorious resurrection.

 

 

 

In the night in which he was betrayed,
our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;
broke it, and gave it to his disciples,
saying: Take and eat;
this is my body, given for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper,
he took the cup, gave thanks,
and gave it for all to drink, saying:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
shed for you and for all people
for the forgiveness of sin.
Do this for the remembrance of me.

For in this meal of life,
we remember his death, resurrection,
and ascension,
as we await Christ’s return
with the fullness of your new creation.

Pour out your Holy Spirit of Life
on this bread and cup,
that all who partake in this heavenly meal,
may be joined in your community of life
filled with your vision and love for the world.

With Blessed Mary and all your people
united across every time and place,
with creation and all your creatures,
with the sun, moon, and stars,
we praise you, Most Blessed and Holy Trinity,
now and forever.

Amen.

 

© 2017 by Paul Eldred. All rights reserved. Use in worship settings with attribution is permitted – author notification requested.

Our Ridiculous God

+ A sermon given for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)/Ordinary 27A at Fullness of God Lutheran Church, Holden Village, WA on October 8, 2017 +

Text: Isaiah 5:1-7 (JPS translation), Matthew 21:33-46 (NRSV)


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

Like many of you, I woke up this past Monday morning to news of violence.
After reading that at least 59 people had been killed and more than 500 wounded at a concert in Las Vegas, I felt a familiar shock.
Last week’s incident has been labeled the largest mass shooting in the United States in recent history and I was experiencing flashbacks to the shock and disbelief I experienced the last time I awoke to such horrific news.
It was just in June of last year when 49 people were murdered and another 58 were wounded in a gay nightclub in Orlando.
A familiar story.
A familiar pain.
A familiar shock.
Almost daily we hear of shootings that happen in our cities and throughout our country.
Just last night, there was yet another white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia with literal Nazis supporting racism even after the violence there in August.
It’s weeks like these that I ask myself yet again how this can keep happening.
And after this week’s reminder of the violent culture that we live in, that we absorb every day, it was frankly difficult for me to read this week’s gospel text – a text full of violence.

Today’s gospel comes from the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
This is just days before he will be crucified on a Roman cross. Continue reading

Life in Community

+ A sermon given for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)/Ordinary 26A at Fullness of God Lutheran Church, Holden Village, WA on October 1, 2017 +

Text: Philippians 2:1-13


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

First let me say what an absolute joy it is to be with you all here at Holden Village.
Growing up, I remember hearing my parents talk about their times here starting back in the 70s and 80s.
Somehow I never made it up here until a J-Term a couple years ago with my seminary – but when I did, I instantly knew this valley would always hold a special place in my heart. So when I was asked to serve as a sort of forerunner until your fabulous new pastors arrive in a couple weeks, I jumped at the opportunity.
And after tonight, this Village will also forever be the community where I first celebrated the Lord’s Supper as the presiding minister – permanently enshrining Holden’s place in my life.
So thank you, Chuck and Peg – and really the whole community – for the honor of being here and for welcoming me here to be among you all.

I will also say that this opportunity has come at a great time for me – it is a welcome respite from what may prove to be a lengthy wait for a call to pastoral ministry.
People have asked how I have been filling my time of waiting and unfortunately, much of that time has been filled being immersed in news and social media – constant reminders of our broken and polarized world.
And let me tell you, it can be pretty overwhelming.
It seems like almost daily we hear of fresh divisions in politics, American society, international relations, and more.
We hear of controversies about athletes kneeling, activist groups protesting, and even delivering aid to fellow citizens suffering in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

And one of the things that really overwhelms me about all this division is that almost without fail, each side is convinced that they are completely in the right – maybe even that they have God on their side.
And this self-confidence in their own convictions so easily leads to a lording over their opponents who are then regarded as inferior. We can see it when capitalists care more for profits than they do for the workers or environment they are exploiting.
We can see it when a majority population vilifies peaceful protests against racism or police brutality because they find it offensive.
We can see it when political leaders care for their own self-aggrandizement than they do for true service and compassion for their constituents.
This sort of triumphalism really can only ever serve the individual and does not allow for true compassion for one’s neighbors. Continue reading

“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

+ A sermon given for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)/Ordinary 21A at University Lutheran Church on August 27, 2017 +

Texts: Matthew 16:13-20


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

My beloved siblings in Christ, let me first say what an absolute joy it is to be back with you all.
As many of you know, I have just recently moved back from the Midwest where I spent four years in seminary training to be a pastor.
And let me tell you, it’s so good to be home.
I also wanted to briefly thank you all. Even though my time with you all has been fairly limited, I will be forever grateful for this congregation.
This community helped me hear God’s call to pastoral ministry and nurtured my vocational journey – in fact I preached my first two sermons before I started seminary right here from this spot.
This congregation embraced Ryan and me at a time when I was unsure of what community I could join and be welcomed as fully me – and we were so honored to be married in this space.
And even when we moved halfway across the country, your love, friendship, prayers, and financial support stayed with us and sustained our sojourn.
So thank you, beloved, for your all you have done and thank you for welcoming me back into this pulpit today.

But as I have been gone for four years now, I’ve returned to a changed community here at University Lutheran. There are new faces here – people I have yet to meet.
I’ve been introduced to so many people since coming back.
And this got me thinking – when you meet someone for the first time, how do describe yourself?
What words would you use to tell them who you are?
Maybe your occupation or family role?
Maybe your hobbies or what sports teams you root for?
It can be hard sometimes, because we don’t want these labels to define us, but they do tell a person more about who we are – more about our identity.
I think about this a lot.
I sometimes wonder how much I want to tell a person when I first meet them.
Do I give them my life story? Just tell them a few things? Do I keep some things secret?

Today we hear about Jesus’ identity as well. In some ways it’s a new introduction for him to his disciples.
We hear what others have been saying about him and what they think of him. Perhaps he is one of the great prophets returned from the dead. It’s a great, if not confusing, legacy to have, of course. A strong and bold lineage to be tied to.
But when Jesus his asks disciples about what they think of his identity in today’s gospel reading, I think he is asking an even deeper question.
simon-bar-jonah-a-son-of-faith-eleventh-sunday-after-pentecost-matthew-1613-20-pastor-ted-giese“Who do you say that I am?” Continue reading

Goodbyes

+ 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…

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