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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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Life in the Cross

+ A sermon for Holy Cross Sunday / the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 19B / Ordinary 24B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on September 16, 2018 +

Texts: 1 Corinthians 1:18-24, Mark 8:27-38


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

Have you ever thought about how strange a symbol the cross is?
To paraphrase the late-comedian Lenny Bruce, ‘If Jesus had been killed in modern times, we would all be wearing little electric chairs around our necks instead of crosses.”
Although I would say that a noose is a better analogy.
Crucifixion was an ugly, public execution. the-crucifixion-with-mary-and-probably-mary-magdalene-1
It was so humiliating that Roman citizens were not permitted to be crucified.
In the ancient world it was so ridiculous to think of worshiping a man who was crucified that the earliest known pictorial depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion is a piece of Roman graffiti mocking an early Christian for doing exactly that.

And yet today, crosses are everywhere.
They mark hospitals and aid organizations.
We sing songs like “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” and “Lift High the Cross.”
We wear them as jewelry, we tattoo them in our flesh.
We mark them on babies when they’re baptized and on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
We make the sign on the cross as we worship and give the cross the highest place of honor in our sanctuary. And this morning we celebrate Holy Cross Sunday here at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

 

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The author’s Jerusalem cross tattoo at Razzouk Tattoo in the Old City of Jerusalem.

This is a strange symbol, my friends. Continue reading

Be Opened!

+ A sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 18B / Ordinary 23B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on September 9, 2018 +

Texts: Isaiah 35:4-7, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37


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

In 1945, the territorial legislature in Alaska was considering a controversial bill.
At the time, it was not uncommon for businesses and public facilities to ban people from entering based on their race.
Similar to the Jim Crow Laws of the American South, discrimination against Alaska Native peoples was completely legal.
Some businesses even put up signs that said, “No Dogs or Natives Allowed.”
A Tlingit Native woman named Elizabeth Peratrovich petitioned the governor and the legislature to ban this segregation, and she was told to wait.
The time wasn’t right.

Eventually, a few years later, the non-discrimination bill passed the House of Representatives.
But when it came to the Senate, a bitter debate ensued.
Territorial Senator Allen Shattuck rose in opposition and declared, “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?”
Peratrovich listened to the debate and was given the opportunity to be the final person to testify on the bill prior to the vote.

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“We Can Do It!” by Apayo Moore

She stood before the entirely male, mostly white Senate, and confidently said, “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.”
After she finished her speech, she sat down, and the Senate quickly passed the bill and Alaska established the country’s first ever anti-discrimination law nearly 20 years before the national Civil Rights Act of 1964.

During my schooling in Alaska, I remember learning about Elizabeth Peratrovich, learning about her courage, her commitment to equality, and how instrumental she was in opening up equal rights under the law for her fellow Natives and for all Alaskans.

In some ways, I see echoes between this and today’s gospel reading.
But, if I’m honest, I’m always uncomfortable to see how this version plays out.
Continue reading

Difficult Teachings

+ A sermon for the Fourteenth* Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 16B / Ordinary 21B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on September 2, 2018 +

Texts: John 6:56-71

*Holy Cross participated in an ecumenical community worship on August 26 so we moved the liturgical date by one week to finish the John Bread of Life discourse.


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

And then there were twelve.

How quickly the crowd vanished!
Well, for us it may not seem like it was all that quick – we’ve been slogging through these verses from the 6th chapter of John for five Sundays now – but in the story, this all happens in less than 24 hours.

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Eularia Clarke (1914-1970), The Five Thousand. From the Methodist Modern Art Collection, © TMCP, The Methodist Church of Great Britain. Used with permission.

To recap: we started off with a crowd of 5,000 people – 5,000 hungry people – as well as a number of disciples.
And Jesus fed all these people them with five loaves and two fish and showed them a sign of the boundless love of God and the abundance in God’s coming commonwealth.
Then, the next day, the people were hungry again and sought out Jesus who started teaching them about the great sign they just witnessed.
He taught them how Jesus has come among them to feed their bodies as well as their souls.
He taught them how ordinary bread and wine are used to proclaim God’s extraordinary love and how God uses ordinary you and ordinary me to do extraordinary things.
He taught them that through this meal, the God who created the universe has entered into our flesh to unite us with God and each other.

Now, this chapter is admittedly difficult to understand.
Jesus is using some tough language that is hard to wrap our minds around.
And if you’re like me, we may be really ready to get back to Mark next week with his more straightforward narrative style.

And for those who were there, the crowd of more than 5,000 people, I imagine this was a lot to take in.
I can almost see them looking at each other in confusion as Jesus finished, wondering, what is he saying?
His disciples, who had left everything behind to follow this Jesus guy asking themselves, was it worth it? Is this really what I signed up for?
Wondering how they could trust in something so difficult to comprehend, to difficult to live into.
And so they leave.
They go home.

It can be easy for us to write these people off, to scoff at their lack of faith.
It seems like that’s the right answer for this story, the right position to take.
But are we always so different? Continue reading

God Within Us

+ A sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 15B / Ordinary 20B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 19, 2018 +

Texts: John 6:51-58


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

There’s a story I heard this week about a congregation not unlike ours – it was during a regular Sunday worship and, just like every week, the pastor was standing at the table ready to celebrate Holy Communion.
But on this occasion, the pastor writes, “When [he] repeated Jesus’ familiar words, ‘This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you,’ a small girl suddenly said in a loud voice, ‘Ew, yuk!
The congregation looked horrified.”

dsc_0080-1I think for many of us, the Eucharist has become such a regular part of our week, of our lives, that we may gloss over the radical nature of this meal.
We may gloss over the really carnal nature of those words too.
The words that I say every week may loose the shock value that they would have for a first time listener.
Many of us have heard these words our entire lives – how might we explain them to a visitor – or a small girl – who hears them for the first time?
“This is my body, this is my blood.”
This is what we heard in today’s reading – this is how Jesus introduces the Eucharistic meal to us in John’s gospel.

And like the girl in that story, the religious leaders of Jesus’ time balk at his description of this meal.
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they wonder aloud.

And Jesus only intensifies their discomfort with his reply, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”
At first this sounds like pure cannibalism.
And even more, the word that Jesus uses for eating suggests more of a gnawing, a crunching on the bones.
It’s a truly grizzly description. I can certainly understand why the crowd, and that girl, is alarmed at Jesus’ words.
He wants us to gnaw on his flesh and drink his blood?
Sounds pretty gross. Continue reading

Ordinary, Extraordinary

+ A sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 14B / Ordinary 19B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 12, 2018 +

Texts: John 6:35[36-40]41-51


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

It’s been 50 years since a television show called Mister Roger’s Neighborhood debuted to a national audience and for more than three decades, children watched and listened as Fred Rogers talked to them.
27655336_10155425407407169_6445338402893105737_nHe inspired imagination, taught lessons like the importance of kindness and emotions, and addressed challenging issues of the day.
And perhaps one of his most lasting lessons is that each child – each person – is special.
That each person has intrinsic value and should have endless possibilities.
Mr. Rogers once said, “As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time.”
It’s an important lesson to be sure.

But for some reason this lesson seems to get dropped when children reach a certain age.
At some point this idea is dismissed as childish and naïve.
At some point the narrative that each person is special gets replaced with the realities of a world that demands excellence to achieve success.
Of a society that compares us to some unattainable set of supposed ideals.
Before too long, we are told that we are not good enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, thin enough, rich enough, powerful enough.
That we are never enough. Continue reading

Bread for Our Bodies, Bread for Our Souls

+ A sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 13B / Ordinary 18B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 5, 2018 +

Texts: Exodus 16:2-4,9-15; John 6:24-35


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

Have you ever been on a road trip, driving through the middle of nowhere and realized how hungry you are?
Maybe tensions run high, maybe conversations run short until you find some food!
I know it can be that way for me.
I remember a particularly long overnight ride in a 15-passenger van during seminary when somewhere down the Pennsylvania turnpike, the pervading hunger in the car turned to hanger – you know, that feeling when you’re so hungry you get angry.hangry
A debate broke out whether we should stop at McDonald’s – stop to get anything – or keep going – we were only about an hour away from our destination and already had a restaurant picked out there for breakfast.
But I tell ya, friendships were strained, future pastors seethed and grumbled, and chaos reigned – until we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, ate an exceptionally delicious meal, and all was forgiven.

It’s like that commercial says: “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.”

As the Israelites embarked on their own long journey into the wilderness, they were escaping from the bondage they left behind in Egypt – slavery, exploitation, captivity – and embarking into the liberation that God had brought them.
But along the way, they realized how hungry they were and the jubilation and singing from just verses prior to this lesson quickly turned to complaining and grumbling against God and their leaders Moses and Aaron.
And maybe because of their hunger, they looked back to the days in Egypt, the days in slavery, and wondered if it was actually better then. Continue reading

The Lord of Abundance

+ A sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 12B / Ordinary 17B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on July 29, 2018 +

Texts: John 6:1-21


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

Five loaves.
Two fish.
5,000 people.
All fed with five loaves and two fish – with tweleve baskets of leftovers.
Something doesn’t add up here.

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Restored 5th century mosaic of the loaves and fishes in the Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel.

Reading about the miracles of Jesus in the 21st century, as Westerners caught up in reason and rationalism, may leave us scratching our heads at stories like this one – or dismissing them outright.
Clearly, this story doesn’t make sense.
There’s no way to feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.
It’s impossible.
And frankly, if Jesus and his disciples wanted to feed all their followers, they needed to think ahead, to hire a catering company or to bring in food trucks.

I see this reasoning among scholars and theologians as well – so quickly dismissing the feeding narrative and looking for hidden meaning in the text.
‘What do the five loaves represent? What could the twelve baskets mean? Why the number 5,000?’
They try to make sense of a text that on its face does not make sense to our modern eyes. They try to make sense of this most famous story.

Now, maybe there is a rational explanation, maybe there is a back-story that John doesn’t tell us, maybe if we knew a little bit more it would all make sense – but maybe trying to explain what happened in some ways blinds us from seeing the real truths here – Jesus saw a multitude of hungry people and using the limited resources that he had, he fed them all with baskets to spare.
Jesus saw their need, saw their hunger, and he fed them – all of them. Continue reading