Sacred Soil

Come home
July 22, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

July 22, 2012
Time after Pentecost – Lectionary 16

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This week our youth and three adults have been down in New Orleans gathering with 35,000 other Lutherans from around the country. I’ve had a chance to watch a bit of what’s going on, and have gotten a few texts. Just enough to know that they are having an extraordinary time. It is truly an astounding thing—thousands of teenagers gathered together to celebrate God, to embrace a city, to love being Lutheran.

They’ve also been quite wet—with the drenching rains we so desperately long for. (Perhaps they’ll bring that back with them).

This text from Ephesians, our epistle for today, actually serves as the theme for their gathering this week. Citizens with the Saints. It’s beautiful on so many levels. But perhaps my favorite way is that they are learning, living out what it means to be this astounding household of God with others from around the country and in the city of New Orleans.

They’re learning what it means to make home, to be the household of God with complete strangers. With folks they’d never imagine. With folks they might have even thought were beyond God’s love.

Home. Making home. Home is one of these elusive words that has so many meanings that it’s hard to really pin it down. At its best, it’s comfortable and warm. It smells nice. It’s safe. It’s a place where there’s enough and where there’s always room at the table for one more. That is home, at its best… too many of us know a completely other sort of home, a home that is the opposite of these things. A home that is frightening, and cold.

I suppose that’s why God knew we needed some other kind of home, the household of God, the home that does it’s darndest to make home that place, that experience, that it should be.

When I was a child one of my favorite hymns was this one that we’ll sing this morning, Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling. It has this beautiful chorus, come home, come home! You who are weary, come home. Frank might declare this our second schmaltz Sunday of the month… and while it is a bit schmaltzy (depending on your taste), it evokes all these best images of home. The comfort, the welcome, the embrace. The relief.

But, I have to admit, there was a time when I wasn’t so enamored with it. I suppose I needed my music to be “cooler” and more hip. But, I was also uncomfortable because I worried.—the text as I read it suggested that it was my job to go out and find this home—to look for that Jesus, so that I could be welcomed into that safety and warmth. And I wasn’t so sure that was good theology, and I wasn’t so sure I could do it. That anyone could do it.

Those who need home the most shouldn’t have to be the ones who go out hunting for it.

But I think this is precisely what we Christians get caught up in all the time. We divide ourselves from each other, the folks who know where Jesus’ home is, and those who don’t. We’re known for setting up all sorts of rules and divisions and expectations. And in the end, we’re known more for what we’re against, than what we are for.

We have this habit of dividing ourselves making a clear line between us and them. A line between who’s worthy to be at home with us, and who is not.

And unfortunately, this isn’t anything new. Our Ephesians text reminds us, that at one time, we Gentiles by birth, were called the “uncircumcision” (how’s that for a group name?) by those who are called the “circumcision.” Division and markers—lines drawn clearly. Cutting through us with clear precision.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about our God, it’s that whenever we draw a line between us & them, God’s always on the other side. Beckoning—come home.

This text from Mark reminds us that Jesus came to make a home amongst us, we who are weary. All of us. Crossing from shore to shore, Jesus gathers all of us, making us all the household of God. Right here, in the middle of all our messiness.

Jesus was most at home, surrounded by the cacophony of humanity, gathering with those he “shouldn’t have,” with the sick and infirm, with those of the lowest class, with the tax collectors, sinners of all stripes. With everyone that made the powers that be uncomfortable. With everyone that made the disciples uncomfortable.

When we draw a line, God is always on the other side. Beckoning—come home.

And so at some point this song, Come Home, was changed for me, and I realized that God is most at home amongst us, amongst all of us sinners and saints. This home coming is for all of us weary people. Each and every one of us. Together. And so we’re all invited to this home as the household of God. Invited to bring that home to those who most need it—to take home into the streets. Invited to make home with people we would never have imagined.

With the circumcised and the uncircumcised. Those who look differently than us. The straight folks and the gay and lesbian folks. The business owners and the retail workers. The retired and the young.

You who are weary come home—is not a call to whole-up in a cave of Jesus-comfort. It’s not a call to barricade ourselves with self-righteousness. No, rather it is a call to go out and gather with all the weary and to make home together. To be the household of God. To know that Jesus has already made a home with us, and we all gather in this home as one people of God. It is an invitation to step on the other side of the lines that divide us—for our God abolished the law that there might be in Jesus one new humanity in place of the two.

So that God might welcome us home, all of us as the household of God together. To make peace. To embrace, and hold, the welcome hug of loving family, all who are weary. Home together.

And this, I think, is what it truly means to be Citizens with the Saints.


Another banquet
July 15, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

July 15
Time after Pentecost – Lectionary 15

Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

So, I don’t think it very likely that Herod would have invited many of us to his party, to that power-banquet. Now that’s not to say we aren’t important people in this room. But this was a party for the courtiers and officers and the leaders of Galilee. It was a party of the highest ranking officials, the folks that Herod wanted to impress. These were the power-people.

It’s not likely a banquet that we, more ordinary folks would be invited to.

And I for one am glad. Because it sounds horrific. It did not go well. Indeed, it is hard to say “thanks be to God” after reading this text.

Here’s the deal: Herod actually sorta likes John the baptizer. We’re not really sure why, indeed Herod’s not really sure why… but he knows that John is a man of God and though he’s willing to imprison him, well… he feels the guy should be protected. Even though his wife doesn’t like him much at all.

But at this party, this power-banquet, with all its extravagance and excess and exclusion—well that thin loyalty evaporates under the heat of an oath made in haste. Herod doesn’t want to disappoint his guests, so when his wife’s daughter asks for the head of John the baptizer as gift for her dancing, Herod, obliges. Keeps that awful oath. Though we are told he is deeply grieved

I think I’m glad I wasn’t on that guest list.

But the thing is, these banquets aren’t all that rare. Indeed, they’re actually everywhere. Perhaps you’ve been to one? Perhaps as one of the servers, expected to remain utterly silent. Perhaps as a person of power, there to do what was necessary to keep your job. Perhaps you were there as the daughter, used to gratify others, and then used to advance someone else’s horrible plan. Perhaps you’ve been as Herod, feeling compelled to host such parties… compelled to keep your word, even in the face of terrible consequences.

These banquets, these power-banquets are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere, and if you haven’t gone to one yet, the day is surely coming. Our society seems to love these sorts of things. Indeed, it gets hard to avoid them.

But what’s interesting, is how Mark tells us this story of Herod’s power (a story worthy of an episode on CSI). He tells it right alongside the story of the feeding of the 5000… a story of a very different kind of power. God’s power.

Now you remember this story, right? We’ll hear it again in a couple weeks, but here’s the basic re-cap:

Jesus and the disciples hear the news about John. And they’re upset. They try to get away for a while. But the people (those who likewise, would never have been invited to Herod’s party) follow him. And then it gets late, and the disciples suggest the folks should be sent away, since they didn’t have anything to feed them. And Jesus, asks what they have, and taking five loaves of bread and two fish, he blesses them, and they all ate. And they were all filled.

What a radically different banquet. A completely different story. A completely different way of using power. A story of Herod’s way, and a story of God’s way.

At Jesus’ power-banquet, everyone is invited. The meal is extravagant in its simplicity. And loyalty, well, there’s nothing so fragile as loyalty at this banquet. At this banquet, the power is God’s, God’s love, and this love has a way of creating possibility out of impossibility.

It is completely, and radically different.

And it turns out, we are all invited to this power-banquet. You and me. Everyone in this room and beyond. Even Herod, if he wants to come. We are all invited to this banquet to share in this radically different meal. A radically different way of understanding power and success in the world.

Invited to share in God’s loving embrace for all – rather than exclusion

Invited to rejoice in the simplicity of God’s abundance – rather than extravagance

Invited to share in God’s promises of love – rather than mere loyalty

Invited to come to God’s banquet, where everyone is fed, and the promises are real, and good, and life giving. Where power is used to build people up, to bring hope.

And so it is quite lovely, that today we have the honor and pleasure of sending eleven of our folks off to share in God’s Banquet of Love. Early Tuesday morning, they will board busses and head out to New Orleans to gather with 35,000 other ELCA youth from around the country. And a big part of what they’ll do is to share a loving embrace with a city that’s been on the wrong side of way too many of Herod’s parties.

Imagine 35,000 youth coming to embrace a city that had felt forgotten, abandoned. A city devastated seven years ago by the floods in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. A city that is still deeply grieving all that has been lost. Imagine, 35,000 youth coming to share God’s banquet of love with those who most need to know that they are invited.

And here’s the thing about this banquet, God’s banquet (as opposed to Herod’s). God’s banquet has this way of changing us, transforming us, making us whole. Reminding us that we are all God’s own beloved children. And even more, while this banquet feeds us and makes us whole, it also makes us hungry, makes us ache for the day when all may know what it means to be God’s own people.

And I think this is precisely what we are called to do, what our youth go out to do this very week—to share God’s invitation with all, to sit down and eat at God’s table with God’s beloved children, ensuring that all are invited, all are loved, and all are made whole. And I’m grateful, that this is what our youth go off to do this week. May they be a good example for us, bring us stories and reminding us what we are called to do and be as church.

But now, we come to this banquet table, to this foretaste of that grand feast to come. To this place of God’s embrace, where no one will be subjected to the powers of Herod. And in our hands we will all hold God’s love in a little bit of bread, and take a small sip of wine, and in so doing, at this grand banquet, may we all know what it means to be God’s own people.


Nothing but the body of Christ to hold us up
July 8, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

July 8, 2012
Time after Pentecost – Lectionary 14

Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

So, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that each one of us is weaker than we’d like to be. Though, we’re not apt to admit it. But, there’s lots of reasons for it.

Life doesn’t always happen as we’d hoped.
Relationships get rocky.
Jobs sometimes feel meaningless.
Money, well, that’s always tight.

And for some of us, that weakness is literal. In our own flesh, as bodies fail to cooperate. For too many find weakness in the reality that our bodies and our ideals will never meet.

Truth is: we’re all weak. All broken. All less than we’d like to be. That’s just how these things go.

Which makes this story about Jesus especially interesting to me. At the beginning, we’ve got him going to his home town—and far from some kind of victory parade, they’re upset with him. They deride him. Won’t acknowledge him. And so he’s not able to do any deeds of power—except a few healings. It’s as if being back in his hometown made him weak.

And then the next thing he does, well, he sends off the disciples to go out. He sends these hapless disciples that don’t even understand who Jesus is—he sends them out proclaiming God’s reign, casting out demons, curing folks…

Oh, and he sends them out with nothing; Nothing. Just the clothes on their backs. Not even a change of underwear. Nothing at all. Talk about weakness. Indeed—utter dependence.

And they go. They go out to share the good news. And I actually think it was their weakness that made it possible. You see, they couldn’t just show up and fend for themselves in these travels. They needed other people willing to help. They needed folks to feed them, give them shelter, a place to wash their clothes. And in the course of this, others began to share their weakness with the disciples, and before they knew it they were sharing their pains, hopes, and stories together. Their shared their yearning for healing and wholeness. And through this, the disciples shared the good news of God—the strength of God, in their weakness.

Sure, there were a few places that didn’t want the disciples coming around. Jesus is clear about that. He warns: if they don’t welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.

Shake it off, and move on.

And here’s the thing, the sticky part for us… on that day you came to these waters, on that day when you were baptized, Jesus called you and sent you out too. And perhaps that moment of calling was a pretty weak and helpless time, being as many of us were likely less than a year old at the time. Turns out, Jesus called you, and sent you off with nothing too.

Nothing but the body of Christ to hold you up. All of us weaklings are surrounding you. For all of us are sent together. ..

And I think that’s key, that sending part. The part where we go out despite our weakness. The part where we go because of our weakness. The part where we go out. Together.

But our temptation, when we’re weak, is to stay all enclosed in ourselves. Huddling against our fears. Searching for some kind of safety in our solitude and isolation.  Thinking to ourselves: I can do it, I can fix it, I can live with it—all by myself.

Yet, we know there is tremendous power and possibility when folks go out together to get real about weakness. Power and possibility, because God’s strength is right there, right there in the midst of all that weakness.

Some of you know that I run a little stewardship project with students at the seminary. Our hope is that seminarians will explore their theology of stewardship, and then try to live their lives in a way that’s consistent with what they believe. It’s pretty good work.

So, last fall, I sat the students down, and we talked about this very thing, the reality that our finances often make us weak (being students and all). And, on the face of it, that can make stewardship really hard. But, in the course of the conversation, we challenged each other to work together to see what might be possible. To experiment and see where we might find God in the midst of our weakness. And I must say, I was really impressed.

Some of the students discovered that they’d save a lot of money by sharing meals together—since cooking for one is expensive. They created meal groups that met as many as four times in a week. Others decided to create a book swap; and others a community bulletin board where they shared their joys and their needs. They shared the load, saved money, and created lasting and true friendships in the process. And I think they met God in the midst of this—in the midst of their weakness.

And it’s also true that I’ve also seen the power of weakness present in folks who are deeply at odds with each other, but nonetheless find a way to work together to share the depth of their fear and brokenness. It takes extraordinary courage to do this, but sometimes, when people are able to be real, and be mutual about the reality that we are all utterly broken… well… understanding can happen… and healing just might find a way to take root.

I’d be wrong and naïve if I didn’t say, it’s a risk—this getting honest about our weakness. Financial, emotional, physical or otherwise. It doesn’t always work. It’s not a magical cure. And for some of us, it’s unwise. God’s kingdom has only just begun, and people can still be cruel, and others just find it too hard to open themselves, expose themselves. Perhaps they’ve been hurt too much. It is true: sometimes we have to take our cue from the disciples, and move on, shaking the dust from our feet.

And, it happens that in every dust shaking moment, we learn more about weakness. Some of us end up knowing way too much about that weakness. Yet, our God promises to be near. Always. As Paul reminds us in our epistle today, God’s power is made perfect in weakness. But sometimes we need each other to help us see that—we need that body of Christ to hold us up. All of us weaklings, together.

But let’s be clear: there’s a difference between seeking out weakness and seeking God’s presence in weakness’ midst. Some will abuse this notion of weakness, suggesting that it is God’s desire for us. To which I must say: No. Emphatically, No. God’s hope is precisely the opposite—God desires life in its fullness for us. We seek God in weakness, because ours is the God that heals us from all that makes us weak. Ours is the God that brings transformation. For ours is the very God who took on the weakness of death and transformed it into life.

And ours is the very God who takes each of us just as we are, weak and helpless, and makes us whole. Together.