Sacred Soil

Can you imagine?
May 28, 2019, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Blog Image ImagineI’m fairly terrible at managing the more magical side of parenting. You know, the fairies and elves, pixies and bunnies… Certainly, many of these childhood enchantments appear in our lives, but they’re pretty disorganized. We’ve decided the tooth fairy needs a personal secretary, and the Easter bunny needs a better map, and there aren’t enough shelves for that elf.

But I do believe there is a tremendous beauty in a child’s imagination—the way they can see a world right alongside our own and be filled with wonder and amazement. Kids have the power to understand that a wardrobe can be a portal to another dimension; that platform 9 and ¾ has always been there, right through that pillar. It is wonderful fun to slip into these magical realms, imagining a reality that seems to defy the natural order of the world, existing right next to the world we think we know so well.

Indeed, there is great wisdom in a child’s imagination. And, I think we need quite a bit more of it.

In our gospel text today, we’ve jumped back to Jesus’ final speech to the disciples–to the moments where he’s preparing them for what is to come—but they can’t possibly understand. They’re all sitting around, having dinner, like you do when you’re a disciple… and then Jesus starts talking about love and peace, and how he’s giving it to them. But not like the world gives.

And it wouldn’t surprise me if the disciples turn to each other and nod, trying to pretend they get it. But they don’t. Because in that moment, they had no imagination. No way to understand what Jesus was talking about.

Who is this advocate that Jesus is sending? Where is he actually going? Haven’t we just arrived?

Because, remember, at this point the disciples still think they’re in Jerusalem to unseat Rome, that they’re going to take over the government.

They couldn’t see that their logic was simply magical thinking—and that Jesus was inviting them to see a world that already exists. But they couldn’t—because it was beyond their imagining.

We are so often much like these disciples: bent on the pragmatic. Things that make sense by our way of seeing it. If we’re interested in overthrowing Roman authority, we devise a plan. Amass an army. We don’t sit around a table washing feet, drinking wine, and listening to weird speeches.

Jesus knew they weren’t going to get it in that moment. He knew these folks well. He knew that this little speech wasn’t going to make sense until later—until the veil fell and they could finally see all that had been hidden from them. These words were for a later moment.

They had to wait, simmer in them until they could see that God’s reign was all around them, that the peace of Christ already permeates everything. The words had to wait until the empty tomb made sense of them.

This is actually the thing I really appreciate about the book of Revelation—in our current readings of it, we so often think of it as a book about the future. But, in fact, it is about revealing God’s presence now. It is about opening the wardrobe, slipping onto platform 9 and ¾. It is about seeing the truth is already here with new eyes.

And that truth—it is that God loves us. It is that we’re invited to a peace beyond our understanding. That we are not defined by this world of fighting and getting what’s ours. It is the promise of God’s healing love that extends to all the earth–like a grand tree with fruit that never gives up. Never.

And that love and peace—God’s love and peace—they’re not defined by us and our logic or our grand plans. Because ours is a God that wrestles with us, challenges us, and reveals a beauty far beyond what we could ever create ourselves.

There are moments we glimpse this peace, know this love. There are places where the veil is lifted. Where we see things as they are—in ways we’d never thought possible.

I count among those the ways in which our culture has opened to gay and lesbian folks. Things are by no means perfect—there are still many places where someone like me is considered really scary. But, I can attest that in the 20+ years since I’ve come out, our culture has seen a dramatic shift. An unveiling, if you will.

It used to be that folks thought being gay resigned a person to a life of despair and hopelessness. And of course, we wanted to keep people from experiencing that, to keep people from knowing that kind of pain. And so, the math was done, and it was only logical that we name being gay as bad.

That is until some folks stepped up and began to remove the veil and offer a new way of seeing things. Perhaps, they suggested, the problem isn’t that being gay causes despair and hopelessness. Perhaps, instead, it is how we treat gay folks that causes the problem. What if we welcomed folks? What if we celebrated this love? What if we recognized the peace of Christ at work in us—all of us–inviting us into a world defined by the love of God. And not our limited imagination.

And as more and more people came out, and more and more people realized the power of kindness and welcome, and love. And things changed. Dramatically. And I can say with certainty, my life is not a life of despair and hopelessness. I rather like my life. My family, my community. This church. And it is because we have all, together, decided to live by the peace of Christ, the love of God.

But there are many veils still out there. Many places where we get so sucked into defining the world by despair and hopelessness—rather than seeing the love of God. Where we think we have to fight Rome, instead of embracing new life.

As Betty Rendon, who was serving as an ELCA pastor, awaits deportation. As trans kids in our community dread coming home. As children at our border ache for their parents’ arms. It is magical thinking to believe that our cruelty will make any of this better.

May the advocate come soon, o God, and remove that veil and let your love shine through.




What the creator can do with dust
February 15, 2018, 6:08 pm
Filed under: Sermons

FromAsh2Like you, I was raised to understand that insulting people is bad. You don’t call people names or talk about folks behind their backs. If you can’t say anything nice… And that includes the insistence that it would be bad to call people dirt, or dust.

But there are days, those days when people don’t listen to their mothers. Days when people call us names, treat us like dirt. Tell us we are nothing but dust. Act as if our very presence would make the whole world unclean. That even our breath might sully things.

Like the day I was spit at as I held hands with my wife.
Like my friend who gets followed around at the grocery store.
Like my neighbor who’s been here forever who gets told to go back where she came from.

And then there are those days, where the small things, the personal things can’t seem to move right. That our wheels are clogged with grief, pain, or the simple desire for meaningful work. To feel like we matter.

And it’s tempting, tempting to believe it. Tempting to believe that we are dirt. That we are bound by the ick and the muck of this world, and that we might just wither and float away on a gusty wind. Days where we are bound in the mud, unable to see ahead of ourselves, so covered in it that we unable to find our own skin.

Which is why we gather tonight. Why in a few moments I will trace a cross of ash on your forehead and tell you, O mortal you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

These most hopeful words: O Mortal, you are dust. Beautiful dust.

The power of dust is so beautifully captured in this poem Jan Richardson wrote for Ash Wednesday—My favorite line is this: “Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”

Oh what the Holy One can do with dust.

From our very beginnings we were formed of the dust of this ground. Even the name Adam, Adamah, means earth. Dirt. Dust. Our God formed us from the sacred dust of the ground, breathing life into our being. Breathing hope. Breathing possibility. Not in spite of the dirt. But because of it.

We are dust. We are a people who know what it is to be the ground, to float on the wind. We are a people who know what it is to be parched, dried out. Sifted. Refined.

We are dust—the mud of our ancestors, the earth of possibility. The seed bed of new life. The sacred soil of hope. We are beautiful dirt. God’s own beloved and mortal beings.

But O what the Holy one can do with dust.

And so today as we mark the cross, we do so with our feet rooted deep. Nourished by the waters of life. We claim the dust, the beautiful dust of our being. Not with shame—as if we had something to hide. Or fear. For we will meet all the name callers with our heads held high, with the dignity of the stars. For they are dust too.

And we will claim the dust, not with pompous righteousness, as if our dirt doesn’t stink. We will claim the dust knowing that we will fail, that will die. And nothing we claim as our own makes us better than anything else, that nothing will protect us from our mortality.

But O what the holy one can do with dust. For we know, washed in the fountain of life, death will never have the final word.

Which is why we stand here today, marked with the cross of Christ. For we do know what God can do with dust. With us. With these hands. These hearts. These hopes. Mortal though we are.


Bind us Together
October 4, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

wedding-ringsI love a good rite of passage, like graduations. Though I find them dreadfully boring, I still feel my heart catch and my eyes well up when a young person receives that diploma, and an important hand is shaken. My breathing stutters at weddings on television, in those sentimental moments where the couple, in perfect lighting, makes promises to each other, and the sound mixer adds in a gentle, “Ahhh.” I’m not much of a sap in most things, but this is my kryptonite.

So yesterday, as Rachel, stood at the top of the aisle in her gorgeous white dress, arm locked with her father’s, I looked down to see Carlos at my left, full of wonder as she came toward him. Desperate, I repeated in my head a steady mantra- get it together Julie, get it together. Breathe, breathe.

I’m grateful she walked slowly—giving me a moment to remember that I had a job to do. And so, by a small miracle, my eyes dried and we moved about the business of making promises, and cherishing the gift they share. And it was good.

So, to be honest with you, when I learned that this day’s texts would be Jesus’ teachings on divorce, I was a bit incredulous. Really? Really? Couldn’t we just wait a week? One week? A month…

These are tough texts. They’re categorized under Jesus’ hard teachings. That’s the official title. A title well earned.

But I’ve got this compulsion to be obedient to the lectionary, the agreed upon set of texts that was formed by a committee quite a while back. My reason for not preaching the text would have to be better than: I don’t want to.

And the truth is, divorce is a real thing that we wrestle with. And I keep saying, church shouldn’t be something abstract and odd. It should matter.

So, alright then, what is Jesus getting at?

Let’s remember the story. Now, once again the Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus. They enjoy this game That’s just what they do. This time they ask Jesus about the lawfulness of divorce. And Jesus tells them what the law of Moses was. It actually allowed a man to, for whatever reason, divorce his wife. In Jewish law, there was no provision for a woman to do the same. It was a one-way street.

To which Jesus says, no. To do this is to hurt the person you’re married to, in a most horrible way. And gender doesn’t matter. At all.

I know it’s hard to hear in our day, but when Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;” I’m sure the disciples’ jaws dropped. Because in that day, the sin of adultery was not a sin against the woman, but against her father. Because she would have been considered property. And there is this question about whether one could sin against property?

Jesus does what he is always doing, moving away from heartless adherence to the law and toward relationship. Indeed, the law should protect the vulnerable—not make it okay to hurt them.

We see this as he demands that the disciples welcome the children too—for welcoming them is as welcoming the kingdom of heaven. Children had no status at the time. There would be no such thing as a child’s birthday party—no celebrating the child within. He is saying once again that God’s reign is centered on our weakness, on our need for one another, on the fact that we are vulnerable. Not on our human power, our rigid rules.

Yet, we are taught to be embarrassed by our need. That is something that translates well across time and culture. We hate our need because it makes us weak. It is too revealing. We are compelled to be like the Pharisees, and look for simple laws and rules that will allow our hearts to turn hard, and protect us from the fact that we are fragile. We can and do hurt each other.

I have sometimes wondered if I’m such a sap for rites of passage because I am a child of divorce. I have wondered: perhaps it is those moments of transition, those moments of beginning and promise and hope, that have a special power for me, because I know well how sacred and fragile they are.

Putting all matters of legality, and permissibility aside. Divorce is simply awful. And I do believe that anytime a marriage ends God grieves, not because of any law that is broken, but because human relationships are broken. This text is a hard teaching, because we know that the fact that we fail is devastating.

And that is the truth of this text. It is a hard teaching. Worried over this hardness, we once again try to be as the Pharisees, using even this to make more rules.

A few weeks ago, a woman called me, inquiring about getting her children baptized. Breathlessly, she began the conversation, listing out her many sins. “I’ve been divorced. And I am not married to the children’s father,” she began. She wanted to make sure I knew all the reasons why I might reject her request before her question was fully aired. I don’t think she fully believed me when I told her I wasn’t concerned about that. My concern was about whether they intended to come to church, and be a part of the family of God. My concern was about relationship…

Which makes me wonder, how did the church, this place where we come to welcome the brokenhearted, the wounded, the vulnerable, how did this become a place where people feel excluded and rejected by their own brokenness? How did this become a place where we magnify the embarrassment caused by our own neediness, rather than attending to each other and to the relationship we are called to? Rather than heal each other, hold each other, be as Christ to one another?

Perhaps instead of all these rules, and even instead of really teaching on divorce or marriage, Jesus was trying to do something else. I think instead he was reminding us that we are blessed by the ties that bind us, the ties that hold us together and tight. We are blessed by honoring the most vulnerable, those who are considered weak. We who are considered weak.

Because it is in our weakness, that God’s love is made perfect.

May we be so bound to one another.


Formed from Dirt
September 20, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

clayI have this great picture of Jeanie (that she has forbidden me to post, so I’ve chosen another), taken on a day spent with our friend Barbara. Barbara is a potter, and on the day of the photo, Jeanie had decided to give it a try.

Pottery is fundamentally a tactile experience–folding and kneading the wet clay, working in just enough moisture that it becomes pliable, distributing the water so that it is spread evenly throughout. It’s good exercise after a day of frustration. Once the clay is ready, it takes a steady and patient hand to coax the clay into formation.

At Barbara’s direction, Jeanie held the ball of clay steady in her hand and tossed it onto the wheel, firm and hopeful. Then she turned the wheel on with her foot and began to shape the clay–desperately seeking its center.

Turns out this is one of the most difficult aspects of pottery–finding the center. To begin, you have to move the mound of clay to that perfect spot in the middle where it can be pulled and teased into other shapes. If you’re even a little off, as you pull up on the clay, the slightest wobble will send shards of wet sloppy clay flying across the room.

As any new potter would, Jeanie struggled to find the center–and as a result, that ball of clay kept getting smaller and smaller, slipping through her fingers, splattering across the room, her clothes, her glasses. Till finally the adventure descended into a mud fight. That’s when I grabbed my camera.

In our texts for today, the disciples were also struggling to find their center. After a long day of hearing Jesus talk about how he was going to die, the disciples, tired of being confused and disoriented, they decided to talk about something they were pretty sure they understood: who was the greatest.

Though, it’s clear from our text that they disagreed about the particulars of the answer, as each placed himself squarely in the middle of that wheel.

But, Jesus knew that kind of center wasn’t going to hold. It couldn’t. Imagining the disciples jockeying for their role as the greatest… well… seems to me that that mostly a bunch of mud flinging, splattering. I think Jesus knew, we’re not going to be able to form anything out of that…

And so, he sits down, calls the twelve to him, and then places a child in the center. A kid. Right in the middle.

Now this is unexpected. Perhaps even odd. I get that these disciples (who are always messing up) shouldn’t be at the center. I get that their desires for greatness are merely egomaniacal dreams. That makes sense to me. But, what’s odd is that Jesus didn’t put himself there at the center, you know, as the son of God. Rather it is a child, right there in the middle.

Now, I think it’s tempting to view this image much as we view pictures of Santa Claus. Sweet Jesus, holding a small child in his lap for all of us to admire and adore. Cue the sappy music; find the soft-focus lens.

But I don’t think that Jesus did this to be cute or sentimental. For one thing, this doesn’t fit with any other picture we have of him. He’s not a sappy guy. Especially as Mark portrays him. Just ask that withered fig tree, or the money changers in the temple.

Instead, I think Jesus was putting vulnerability in the center. Our very own fragile nature. Our capacity for heartbreak and hope, all that makes us small. I think he was telling us that our vulnerability is the clay of greatness, the mixture of sand and dirt and water that can form beauty and possibility. All those things that leave us utterly defenseless.

This is something that parents know especially well. To love someone small and fragile, someone who needs our protection—it is as if that little one walks around with your own heart beating outside your chest, exposed, naked. Their bruises are your own, their cries for help pierce through you, as your own body echoes with their pain. To love a child means to take on their vulnerability as if it were your own. Because it is.

This is what Jesus was placing in their center. Not a cute baby. No, Jesus placed there the very thing the disciples would call “least.” The reminder that we are all as children, all fragile, all in need of loving care.

He was clear; this center is held by our brokenness, not our capacity to earn money, not our skills in time management. Certainly not our college degrees. No, Jesus places in their center, our center, our shared capacity for heartbreak and hope, all that makes us small and fragile.

And then he tells them, tells us, welcome this little one, for in so doing, you welcome me. In welcoming this vulnerable, fragile one, you welcome God.

And if you think about it, we’ve known that for a while. God is found in brokenness.

We find our God among

  • those who come here for PADS, our emergency shelter;
  • Syrian refugees who desperately hope to escape the cruelty of war,
  • those who fear their homes,
  • those whose work feels meaningless.
  • Those who rely on others for their daily care.
  • With all of the vulnerable, all of the least,

Our God is there, calling us to re-center, to refocus, to turn from our own self-serving need to be the “greatest,” and seek God among the least.

Turns out, this is why our God came to dwell with us in the first place–because God’s own heart broke in our vulnerability. God’s own self ached with our pain. The echoes of our cries piercing God’s very own body. And knowing this, God wanted us to know there is hope and possibility far beyond our capacity to imagine. Indeed, God came to us, experienced our vulnerability even to death, God’s very own death. And in so doing showed us life and beauty beyond measure.

Throwing pots is messy. Dirty. To make a pot means embracing the dirt–that which we might call the least. To make a pot means tending to its form, nudging and shaping, nourishing with water. It requires patience– prayer. It means knowing when to pull, when to push, when to rest the clay. But first, it requires a center, a grounding, a place from which to move and grow, a place from which to form.

And this is what our God has done for us, for all of us. We who are small, we who are more fragile than we would ever like to name. God has gone to the heart of our own brokenness, our own vulnerability, taking it on with God’s own self. And this is a free gift– nothing we asked for and nothing we earn. And yet, we are invited to see, to tend to the heartbreak of the world, to our own heartbreak and seek God’s very self at the center.

For we are formed from this clay. From this dirt and sand and water that God has breathed life into us that we too may go and love what God has loved.


The joys of ministry
August 4, 2015, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Sermons

I love church. I love being a minister. You probably knew that, since I’m up here in this fancy robe. But I do. I love the weird rhythm of my days, always unpredictable. I love to gather in worship, and sing these old and new songs—I love coming to this place apart, a time that is so different than anything else that we do in life. But most of all, I love that it’s my job to tell how this ancient story of God’s loving creation undermines everything that is sick and wrong about the world—though I must tell you, sometimes that’s also the hardest part of my job.

This church thing really is an odd thing we do together. Yes, I just called you odd. Because, to be honest, you are all just a touch unusual. Which makes me feel welcome and at home… But, just look at us, we’re all here, gathered in a church on a beautiful Sunday morning, in August. We are here in church at that point in summer when we begin to realize that it will end, and the call to sleep in seems overwhelming.

Yet here we are.  Reminding each other, that God’s love overwhelms all the evil in the world.

But it’s not always easy. And sometimes it’s awfully hard.

I suppose that’s also part of why we’re here.

It all goes back to the beginning– So it turns out that our creation story in the Bible, the one where the narrator says over and over again, “and God saw that it was good.” It turns out that this is one of the most radical bits of literature in the world at the time. Because, God created it good?

It’s radical, because at the time there were also a lot of other creation stories floating around, most notably the creation story that the Babylonians told–A story that has remarkable parallels to our own. But that story is marked by a conviction that the world was created by evil and violence. Indeed, according to the Babylonians, the universe was created as the by-product of a war between a God and a Goddess. We are the debris.

But the Hebrew people knew a God that created the world good and called humanity to goodness. God created the world fundamentally good, calling us back to that goodness and wholeness, calling us back to a relationship with God.

In Babylonian thinking—that would make no sense. None. In Babylonian thinking there is no wholeness, no relationship. No goodness. Only evil, and our meager attempts to make that bearable.

That kind of thinking didn’t stop when Babylon fell. We see traces of Babylonian thinking creeping into our world over and over again.

  • This is what the Israelites were doing in our passage from Exodus today—they complain against Moses, angry and hostile that he had the gall to free them. They say, we would rather have stayed in Egypt, where at least we had food.
  • And I see it in myself too. This past week, I was sitting with someone having one of those conversations about the news—you know that conversation. It begins with this lament about all the terrible things that are happening, and ends with the utter conviction that the world is falling apart and there is nothing we can do about it because everyone is so messed up. My usual tactic in these situations is to also remind the person about the good things that are happening—things like Awake! and the ways we show kindness, and how proud I am of the ways people are living their calling. But, I too had just read the news, and Babylonian thinking had crept into me—and I couldn’t do it. All I could muster was a thin reminder that God promises to bring all things together for good. The statement seemed a bit hollow in the moment.

But the story of the Israelite’s complaining does not end there—they do not wither and starve.  God rains down bread upon them, bringing quail in the evening, and they are heartened. And they remember that God created the world good. And they keep going.

And then I remember that these passages were written by a people who were in exile, a people who were actively defying the Roman government. They were cherished by the martyrs. These are texts that have sustained prisoners, refugees, people bound by slavery. Over and over again, through out all of history, these are texts that brought hope to people for whom the news was not good. A people for whom Babylonian thinking may have been far more logical.

But the stories remind us, God brought bread. The bread of life that will sustain us even when the powers of the world try to declare that Babylon wins.

There’s another thing I love about church. I love that we are here, gathered together as the body of Christ. I love that I’m not the only minister in the room. I love that we are called to ministry—each and every one of us. Yes, we all do it different—but that’s the beauty of it. We each have different gifts, but they are all important. Very important.

That’s right—you all are ministers, ministers of the good news. The Good news. The good news that God created the world good, and that God promises to bring all things together for good. You all are ministers, sharing in this work of revealing that love, revealing that goodness and hope. You and I are both are called to tell how this ancient story of God’s loving creation undermines everything that is sick and wrong about the world. We are all called to that, using the good gifts that God has given us.

You don’t need to be a pastor to do that. No need for seminary, or an ordination, or even for anyone to give you permission. That permission was given to you in your baptism.

And that’s a big part of why we come here—to remind ourselves of that, to hold onto those stories that reveal God’s loving creation. To receive that bread of life, and never be hungry. We come to remind ourselves that our calling is not to make Babylon happy, but to reshape ourselves into the body of Christ.

We come, each of us with our own gifts. Some of us teachers, artists, 2nd graders, 3rd graders, middle schoolers. Some of us organizers, some of us singers. Some of us prayers, some doers. Each of us extraordinarily gifted, by the God who created us for good.

So my beloved ministers of the Good news, where is Christ calling you? And how can we, the body of Christ with you, help?


The Jesus-Mandated Vacation
July 19, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

waterJeremiah 23:1–6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11–22
Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

I can think of few things that would be quite as awesome as a Jesus-mandated vacation. Imagine, a time away in a deserted place. A place that is beautiful and quiet, the water gently lapping against the boat. The breeze is gentle, the sun warm. Not too hot.

I should stop before you all fall asleep…

It has seemed to me lately though, that so many of us are in this place of needing a break. Needing the world to stop for just a moment, so that we can catch our breath. Summer is supposed to be a time of vacation—but there are days when it’s not really seemed that way.

  • Because those of you who are taking care of an ill spouse know, you can’t just step away from their daily needs.
  • Because grief isn’t just going to take a little break.
  • Because the job still requires you show up each day.
  • Because the taxes, the mortgage, they all have to be paid.

In our text today, Jesus says to the disciples, “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” The disciples had just been sent out to the surrounding towns and villages, teaching and healing folks. They had amazing stories to tell—but they too were tired. Exhausted. They needed a break.

Come away to a deserted place. All by yourselves and rest.

We know the desire well.

So, I’m not really into playing games about who has it worse—because, well, who wants to win that one? But, it is fairly impressive to look at what the disciples were up against.

  • The whole region was occupied by Rome, who saw the Israelite people as little more than tax revenue. Workers to be used.
  • The division between the rich and the poor was so great, that with the exception of a very few, folk were lucky to just get by.
  • Poverty was the norm.
  • And If you really wanted to be realistic, even Jesus, the son of God, couldn’t even begin to make a dent in all that need.

It is no wonder that they needed to get away.

But as we read the story, it becomes clear, that this escape is not possible. The rest is short-lived, taking the span only of a short trip in a boat. The crowds discover them, and overwhelm them. The Jesus-mandated vacation is over.

But, as Jesus sees the crowds, he is not calculating how long he’s got to keep this up until the problem is solved. He’s not scheduling his time until he gets to escape again.

No, rather, he comes to us with this wild proposition that the kingdom of God has come near, and he wants as many of us to see it, to know it, to experience it, as possible. So that we might share that joy with others.

Indeed, the people have come because they’ve caught a glimpse of it—a glimpse of the feast to come.

In other words—he is not merely working, he is revealing. Revealing God’s love for all of creation, bringing hope and healing and possibility to a people who had been treated as if they were less than nothing.

You see, Rome was following the playbook used in this and every century—in order to gain power and control, they told the people that they didn’t matter. They led folks to believe that they were worthless, and that their pain, their grief, their callings, were irrelevant. They were led to believe these things didn’t matter. All that mattered was their work, paying the bills—making Rome rich.

But Jesus came with a different message. He came to tell people that they were beloved. That their pain and their grief were held in the arms of God, and that life and possibility was theirs to have—they didn’t need to suck up to Rome to get it.

He came to say that the kingdom of God is breaking in right now. Right here. In this place. All we have to do is see it.

Think of it as a thin curtain. When the curtain is down, it seems as if the powers of Rome will always win. That the task will always be overwhelming. There will always be too much to do. The curtain gives power to hopelessness, apathy. But when the curtain is pulled away—

  • The sun shines brighter
  • Rome is revealed as powerless over our hearts
  • We see that all creation matters
  • And we are compelled, urged, cannot help but, love as God has loved.

The curtain of Rome leads us to believe we are powerless against evil. But Jesus comes to pull that curtain away and reveal that God’s love will always be more powerful.

The pain is not erased—but rather it is now held in the arms of God, in the arms of hope—rather than hopelessness.

And so the disciples go back to work. They heal, they feed, they teach. They pray. Their frenetic pace continues. But this time it is clear, this is not a task to do, but a God to reveal. It is not a hopeless penny dropped into a can, but it is a revealing of God’s love, a transforming of our hearts.

It is a reminder that it is better to live as if the kingdom of God were here now—than to wish for a way to escape. It is better to respond to that which breaks our hearts, than to run away. Better to hold each other in our grief, than to suppress and ignore it. It is better to hear the cries of the poor and respond, than to blame people for their poverty. It is better to live as whole-hearted people of God, than to let the curtain of hopelessness divide and suffocate us.

But the need is real. And it is overwhelming. And there are days where we do need that Jesus-mandated vacation. There are days when we cannot see to pulling back the curtain. These are the days when we need most to hear our fellow members of the body of Christ, we need to hear them remind us that yes:

Yes, your heart is breaking. Life is overwhelming. But do not forget, so is the kingdom of God. The powers of this world have been broken by the love of God, which calls us to love as God has loved. And it’s a love that cannot wait. Indeed, the best way to experience the love of God, is to live it.

May it be so. Amen.


Love & Power
March 8, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

tableAs the writer of John tells the story, the cleansing of the temple is the second major public act of Jesus’ ministry. The other storytellers have it toward the end—it serves as a bit of explanation for why the authorities were so upset with him. But in John, it is part of the beginning.

Right after Jesus changes some water into wine.

The first act is love. The second is power.

You may remember that the first story is when Jesus and his mother attend a wedding, and they’ve run out of wine. We can understand that difficulty. Jesus protests telling his mother that it’s not time yet. But, Jesus is good, and does what his mother says. And the wine is most excellent. It is a symbol of God’s overflowing, overwhelming love. And how lovely it is that Jesus’ ministry begins with love.

And then we get this story, this story where Jesus walks into the temple with a grand sense of power. He makes a whip and starts tossing things around, running the money changers out. He’s angry that this place of worship has become a place that serves the markets. And Jesus comes in and with the very power of God says, no. It is also so fitting that Jesus’ ministry begins with power.

Though, if I’m honest with you, I think I’d much rather be present at the wedding than there for the cleansing of the temple. I love a good party. A good celebration. Large displays of anger—not really my thing.

And I think that’s true for most of us—we’re pretty comfortable with the love thing. Or at least the idea of love. The love of God is our starting place as Lutherans. We begin there, recognizing that this love alone has the power to transform us. But the thing is, without power that love can turn to syrup. A thick sweet sappy thing that’s about as meaningful as a heart doily at Valentine’s Day. Cute, but that’s about it.

We also need power. The power of God. Love in action.

Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. said: Power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

Love and power.

I think it’s important to know that whenever God uses power, it is grounded in love and devotion to us, God’s own beloved creation. The Ten Commandments themselves begin with a statement of God’s care for us—we are the people God freed from Egypt. And Jesus didn’t make that whip just because he didn’t like folks selling stuff at the temple. He sent the money changers away because they were standing in the way of people experiencing God’s love. (explain the system)

But we have this way with power that gets all messed up. Either we forget to begin in love (authentic, genuine, mutual, compassionate love that really cares about what others experience), or we discount the fact that we have any power at all. Feeling hopeless and helpless, like there’s nothing we could do that would really matter.

I believe something else. I believe the power of God, the power of God’s love, is rising up within us. And I believe it because I have seen it.

I have seen it in:

  • The welcome we give new folks who come into this place—as if we are meeting God anew in each person. And I want you to never, ever, under-estimate the power of authentic welcome.
  • How we share in the struggles of each other’s lives, supporting each other when things get hard, celebrating with each other when things are fabulous. Together, we use our power to make this community strong.
  • And how these things come together in our ministry of PADS, Awake, and more.

These things are all because of the power that lives within us, the very love of God rising up. The very love of God that demands that power be rooted, grounded, in the love of God.

But I do not believe that God is done with us or God will let us leave it at that. God’s power is still at work in us, rooted in the very love poured over our heads in baptism. And I do believe that God is longing for us to use that power to uproot the systems that would stand in the way of people knowing that they too are beloved, honored, cherished creations of God.

  • How will we use the power of God’s love to respond to the real heartbreak in our town?
  • How will we use the power of God’s love to respond to political divisions that cut too deep?
  • How will we use the power of God’s love to respond to people’s longing for justice and equality?

I know these are huge questions—bigger than seem possible. But it’s been my experience that God’s love and God’s power are always bigger than seem possible. And it’s true, that my heart sings for the day God brings when the fires of justice burn, and every tear is wiped dry, and the world has turned—turned toward God’s love and power.

And where do we start? Right here, right here at this table, where we receive into our own hands the very love and power of God made known in a little bit of bread, and sweet wine. May it be the power of God’s love welling up in us—overflowing to the world.

Staring Down Cougars
February 22, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Mark 1: 9-15

One of my favorite places to go hiking is a trail along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. It’s called Eagle Creek. It’s one of these trails that leads deep into the small gorges on the south side of the river, walking along and through deep trenches filled with rushing water. The walls of these gorges covered in every shade of green. There were places along the trail where the waterfalls continually misted the narrow path – creating a fine layer of mud. In those particular places, I appreciated the modern convenience of rope riveted into the side of the canyon.

The place was wild—in many senses of the word. The water uncontained, the trails often merely suggestions, the vistas bound by nothing but the faint hint of mountains to the north, and Mount Hood to the south.

This is the sort of wilderness I prefer. The kind where I can feel at one with nature, but not threatened by it. There’s a bit of risk. I don’t want to fall into the cold water—but a steady hand on the rope will mitigate that problem. The thing that’s not there: any significant population of cougar. Squirrels, deer, birds. Yes. But you have to hike a pretty far distance to enter into mountain lion territory. I was never in that kind of shape.

I prefer my wilderness contained like this. I just can’t get over the fear of having another creature hunt me. Not into it.

Jesus, however, was apparently fine with that. In Mark’s version of the time in the wilderness, he was with the wild beasts. Tempted by Satan. Just after he had been baptized, the passage tells us that the Spirit drove him out, and he hung out in the wilderness for 40 days.

That’s a long time to hang out with wild animals. A very long time.

During the season of Lent, we set aside 40 days as a time to grow closer in our relationship with God. It is a time to remind ourselves how much we depend on God. It is a quieter time that opens us up to know God better, to trust God more. To live into our call as disciples of Christ.

But the thing is, that for many of us, that kind of quiet, that kind of reflection, feels dangerous. Vulnerable. Uncontained. There are too many wild animals lurking. For some this kind of space feels like an invitation to stare down a cougar, or to shake hands with a grizzly bear.

So we put parameters on it. Narrow it in. Make sure we don’t go too deep, so as to avoid getting to that country where the animals roam.

It looks different for each of us though.

  • There are some of us like to get a little wild—throw off the boundaries of expectations. Indeed, the wild places may feel more familiar, more like home. It is the boundaries of rules and obligations that feel terrifying and stifling—these things feel like the true wilderness.
  • For others of us, predictability is so important. Knowing what’s next, having the plan. Wilderness is that place where the unexpected happens—where the path bends and curves and there is not even the illusion of control.

But, regardless of our relationship to wild spaces, I believe it is so often the wild beasts within ourselves and each other that we tend to avoid. The places of sadness. Hopelessness. Grief. Impossibility.  The places where we cannot understand the other—where empathy is absent. The places where we do not understand ourselves.

I think these are often our wild beasts. And these are the beasts we get to spend these next 40 days getting to know. This is our time when the spirit drives us to go and stare down that which terrifies us most.

Maybe that wild animal is your relationship with one you love dearly—that nevertheless drives you nuts. Or perhaps it is an addiction that has been controlling you. Maybe it is the realization that life hasn’t gone as you’d planned. Or, it perhaps worry about health, livelihood.

This is our time to enter deep into that wild—and get to know those beasts. And maybe, just maybe, befriend them.

These 40 days are an invitation to do that—not so as to beat yourself up. Nor is a time to kill those beasts. We enter into this time, because following the example of Jesus, we know that this time apart is a time of preparation. It is a time of deepening relationship with God, re-acknowledging our utter dependence on God for everything. Absolutely everything.

In our Old Testament text today, we were reminded of another 40 days—40 days of water covering the face of the earth. And in the face of that time of wild water, God promises not to destroy. God creates this promise with the creatures God loves, and declares that we will have to work out our differences in a different way. No longer by drowning, now by relationship. A relationship that God so desperately longs for with each one of us.

And the reminder of this promise—a simple rainbow. Light breaking apart across the water, filtering into the beautiful colors of creation. They are ordered, not wild, curving across the earth. Reaching beyond our capacity to see.

This is God’s immeasurable-transforming love, reaching out to us in the wilderness of each of our lives.

Now just one last word about this wilderness—Remember, the Spirit did not send Jesus there to stay. No. Rather the Spirit sent Jesus there to prepare him. To prepare him to go out and tell the good news. To let people know that the kingdom of God has come near, as near as the rainbow touching the earth.

And this is our call too. We gather in these 40 days not to stare at our navels and feel guilty about ourselves. No. We gather in these 40 days to prepare—to prepare to go out in the world to share the love of God. To share the promise. To seek God in every place, within these walls and beyond them.


Lost & Found
September 15, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

lostLuke 15:1-10

In our liturgy most Sundays, we begin with confession and forgiveness. According to the scholars, this is an optional part of the service. Not required. To which, I say, whatever. Sure, it’s not required, because God’s forgiveness is not up to us, because there is nothing we can do to earn the love of God. But we need it nonetheless. And some days, we just need it.

We have all failed. Miserably. We have screwed things up. We have hurt each other, we have not done what we said we’d do. We have treated our bodies horribly. We have told lies, and worse. We do that individually and as a group. And so we stand up in front of each other–boldly and honestly declaring–we screwed up. And worse. We declare: we have been so lost. So lost.

In response–I get to say these awesome words. Extraordinary words, really. I get to declare to you the entire forgiveness of your sin. I get to remind you of God’s promises–how God promises to never, ever, ever, let you go. I get to tell you, God says: Come home. Come home.

The parables today are just such stories. The story of a shepherd who loses a sheep, and a woman who loses a coin. Upon finding these things, these otherwise ordinary things, they both celebrate with unbridled passion. With great joy and thanksgiving, for the one who was lost has now been found. And now, everything is different. The one that was lost has come home.

When we do confession & forgiveness–that’s what I get to declare to you–God’s overwhelming joy at welcoming you home. I’m telling ya, my job is pretty great.

But for us, well, often times, forgiveness is just too hard. We don’t want to search. It is too hard to seek. Sometimes it is so much easier to cut each other off, saying, “you are lost to me.” And sometimes, there’s good reason in this. Really good reason–especially the cases of violence and psychological harm. In those moments sometimes the best we can do is to recognize that we are human–and sometimes only God can do the work of forgiveness. And we can only move on to releasing the hold that harm has had on us…

There is this interesting thing then, about the lost sheep and the lost coin. I don’t think there was anything particularly special about either this sheep or this coin. They were one of a hundred, one of ten. Average. Normal. Nothing noteworthy. But then this one was lost, this one was gone as if it were dead. And the loss was awful, and mournful, and there was great grief. This one, this average one, became important beyond expectation, beyond reason. And upon finding it, celebration broke out, with wild abandon. The one lost, has been found. And this is how God feels upon welcoming each one of us home. And it is amazing.

And so, being God’s children, we try to do the same. As best we can. Grateful, though that we are not God.

Here’s the thing: this kind of grace is hard. Really, really hard. We who dare to live in human community–we will upset each other. And that’s putting it lightly. We will say the wrong thing, be insensitive, careless, unclean. We will be unkind, and sometimes even mean. And worse. There’s no end to the depth of human depravity. Even as we wish better of ourselves. We all get lost. We all screw up. Because we’re all sinners.

But, when we can find the grace to stick with each other, to keep searching for each other, keep seeking each other out, then, that’s when the amazing thing happens. That’s when the world is changed. That’s when we get, perhaps, a little glimpse of the resurrection. The moment when that thing that was dead to us suddenly and unexpectedly has new life.

The thing about this though is that it sounds simple. But it’s not. It is impossibly hard. As I prepared this sermon, I kept searching and searching for a story to illustrate this. And I have these stories, really several, but they’re all the kinds of stories that aren’t well suited for telling here. They’re the stories of late night discussions with my spouse, those moments when, by some miracle, we stick with each other in our disagreements even when that gets really hard. They’re stories of wonder and amazement at the relationship I can have with my mother 20 years after I left home. They’re the stories that are hard and personal and intimate, the stories of being sought, of seeking out the ones I love, and being sought by those who love me, even when that seems impossibly hard. They are stories of rejoicing, of coming home.

But, the thing is, as I thought through all these moments in my own life, there were far more stories of those moments when something was lost, and the search turned up empty. Or how often I failed even to start looking. They are stories of someone seeking me, and I refuse to be found. Too often an argument, or a disagreement meant the end. That everything is lost.

I’m sure you have these stories too. The moments when you decided it was best not to search, those times when you searched in vain. Those moments when you tried not to be found. And hopefully, a few moments when the search brought joy and celebration. The one who was lost came home. When you came home.

But, thinking through these stories, and how rare it is that I am able, that we are able, to welcome the lost one home. How rare it is that I have the strength to keep seeking. How rare it is to allow myself to be sought. It is even more amazing to me that our God keeps searching. Keeps seeking. That our God never gives up on us. Our God is longing to utter the words to us: come home. Come home.

But that’s just what our God does. Which leads to another awesome part of my job– I get to welcome you, fellow sinners, to gather with me at this table. Each one of you welcome, welcome to come home. Because God has searched and searched for you, and is overjoyed to welcome you home to share in this feast, given for you, to celebrate the one who was lost, who has now been found. And God has said to you: come home.


Friend, Come up Here.
September 1, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

This past Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. It’s is an extraordinary day in our history, a day that reverberates through us even now, more than a generation later.

When we tell this story, we tell of a peaceful gathering of people, people of color who longed for dignity and freedom. Though, back then, this is not what some expected. Yet despite expectations, folks describe the day as a festival, joyful, and celebratory, as people from all across the nation gathered to dream. It is a story of people coming together to claim their place at the table. At God’s table. To at long last, claim their place of honor. It is no wonder they celebrated.

It is an incredible story of our nation’s history. A moment when those who had been humbled were exalted. A moment when those who had been made the lowest, gathered with joy and thanksgiving, taking a seat of honor at the wedding banquet.

It is a day when they celebrated God’s invitation: Friend. Come up here.

There is delight, and comfort, and wholeness in these words. Friend, come up here.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this. Actually, I know that at least a few of you have. For those of you who have, it is your own story, decidedly different from the story of the African American struggle for civil rights. But, I know, that for some of you, there was a moment when, at long last, you finally heard the words: friend, come up here. For others of you, these are words that ache in your heart—desperately longing to be heard. And the waiting has been too long.

Perhaps it is the honoring of family, the honoring of your vocation, the honoring of your body. Far too many of us know, at least on some level, what it is to long for the words: Friend, come up here.

For me, one of those moments was an August afternoon in Minneapolis, at the 2009 churchwide assembly. This is a regular gathering to make decisions for the ELCA. (The churchwide assembly is the highest legislative body of this church.) This was the same assembly that, among other things, made it possible for folks like me to be ordained. Maddie was with me, sleeping quietly against my chest, as the vote count appeared on the screen. The room was silent. No one dared to breathe. And then to my right and to my left, I saw silent and joyful tears streaming down the faces of friends and colleagues, those who had, for too long, been denied a place at the table—now at long last hearing the words, “Friend, come up here.”

I still get chills thinking about it. That was the moment, the vote, which made it possible for me to stand up here. The moment that made it so I could say to you, from this place, “Friend, come up here.”

But I am reminded that a simple invitation to the table does not suddenly change everything. Today, the voting rights act sits decimated, waiting for an act of congress to once again protect the civil rights of our African American brothers and sisters. Families are not reunited by naïve hope. LGBTQ folks can still be fired in many states, just because of who they are. And churches like Unity are all too rare. It seems that we are constantly dividing ourselves from one another, setting ourselves apart, seeking distinction and honor. Fighting each other for it. And sometimes it gets bloody.

A great woman once taught me that when ever we gather, we should look around, and we should ask ourselves, “Who is not here?” Who is not at this table with us? And then we should ask ourselves why? As we look today, surely we can include those on vacation—many blessings to them. Of all of God’s enormous diversity, we’ve only got a small slice here. Take a moment, would you? Look around the room. Who is not here? Remember these people. Hold them in your heart. And when we pray later this morning, please, lift them up.

The table, this table, has too many empty places around it. And we are incomplete until all of creation has heard the words, “Friend, come up here.”

I rejoice that we have these amazing moments where this call is heard loudly and clearly. Where we have reached to the neighborhood and proclaimed, come. Everyone.

You said, “Friend, Come up here,” when you welcomed our PADS guests, feeding them with the finest food, and the warmest hospitality you know (BTW, Donna would like you to put your names on the sign up sheet downstairs if you can do this again).

You said “Friend, Come up here,” when, in the 1970’s you welcomed an integrated group of youth to the basement, to provide a safe place to be—even as neighbors threatened terrible things.

You said, “Friend, Come up here,” when you called me, someone who, prior to 2009, was unwelcome at this side of the table.

I am humbled, and grateful, for all the ways you have extended this invitation with grace and joy. But, as I said earlier, there are those who still long to hear this invitation, those who long to hear of God’s welcome throughout our society. And I believe we are called to carry this invitation to the world.

Here’s the thing: in that moment when the waters of baptism washed over your head, God said to you, “My beloved, Come up here.” You were invited to the table, to the feast of the universe, this banquet we all share together. You were invited to the banquet of God’s overwhelming love for all of creation.

And so, we have this story to tell. A story of God’s invitation to all people. The story of God’s invitation to the Pharisees, to the disciples, to you, and to me. This story of welcome and wholeness.

So let us go from this place, and share the good news: Friend. Come up here.