Sacred Soil

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.


On Fundraising and Ice Water
August 20, 2014, 3:58 pm
Filed under: Weeds

I was once a fundraiser, sending out hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail to people, hoping that a mere 2% of them would open the mail and return a check.(1) The odds were never good, and often it cost well more to acquire a donor than we raised. It was a frustrating business, as we sought out the best way to get people to give money to a cause we knew they supported.

I got into it because I believe it is good for us to give our money away. And, to be honest, I needed a job. But it’s true, when we give away our money we are investing in a world far beyond our grasp, we’re investing in the hope that things can be better for others, not just ourselves. Generosity changes us, and makes us better people.

But that message is hard to get out. I currently serve as co-chair of an awesome organization, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, that affirms & supports lgbtq rostered leaders in the Lutheran church, because we believe God’s love is for everyone, and we are called to seek justice together. We do some awesome work. You should check it out: Thing is, raising money for this great work is hard, mostly because folks don’t know we exist. And if they do know about us, folks don’t realize they can make a difference with just a bit of money.

So, I’m imagining that the folks at the ALS Association are flabbergasted at how well this meme has done for them. The return on investment is huge. I’m happy for them and their bit of luck. It also makes me wonder what kind of meme-fundraiser we might get going for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Perhaps we could plant elm trees… Plant an elm, or give ELM $50. (That works. Let’s get started on that…)

But, we live in an age where we rather enjoy sandblasting every idea with the fine granules of our criticism, rendering us all slightly scarred and annoyed.

The ice water challenge is a waste of water.
Dumping water to avoid generosity?
This merely serves the egos of those filming themselves.

I can imagine that in drought-stricken areas, or for folks who walk 5 miles just to get drinking water, the opulence of a bucket of ice water is too much. And It seems counter intuitive that people make a show of not having to be generous (yet this meme has led to greater generosity). We should talk about these things–especially if we can do it without the grating judgment of those who’ve decided they know the best answer.

But, I find the judgment about ego a bit too much, and terribly naive.

Most of our fundraising is about ego. Indeed, the more one can connect with the ego of a person, the more you’ll raise. That’s just basic fundraising. Is that good? Frankly, no. But, it may just be the human condition, or our current human condition.

People give to the Art Museum because they want to be known as donors to the Art Museum. The parties are great, and your name gets listed with the most prestigious people in town. It’s about ego.

People like to buy chicks or pigs or goats, because they like the story, the idea that they’re giving something they’ve decided someone else needs. It feels good to imagine your generosity in the form of a cow in Africa, rather than trusting people to use the money as they determine would work best for them. It’s about ego.

People put up plaques to commemorate their generosity (oh how I remember the pain of trying to get every name just right– is it Mr. and Mrs. or Mr. and Ms., or Ms. and Mr., or are we forgoing titles altogether? And, are you even going to remember how you asked to be listed once we hang the plaque?). Right now in my church we have a plaque on the refrigerator. I’ve seen them on microwaves and lamp posts. How does spending money on a strange bit of metal help the cause? It’s about ego.

So, people pouring ice water over their heads, well, yes, it is ego. And so is most of our fundraising work.

Altruistic generosity is rare. It’s a problem in our society. We demand to be thanked, we demand to approve all the ways our funds are used. We give with strings, indeed, ropes, attached. A free gift is rare–exceedingly rare. But, wouldn’t it be great if we could cultivate that kind of generosity?

Perhaps instead of judging each other for the ways we feed our fragile egos, perhaps we could instead plant seeds that foster true generosity? That’ll involve putting away the sandblaster, and entering the world with kindness, trust, and curiosity. It’ll involve hearing other’s stories of generosity, and celebrating them. It’ll involve looking at why our egos are so fragile, and it’ll require we do that with compassion. And, perhaps it will also involve anonymously sending money to that community organization down the street, expecting nothing in return.

Anonymous always was my favorite donor.

What ideas do you have for cultivating altruistic generosity?

Matthew 6:17-18.


(1) I now repent of my tree-killing ways–which only adds to my frustration about how hard it is to do good fundraising.

My Advice to Experts: Stop
April 28, 2014, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Weeds

I’d love to give you a list of the 15, or even the 115 things that you should start doing right now to save the world. I’d even do the research to give the list a snazzy title that might inspire a bit of click-bait. But, I’m a realist, and perhaps a bit of a cynic. Because, if you sent me just such a list, I’d respond by picking it apart and daring, “Why don’t you make me?” But that’s my issue, I’m not very compliant when I’m told what to do.

Though, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only obstinate person in the room. I think most of us fall into that category, exhausted from the steady tide of people declaring what we should and shouldn’t do. In response, most of us either opt out, or strive to be deemed an Expert so that we can do the declaring.

On one extreme is the comfy position of non-expert, plaintively tossing one’s hands in the air. “There’s nothing that I can do that’ll really matter,” they say.  “I don’t know enough, or even where to begin.”

The expert then rises to the challenge at that other extreme– she writes that article: 15 things you can do right now to save the world and stop killing us all. Sometimes the expert will acquire degrees, or claim to have read 20x more books than others. But, that’s not required. All that expert status requires is a bit of gumption and the capacity to make declarative sentences with conviction. Someone must take a stand! And so, the expert, made bold by the need, rises up to take on the world.

Neither extreme is terribly helpful. Though, I’m not going to argue for a position in the middle. I’m not sure what that would even be, other than annoying. Rather, I’ll argue for a different paradigm altogether.

And it begins with my plaintive cry into the whirlwind: Stop acting as if you are doing this alone.

Please. Stop. You who throw up your hands in despair at your inability. Yes, if you were doing it on your own, of course, you’d never be able to figure it all out. And certainly, you’d never really be able to accomplish much.

And you, you who claim to be an “expert” or even if you pretend to be one, stop. Please. You may be right. Your analysis may be perfect. But, if you’re doing this on your own, if you are the most right person in the room, or if you disdain everyone else who hasn’t come around to your analysis…. well, then it doesn’t matter how right you are. You cannot, by your own force of will, change the world with the volume of your opinions.

But the problem with both of you is that you seem to have forgotten, we’re in this together. We are not a bunch of mere individuals acting in private spheres. We are intimately connected. So, let’s move forward as if we believed that were true. Because I do believe, if we did, we’d get so much more done.

So here’s my advice for the experts and non-experts of the world. I’ll limit it to three–though you know I could go on.

1).  Listen with compassion to the people around you. Even when they annoy you. Listen for what breaks their heart. Listen for what brings them joy. Listen for the places of hope, the places of despair. Treat these stories like they matter. Then ask, how do their stories connect to your own? Can you work together on that?

2). Believe in the extraordinary wisdom of a group of people who feel they are heard. The most sacred spaces I have known have been the places where a people have come together because they have truly heard each other. This hearing connects people, leads them away from isolation, and ignites a passion to make true and meaningful change in the world. There is no stopping a group of people who truly feel heard.

3). It’s not about you. Please, get over yourself. You are important, loved, and special. You’re just not more important than everyone else in the room. It is about us, about our shared humanity. Please share. Please trust the humanity of all of us. Let us do it together.

Indeed, let’s do this together, because there is too much heartbreak in the world, too much pain. And none of us should try to bear that alone.

Monday of Holy Week: Beauty & Judgment
April 14, 2014, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Weeds

John 12:1-12

Six days before the Passover, Judas is angling for money. He’s upset that Mary has poured out a costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, when those funds could be used for the poor. Or, rather, to line his pockets.

Setting aside his true desire to pilfer that money, Judas’ question seems worth asking. Why, when there is so much suffering, should we spend our money to fill the house with the smell of perfume?

When I was a child, my mother had this uncanny ability to rent the cheapest home in the best school district. She budgeted tightly, making most our food from scratch, urging us to eschew current fashion. We lived a fairly simple life, though I’m sure there were many places for us to save money. But, for many in my neighborhood, the calculations were different. In their nicer homes, money cushioned life. Budgets were important, but things like purchasing brand-name shoes required little, if any, thought. Many never had to question why the little label at the back of their shoe was so important.

But, I remember well, coveting that little blue label on the back of my white canvas shoes. I’d even drawn it in with blue ink. My peers were not impressed.

Judas’ question carries different weight for me when asked of my mother, vs. my former neighbors. And, that’s me being a bit judgy. And if I’m honest, I want to urge Judas to keep asking when I have decided folks are being wasteful. But, I want him to lay off when he’s talking about my mom.

I could assume a bit of moral superiority here–because we know that there’s a lot of waste in the world. But, it would be short-lived. Eventually, I succumbed, using my own money to buy a pair of name-brand shoes, with a real blue label in the back. And I did it for the singular desire that my peers would leave me alone. This isn’t just a jr. high student’s strategy–over and over again, folks make choices about what they buy not based simply on their physical needs, but on what will garner respect. Because, it’s a pretty simple equation we often forget: you’re not going to be able to earn more money if folks don’t respect you when you walk in the door.

And that’s what’s so maddening about Judas’ question. It attempts to create a clear pathway: caring for the poor is right, perfume is wrong. But, the reality is that the pathway is not so clear. The reasons we purchase things are complex–and figuring out right and wrong is rarely simple. I could give you 20 examples of how we’ve attempted to “help” poor folks that have completely backfired, and I could give you several examples of how even the simplest purchases we make undermine some of our most basic values.

And, I don’t know if Mary purchased the perfume from a locally sourced artist who created the scents in small batches, selling them at a cost that allowed a modest living wage. The text doesn’t tell us that. But, I do know that the moment was stunning–the room filled with the smell, the one who would die, anointed and prepared for his dying. It was overpowering, and beautiful. Beautiful for the wholeness of the story, beautiful for the devotion and care.

It is my hope that as we enter into this Holy Week, that we would know the scent of this beauty. May this beauty prepare us as well, filling our nostrils with the intensity of it. Because Holy Week is not a time for the judgment of right practice–but a moment to behold the enormity of this beautiful story, a story that is more complex than we can imagine. A story that will leave us forever changed.

Infinite & finite
March 5, 2014, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Joel 2:1–2, 12–17
Psalm 51:1–17
2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10
Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21

This is the night we gather to formally begin our Lenten journey. We walk through these next 40 days, marked by the cross of Christ, seeking a deeper relationship with God. This is a season that acknowledges that we let too much, far too much, get in the way of our really knowing God. And so we set aside these days to begin again. With great intentionally and hope, we wipe the slate clean and turn toward our God.

We do this near the end (oh, I hope it is the end) of a winter that has been hard. Really hard. And with the rush-hour snow this morning, I found myself longing for the simple beauty of dirt. All I want is a bare patch of ground. As the snow continued to fall, I found myself longing for the sweet smell of soil, warm and ready to give rise to crocus and green grass. But with this long winter—it feels a bit impossible to believe that spring will come. It feels like the ripe warmth of an August tomato is too much to ask.

The dust of the ground. The dirt. It is so beautiful in its possibility, in its hope.

Which is the joy of tracing that cross on your forehead tonight. In a few moments, you will be invited to come forward, and I’ll dip my finger in a small bit of dirt—dust from Palm branches long ago—and trace the sign of the cross on your forehead, saying “You are dust.” And I will rejoice in the dustiness of you, as God does even more so. God rejoices in your hope and your creativity, in your presence. Even when it seems all that is good is buried under far, far too much snow. Even when it seems hope is distant and foreign to yourself. I know that God rejoices in the dust that is you.

But it is the next phrase that catches me short. The next phrase sticks in my mouth, and I can barely bring myself to say it. Because just after I declare to you that you are dust, beautiful dust, I remind you that you will again return to dust. That you are mortal.

A friend of mine, whose father is gravely ill, said today, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… is more like a punch to the gut than a sign on the forehead when there’s a hospital bed in the living room.”

We will all return to dust. This is our human condition, and God did not take away the truth of our mortality. We live and we die.  And for all the beauty of spring, the warmth of summer, the possibility of dirt—winter will come again.

Though that does not keep me, nor, shall I say, any of us, from wanting to keep winter at bay. I’ve seriously considered taking a heater to my back yard, to see if I can kick start a little spring. It is this same impulse in me that makes it so terribly, terribly hard to trace that cross on your forehead. I don’t want to be reminded of your mortality, much less remind you of it.

But the truth is in breathing and in life, we inhale. And we exhale. Were we to idolize one, it would be our death. Neither can we hold our breath, or keep blowing out. Life rises in our lungs, and then we press out the air, so that we can keep breathing. Keep living. Keep loving.

And so we set this time, this Lent,  apart to seek a greater connection to our God. The God who wants an intimate and authentic relationship with us—not the kind that sets us apart from our fellow travelers, but a relationship that acknowledges we are dust—both infinite and finite. In our passage in Matthew, Jesus begs us not to sound the trumpets as we give money away, or call attention to ourselves as we pray, or to make everyone else miserable as we fast. No, rather the God who loves us, we who are made of dust, wants to know us as the dust we are—full of possibility, and mortal.

This is the God we seek in these 40 days.

So let us set aside those things that get in the way of knowing this God. By that I do not necessarily mean chocolate (though give it up if you must), but rather, set aside the things that make you long for those trumpets, the things that draw you to haughtiness or judgment. Set aside the things that make you forget that you are dust, beautiful and messy dust.

For this cross of ash traced on your forehead is a reminder, oh beloved child of God, that you are dust. It is at once a statement of infinite possibility, and our inescapable finite mortality. But do remember, neither can cancel the other out. For ours is the God that raised the dead to new life. Easter will come. This is a sure and certain promise.


On why Methodist clergy blessing same-sex couples are amazing…
November 15, 2013, 6:56 pm
Filed under: Weeds

115I don’t remember the date we were “unioned” in Illinois. It was sometime in June of 2011. It was a lovely little picnic for us, but nothing big and extravagant. We’d had our fantastic wedding. And it was fantastic. I’ll have to tell you about it some time. But that wedding was back in 2004, and so, the process of signing our civil union paperwork was just that, paperwork. Well, for us at least.

I’m a pastor, and my partner is a pastor, and at the time we lived in seminary housing, and all our friends are and were pastors. We were overwhelmed by the number of dear friends who could sign our paperwork, and we couldn’t figure out how to choose. So, we decided that we’d opt for the Biblical method of casting lots. We invited the eligible folks to put their name in a Solo cup, from which our daughter would draw a name.

For the Lutheran and Episcopalian pastors that day, writing their names was easy. Even joyful. They giddily vied for better luck, all hoping to put their names down on our meager paperwork. The Methodists though, well that was a different story. Writing their names on a little slip of paper meant risk. For some of them it meant risking their whole career on some sort of strange lottery, where the cost of winning was very real. Too real.

We tried to make sure our Methodist friends understood we didn’t expect them to put their names in the cup. In the Methodist tradition it is possible to be brought up on charges for presiding at union or marriage of a same-sex couple. The consequences range from suspension to de-frocking. The Lutherans and Episcopalians had nothing to fear, and indeed in our area, there might have been a bonus prize rendered in bragging rights. There were plenty of clergy around to sign, and we wouldn’t have received their lack of participation negatively. We didn’t want to ask anyone to pit their careers against our paperwork. But, they all did. And clearly, they’d all thought about it, prayed about it. This wasn’t meager paperwork for them.

And so each friend pridefully wrote down their names, trying to fold the paper in such a way that a 2 year-old might prefer their slip of paper. And then we handed the cup to our daughter, who pulled out a name. She drew out a Lutheran.

And our Lutheran friend was joyful and celebratory. She was excited, and we were pleased. I might even say relieved, relieved that our Methodist friends were able to offer their willingness, without having to endure the risk. I thought it was the best possible outcome.

That is until I looked at the face of the one who took the most risk by putting in his name. I don’t actually know what he was thinking, but I saw in his face a look of disappointment and sadness. He quickly rallied to the joy of the moment, because that is what we do at these events. But, I must say that I was extremely touched by that act of love, that act of risk, the willingness to lay down his career, his life, for his friends.

I’m glad he didn’t lose his career, because he is doing important and beautiful ministry. It’s work that needs doing. And I know that over and over again he stands up for families like mine. But, that look in his eyes at that moment gives me a sense of the love and the commitment that all the other Methodist ministers have taken on as they married same-sex couples. It is an amazing thing to provide the ministry necessary, especially when the costs are great. It is a profound act of love and generosity to offer up one’s life for the sake of their friends. And it is a rare thing indeed.

And that’s all lovely and beautiful in the abstract. But, it wasn’t abstract. This was my meager paperwork. My marriage. My family. Our dear friend determined that his career was worth the risk to bless us, to stand up for us. He was willing to take on injustice, so that we might have some justice of our own. And even these years later, I still sit in awe of that courage and love. Utter awe.

And so my heart is full, as I watch the other Methodist clergy who are standing up today, willing to take those same risks. This is no abstract act of disobedience. Indeed, it may just be that there is no greater love than this.

National Coming Out Day Eve
October 10, 2013, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Esther 4:13-16
Psalm 139
John 11:39-44

I want you to take a moment to imagine a closet. Well, really, your own personal closet. The tightly bound space that you turn to when things get a difficult, when you need a moment of quiet, when you need to just close yourself against the world.

I want you to imagine this, because I want to, dis-spell the notion that the closet is, by definition, terrible. We all have closets—we need them. We need these spaces where our real and true self is truly safe. That’s what a closet is for.

So I ask you to imagine, if you would, what is your space apart, the place where you are really you. Imagine that space–complete with a door. What color is it? What are the walls like? Are they upholstered? Wallpapered? Or are the walls unfinished, exposing the lines of mud and tape. What’s the lighting like? Is there a light? Track lighting? A single compact florescent, hanging, perilously close to your head? Is there a lock on the door? Which side of the door is that lock on?

On this National Coming Out Day, we celebrate opening that closet door. We celebrate the beauty of our in-most selves. This is not a day to dispose of those spaces where our real selves reside. But a day to celebrate the beauty of humanity, and beg that our closets not become tombs.

Because it’s true, sometimes our closets are dangerous places. Filled with sharp corners. They are cramped, smelly. There is no light. No space. Barely any air to breathe. I think of these as the places where we house our skeletons and other things we wish were dead. We try to ignore these closets–shoving into them all those things we would rather deny about ourselves. All that we think is rotten and putrid.

This is Lazarus’ tomb. The place where that 4-day dead body lay, resting against the stony insides of that tomb, his death filling the air with a putrid stench. The kind of smell that you can see.

I don’t know about you, but I have lived in that closet. That stinky, dark, tomb of a closet. For a long time, I didn’t even realize I’d taken up residence there. But, my real-self felt dangerous, out of place, unwelcome in the world. And so, without even considering it, I forced that part of me, that real part of me, to live a squalid existence. I suppose part of me thought that if I merely starved the real part of me, if I smothered it with darkness, that it might die.

I imagine that some of you have lived in that closet-tomb too.

But then, by the grace of God, I met a few Esthers. Remember, Esther? She was the woman that we read about earlier. Hers is the story of a young woman married to a king—a king that did not know she was Jewish. He merely knew she was beautiful. When the scoundrels of the kingdom plotted to kill all the Jewish folks, Esther recognized that her closet had become a tomb. And that it was now time to stand up, to open that closet door, and step out. Indeed, she needed to re-arrange the furniture in her closet, and invite the king in–invite him into her own vulnerability. I wonder what her closet looked like? What that place where she was real was like? What it took her to let someone else see into that space of truth? I don’t know. But I am astounded that she did it, all so that she might save her people.

I can’t tell you that my own Esthers have been such grand heroes. I’m not sure that they even know that they served as such to me. They were ordinary people, people just like you here tonight, people who have heartbreak and hope, people who love. People who got angry. People who were occasionally obnoxious. But, there were two things about these people. Two things that mattered:
1. Through a lot of hard work, they’d begun to re-arrange and re-decorate their closets. Made them beautiful. They’d taken away the rough hewn walls, and made them comfortable and cozy. They cherished their real selves as gifts from God.
2. And, they were willing to let me in. Willing to be vulnerable enough to allow me to know their own closets.

These closets, I think of them more like a womb, the womb described in our psalm today. This is the womb where God knit our in-most being. A sacred place of forming and creation. A place of warmth and safety, a deeply connected place, with an umbilical cord to the heart of life, and yet still set apart. A place where the real-self is held and cherished. Honored.

It is these Esthers who, through their own vulnerability, showed me how to live. And on this eve of National Coming out Day, I am grateful. Profoundly grateful. Grateful that my closet door is open—that the walls are finely decorated with a beautiful green linen. The light is soft and warm. It is cozy, safe. Inviting. And still mine. Like a womb.

I think of that day for Lazarus. Remember, he had been in the tomb, dead. Smelly dead. Dead for four days. Oh, how often we have felt that kind of dead in the closet, right? Numb to the world. Cut-off from the place of life.

I wonder then, how it was for Lazarus, when that stone was rolled away. When the fresh air came pouring into the closet-tomb. When the putrid smell of his flesh rushed away, and the light poured onto him. I wonder what it was like, raising his arms up again–lifting his limbs into the light. Hearing Jesus’ words: Come Out. I wonder what it was for him to feel the freshness of the air filling up his lungs.

I wonder–because I know what that was for me. And I imagine this is true of many of you too–that moment when at long last you felt as if you were whole. That moment when you knew that your real-self was welcomed, and loved. That moment, when you knew you no longer needed to hide that self away, wishing it would die. That moment, when it became possible that the tomb might just become a womb. When the closet of death could instead become a place to celebrate and cherish the real-ness of you. The person God created you to be. It is an amazing moment. A moment beyond words. A moment of release and hope, and stunning possibility.

And it is good. But there are so many who still long to know that moment. Too many.

Which is why Jesus gives one more command to the crowd around him. “Unbind him and let him go.”

This, I think, is Jesus way of saying to all of us—all of us–do your best to be an Esther in the world. Do your best to claim your full self-for the sake of your people. For the sake of others. For your own sake. Because no one, no one, should redecorate alone.

And it is by this that we will be able to go out into the world–redecorating closets everywhere. Turning tombs into places of safety. It is by this that we will make it possible for everyone among us to claim their real-self. Their whole self. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, straight. Whole and beautiful, just as God created us.

Let it be so. Amen.

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.