Sermons

           

Apr 18, 2021
How Do You Know?
Series: (All)
April 18, 2021. What are we witness to? How has God shown up in your life, and how have you been changed? Who are you called to share the hope, love, and promise of the resurrection with? In today's sermon, Pastor Meagan asks these questions and talks about how we can know.
 
Readings: Luke 24: 36b-48
 
*** Transcript ***
 
The disciples were understandably a little bit skeptical when Jesus appeared to them. As Pastor Tina pointed out last week, they were exhausted, traumatized, afraid, confused, even despairing. Jesus showing up, in the middle of that, was the last thing that they expected. And yet, there he was. And there they were, caught up in a tangle of trauma, joy, disbelief, and wonderment.
 
The disciples didn’t know it was Jesus right away. That seems to be a theme of Jesus' appearances after the resurrection, like Mr. Jesse mentioned. Honestly, who can blame them? Trauma is real, and they had been through it. Clear thinking was impossible in the wake of the horror of Good Friday, and Jesus’s appearance was not enough to instantly erase that. On Easter Sunday, we heard that the women were afraid to tell anyone, at the beginning. Last week, Thomas doubts — and as Pastor Tina pointed out, Jesus understood that, and meets him where he is. And today, one more time, the disciples are struggling to make sense out of what is happening right in front of them, how to know what it all meant.
 
How do we know? When we're encountering something unexpected, traumatic, challenging, new, confusing, how do we discern where God is leading? How do we find God, when any sign of God seems completely absent?
 
I remember realizing, soon after starting seminary, that for many reasons it was time to seek out a new church. On the website of one of the ELCA churches in our Minneapolis neighborhood, the tagline read “Traditional Worship — Contemporary Message.” The church we had been attending claimed “Traditional Church with a Modern Message.” I got goosebumps and I thought, “I think I’ve found my people!” And I had.
 
When my Seminary Advisor returned from sabbatical I told her that I had joined the ELCA and was switching to an Mdiv degree, and she exclaimed, “Why not the UCC? Or the Episcopal? How do you know?” To her, the way I had made this decision made no sense. Later, I discovered that she had made a similar change many years before, becoming Presbyterian after months of studying church doctrine. This was my first realization that there are many ways of knowing God's will, and discerning where God is leading.
 
Looking back, I have always relied at least somewhat on instincts when making decisions. I chose St. Olaf for college largely because of a sense of at-homeness when I visited. And when we were looking at St. Louis houses last year, Karen was gratified to discover that our house had a new furnace and AC, but I knew we were at home when I discovered the sound of the rain on the tin roof of the sun porch — my squeal of joy brought our realtor running, sure that something was dreadfully wrong.
 
The disciples had heard the experience of the two who walked the road to Emmaus with Jesus, and knew who it was when they broke bread together. But hearing from their fellows didn’t prepare the rest of the disciples to see Jesus’ themselves. Jesus understands this, and he acknowledges how shocking it must be for them, how confusing for brains and spirits that are still shaken by what they'd been through — and he offers them peace, not as a command, but as a gift to beloveds he knows are confused and afraid. He invites them to enter into the truth that he is there — to see his hands, to touch his feet. He asks for something to eat — as Mr. Jesse mentioned — as if to say, I really am here. I still get hungry and I eat, just like you do. And then he teaches them, opening their minds to the scriptures, and all that he told them all those years along the way. My advisor would have loved that part!
 
And finally, whether because they saw, or felt, or touched, or learned — or maybe because of all of it — the disciples knew that it was Jesus. Connecting with their own embodied experience through their senses grounded them, and they knew. Perhaps not the kind of knowing that means they fully understood everything that was happening or what the future would hold, but a knowing that helped them to trust in something that they still couldn’t quite understand. Jesus embodied in humanity met the disciples in their humanity to share promise, life, and hope.
 
And Jesus, having been fully human, meets us where we are. Whether through goosebumps or rain on the tin roof, or website taglines, church teachings or scripture studies, or seeing or touching or eating, God in Christ continues to reveal to us the good news: death is not the final word, we are not alone, the love of God for all creation cannot be contained, and we are, often despite ourselves, exactly where we need to be. How do you know?
 
In all of the gospels, even in Mark that leaves us hanging with the women at the tomb afraid to speak, Jesus helps us know — and then, as Mr. Jesse talked about, calls us to be witnesses. This can feel impossible — we are overwhelmed by trauma, we're too frightened to speak, we think we don’t know or understand enough, or that we should leave it to the preachers or others better trained, or we feel like our doubts and questions disqualify us from carrying the gospel. But still, we are called. We are witnesses, as Mr. Jesse mentioned.
 
We are sent out together. And today, with the rest of Central States Synod, we remember the witness of our partner in the gospel, the Kote District of Papua New Guinea. Like the disciples, and like us, they have experienced the struggle and despair. They have, like us, lived through the despair of the pandemic, and had limited resources to help their community. They're grieving the loss of beloved President Mutu, and they're seeking wisdom as they choose a new leader and make decisions about how to use their country’s rich natural resources for the good of all. We stand with them as we all seek to know God’s presence and share the good news of God’s abundant love.
 
It's interesting to note that as Jesus reveals himself to the disciples, it is not miracles or perfect knowledge that help them know, but Jesus showing up in his humanity, asking for something to eat. The most powerful witnesses in my life in times of despair and woundedness have been those who have also known despair, and found hope in the presence of God who meets them there. When shame, trauma, and despair bound me and blinded me, others who understood embodied Christ for me, reminding me of the truth of my identity as a beloved child of God. Like Mr. Jesse had us sing, Jesus loves me. People were able to witness that, demonstrating by their presence that God of love and life was there.
 
In the neighborhoods of Minneapolis, as the verdict in the trial surrounding George Floyd’s death looms, trauma, anger, and grief threaten to snuff life out — and guns and tanks and soldiers struggle to contain it. Community is embodying Christ there by bringing food, water, medical supplies, counseling, diapers, and connection, showing up with their presence and demonstrating that the God of life is there. It's like Mary, showing up after the horror of Good Friday and the silent despair of Holy Saturday, proclaiming simply and with great wonder, “I have seen the Lord!”
 
And this is our call: to know, and to witness. What are we witness to? How has God shown up in your life, and how have you been changed? Who are you called to share the hope, love, and promise of the resurrection with? Feel the breath of Jesus as he proclaims peace. See the wounds in his hands, touch the holes in his feet, share your fish — and bread — with him and watch in wonder as he eats, and hear the promises that are revealed in scripture. And then, know that we too are witnesses to these things, and proclaim the good news: We have seen the Lord! Christ is alive! God is still here! Alleluia!
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 24: 36b-48, Jesse Helton
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  • Apr 18, 2021How Do You Know?
    Apr 18, 2021
    How Do You Know?
    Series: (All)
    April 18, 2021. What are we witness to? How has God shown up in your life, and how have you been changed? Who are you called to share the hope, love, and promise of the resurrection with? In today's sermon, Pastor Meagan asks these questions and talks about how we can know.
     
    Readings: Luke 24: 36b-48
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The disciples were understandably a little bit skeptical when Jesus appeared to them. As Pastor Tina pointed out last week, they were exhausted, traumatized, afraid, confused, even despairing. Jesus showing up, in the middle of that, was the last thing that they expected. And yet, there he was. And there they were, caught up in a tangle of trauma, joy, disbelief, and wonderment.
     
    The disciples didn’t know it was Jesus right away. That seems to be a theme of Jesus' appearances after the resurrection, like Mr. Jesse mentioned. Honestly, who can blame them? Trauma is real, and they had been through it. Clear thinking was impossible in the wake of the horror of Good Friday, and Jesus’s appearance was not enough to instantly erase that. On Easter Sunday, we heard that the women were afraid to tell anyone, at the beginning. Last week, Thomas doubts — and as Pastor Tina pointed out, Jesus understood that, and meets him where he is. And today, one more time, the disciples are struggling to make sense out of what is happening right in front of them, how to know what it all meant.
     
    How do we know? When we're encountering something unexpected, traumatic, challenging, new, confusing, how do we discern where God is leading? How do we find God, when any sign of God seems completely absent?
     
    I remember realizing, soon after starting seminary, that for many reasons it was time to seek out a new church. On the website of one of the ELCA churches in our Minneapolis neighborhood, the tagline read “Traditional Worship — Contemporary Message.” The church we had been attending claimed “Traditional Church with a Modern Message.” I got goosebumps and I thought, “I think I’ve found my people!” And I had.
     
    When my Seminary Advisor returned from sabbatical I told her that I had joined the ELCA and was switching to an Mdiv degree, and she exclaimed, “Why not the UCC? Or the Episcopal? How do you know?” To her, the way I had made this decision made no sense. Later, I discovered that she had made a similar change many years before, becoming Presbyterian after months of studying church doctrine. This was my first realization that there are many ways of knowing God's will, and discerning where God is leading.
     
    Looking back, I have always relied at least somewhat on instincts when making decisions. I chose St. Olaf for college largely because of a sense of at-homeness when I visited. And when we were looking at St. Louis houses last year, Karen was gratified to discover that our house had a new furnace and AC, but I knew we were at home when I discovered the sound of the rain on the tin roof of the sun porch — my squeal of joy brought our realtor running, sure that something was dreadfully wrong.
     
    The disciples had heard the experience of the two who walked the road to Emmaus with Jesus, and knew who it was when they broke bread together. But hearing from their fellows didn’t prepare the rest of the disciples to see Jesus’ themselves. Jesus understands this, and he acknowledges how shocking it must be for them, how confusing for brains and spirits that are still shaken by what they'd been through — and he offers them peace, not as a command, but as a gift to beloveds he knows are confused and afraid. He invites them to enter into the truth that he is there — to see his hands, to touch his feet. He asks for something to eat — as Mr. Jesse mentioned — as if to say, I really am here. I still get hungry and I eat, just like you do. And then he teaches them, opening their minds to the scriptures, and all that he told them all those years along the way. My advisor would have loved that part!
     
    And finally, whether because they saw, or felt, or touched, or learned — or maybe because of all of it — the disciples knew that it was Jesus. Connecting with their own embodied experience through their senses grounded them, and they knew. Perhaps not the kind of knowing that means they fully understood everything that was happening or what the future would hold, but a knowing that helped them to trust in something that they still couldn’t quite understand. Jesus embodied in humanity met the disciples in their humanity to share promise, life, and hope.
     
    And Jesus, having been fully human, meets us where we are. Whether through goosebumps or rain on the tin roof, or website taglines, church teachings or scripture studies, or seeing or touching or eating, God in Christ continues to reveal to us the good news: death is not the final word, we are not alone, the love of God for all creation cannot be contained, and we are, often despite ourselves, exactly where we need to be. How do you know?
     
    In all of the gospels, even in Mark that leaves us hanging with the women at the tomb afraid to speak, Jesus helps us know — and then, as Mr. Jesse talked about, calls us to be witnesses. This can feel impossible — we are overwhelmed by trauma, we're too frightened to speak, we think we don’t know or understand enough, or that we should leave it to the preachers or others better trained, or we feel like our doubts and questions disqualify us from carrying the gospel. But still, we are called. We are witnesses, as Mr. Jesse mentioned.
     
    We are sent out together. And today, with the rest of Central States Synod, we remember the witness of our partner in the gospel, the Kote District of Papua New Guinea. Like the disciples, and like us, they have experienced the struggle and despair. They have, like us, lived through the despair of the pandemic, and had limited resources to help their community. They're grieving the loss of beloved President Mutu, and they're seeking wisdom as they choose a new leader and make decisions about how to use their country’s rich natural resources for the good of all. We stand with them as we all seek to know God’s presence and share the good news of God’s abundant love.
     
    It's interesting to note that as Jesus reveals himself to the disciples, it is not miracles or perfect knowledge that help them know, but Jesus showing up in his humanity, asking for something to eat. The most powerful witnesses in my life in times of despair and woundedness have been those who have also known despair, and found hope in the presence of God who meets them there. When shame, trauma, and despair bound me and blinded me, others who understood embodied Christ for me, reminding me of the truth of my identity as a beloved child of God. Like Mr. Jesse had us sing, Jesus loves me. People were able to witness that, demonstrating by their presence that God of love and life was there.
     
    In the neighborhoods of Minneapolis, as the verdict in the trial surrounding George Floyd’s death looms, trauma, anger, and grief threaten to snuff life out — and guns and tanks and soldiers struggle to contain it. Community is embodying Christ there by bringing food, water, medical supplies, counseling, diapers, and connection, showing up with their presence and demonstrating that the God of life is there. It's like Mary, showing up after the horror of Good Friday and the silent despair of Holy Saturday, proclaiming simply and with great wonder, “I have seen the Lord!”
     
    And this is our call: to know, and to witness. What are we witness to? How has God shown up in your life, and how have you been changed? Who are you called to share the hope, love, and promise of the resurrection with? Feel the breath of Jesus as he proclaims peace. See the wounds in his hands, touch the holes in his feet, share your fish — and bread — with him and watch in wonder as he eats, and hear the promises that are revealed in scripture. And then, know that we too are witnesses to these things, and proclaim the good news: We have seen the Lord! Christ is alive! God is still here! Alleluia!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 24: 36b-48, Jesse Helton
  • Apr 11, 2021The Gift We All Need
    Apr 11, 2021
    The Gift We All Need
    Series: (All)
    April 11, 2021. Today's sermon by guest Pastor Tina Reyes is on being more understanding, in this year of all years, of Thomas and the disciples for hiding out in a locked room and struggling with lack of faith and the need for more proof.
     
    Readings: 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So as I said at the beginning of worship, I bring you greetings from LuMin St. Louis and all the students, and I also bring you greetings from the Central States Synod of the ELCA. It is indeed good to be here with you this morning as we hear the good news.
     
    This past week, a man named Earl Simmons died. I can't say I was really aware of who he was or what his gifts were to the music world, or even his journey, until reports of him being in the hospital and being in a vegetative state hit my social media accounts — and not just the news reports, but the instances of friends and colleagues who listened to his music and who were lamenting about how young he was and how he had struggled with his life and his faith in God through those 50 years. But it was the Reverend Traci Blackmon, who is a UCC pastor in residence across the street at Eden, until she wrote this on her wall about DMX, which was his rap name:
     
    “When I listen to DMX... I hear the lamentations and psalms lived out loud. And I wonder if we have sanitized the struggle out of human lives of faith. We’ve decided holiness is achievable instead of aspirational. We hear the stories of the text as victory instead of valiant. It's clear to me that DMX knows God. Not that it matters whether I know that or not. I’m glad I do. DMX’s God is not the God we meet at the finish line... this is the God who runs the race with us.”
     
    And there it was. (Now mind you I was mostly done with my sermon and I'm like, “Oh! Quote! Cool!”) But there it was: the gift of Easter, of faith, of hope that appeared to me this year in the lesson from John’s gospel.
     
    As Jesse told the kids, it's been a week since we proclaimed out loud, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” The alleluia banner is still on the altar here. Let me tilt down so you can see it. There it is. Alleluia! The Easter lilies are behind me, and I have forgotten how fragrant Easter lilies can be in small spaces, especially when you have almost 20 of them. The last church I served was a huge space, and we could have 20 and not really affect me. We’ve more or less gone back to our lives as they are right now. But in the text this morning, it is the same night. We begin on Easter night. I think it's important to remember that. It’s only been a matter of days since the disciples ran in fear, and their rabbi was killed and buried, and just hours, hours since Mary Magdalene came running to the upper room with the news of Jesus' resurrection.
     
    And so I imagine that they're huddled together in this room with the doors locked because they're trying to process the trauma that they have witnessed. (They wouldn’t have used those words, but that's what they're doing — they're trying to process all of these things that have happened.) And so they're together in comfort and community in their grief and questions, because they're wondering: what’s next? And: can we believe Mary? And: I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
     
    The text hits me in a way this year that it hasn’t before — which I believe is a gift in and of itself. You and I have been huddled more or less in small spaces within our immediate communities. I can tell you that that's not a great way to start campus ministry. When you can't actually be in relationship with students, it creates ways. And you have to be creative and you have to be open to different possibilities. And even though we've been huddled in small spaces in our immediate communities, it hasn’t stopped trauma and tragedy happening in the world around us. So I imagine the questions the disciples were uttering are probably familiar in our own lives, like: I don't know if I can take much more of this (not really a question but more of a statement). Or: I can’t breathe — whether it's from COVID which decimates lungs, or physical restraints cutting off air flow. And there's always that, “What’s next?” What's going to happen next? I know I cried that watching angry folks storming the Capitol on January 6th. And I cry that every time I see that legislatures are trying to restrict a transgender person's right to live as God created them.
     
    No beloved, the irony that we’ve been locked in our own dark upper rooms in fear and anxiety for the last year is not lost on me — and I wonder how long we’ve really been waiting for the hurt to stop. And even more irony: out of caution and love for each other, here we are sharing worship together — and apart — at the same time, seeking comfort and joining in praise.
     
    And so I have to tell you that this year I’m not even mad at Thomas and the disciples for hiding out in a locked room, or Thomas not being there the first time and then joining them in that locked room. I get it! I get their behavior and their responses. I've pulled back the pointing finger at their lack of faith and the scapegoating of Thomas, his need for more proof. Somehow, this year, I’m with them — waiting with bated breath, wanting to see, to touch, to hear the good news of the risen Christ, just as they did.
     
    And I wonder: where are you, beloved?
     
    In the midst of their pain and their confusion, a wounded, risen Jesus meets them where they are. A wounded, risen Jesus gifts these siblings with exactly what they need in that moment. He breathes peace on them twice, and then he breathes the Holy Spirit in them. And they are comforted in their trauma and grief, and they know that it is indeed their beloved, that Mary was right. And somehow all those prophecies Jesus made, of his death and resurrection, were true.
     
    And it makes sense to me this year, more so than ever, that Thomas didn’t get it, isn’t comforted by their witness, and is still struggling with his own stuff. Thomas declares that he needs something for himself to begin his own healing, to make it make sense to him. It’s not that Thomas doubts. It's that Thomas has always needed something more, something different, to comprehend the love that Jesus offered. And that’s okay.
     
    It’s okay because there's not one single formula for healing or learning or believing. We live with an amazing diversity of abilities and understandings that were all created by same God. And here we are in this lesson, given a gift that uplifts that diversity. Before I went to seminary I was a middle school history teacher, and I worked with students of all different levels and abilities — from the brightest of the bright, to the students who were just trying to acquire English as a different language, to students who had emotional difficulties. Somehow they all ended up in my class. And in one of the wings in a teacher workroom, there was a quote put on the wall. And it said, “If the students don’t learn how you teach, then teach how they learn.” And my other favorite thing then is to tell Confirmation students, when we talk about our journey of faith it doesn't have a start and a stop, it's this long journey that lasts our lifetime. It's a journey, and we all take the same journey but differently, because we don’t have a socket in the back of our necks, like in the movie “Matrix” (showing my age a little bit) to hook up to the faith computer and to instantly have all the faith and power to comprehend what, in honesty, we just can’t.
     
    And so Jesus meets Thomas where Thomas is — still questioning, needing a different way of accessing and understanding the risen Christ. And so the wounded, risen Jesus enters the room a week later (and Thomas is with them) and he offers peace again to all of them, and then he doesn't put Thomas down, as we have done for a bajillion years. He invites Thomas in. He invites Thomas into a relationship, into that close space, and says, “Put your finger here. See? Go ahead, touch.” And that is exactly what Thomas needed for Thomas' journey of healing and living and ministry.
     
    And that is exactly what Jesus — risen, wounded, and healing — does with us in our times of grief, and confusion, and heartache. Jesus meets us where we are and journeys with us in our own needs. And sometimes we don't recognize it as Jesus. Sometimes it's just the person who sits with us. Sometimes it's the stranger a table away (a year ago) who would offer a ketchup bottle or a napkin. Maybe it's an adult offering a verse of encouragement to a young college student struggling with being on their own for the first time. But Jesus meets us where we are, and journeys with us in our own needs.
     
    In our rush to celebrate the risen Christ, I believe that we often forget the pain and suffering and confusion and hurt and heartache — of Jesus and of those who loved him. It's why I believe that every year, on every second Sunday of Easter in the Revised Common Lectionary, we have this lesson. Faith is never about one or the other. Faith is about both and. We get this lesson not as an exemplar of how to believe. We get this lesson as a reminder of God’s love for us in the wounded, risen Jesus in our own wounded selves. And we come to know that Jesus is with us wherever we may find ourselves on our journey of faith.
     
    Beloved Jesus died & rose —     the gift that eternal death is not the end. And Jesus died & rose & comes to us —     that there may be life in this place for all of God’s people... And Jesus meets us in his woundedness & his divinity     and gifts us with his never-ending presence. And Jesus meets us in our woundedness & divinity     and gifts us with peace and the Holy Spirit. And Jesus is with us     and gifts us with peace and hope to meet the suffering, and the pain,     and the hardest of the hard stuff.
     
    The gifts given in those upper rooms to the disciples and the gifts given continually to us — of peace and the Holy Spirit — are with us, now and always, as we work to bring death to the sins of racism and white supremacy, and as we learn to welcome and celebrate all folks as God created them in amazingly diverse ways, and as we hold on just a little longer to our quarantines and our safe spaces.
     
    It is indeed the second Sunday of Easter. Jesus is with us and among us. Alleluia. Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia! (Yes, there's the fist pump action here.) Thanks be to God!
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Tina Reyes, Traci Blackmon, Confession of a woman who preaches, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31, Jesse Helton, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Apr 4, 2021Who Will We Tell?
    Apr 4, 2021
    Who Will We Tell?
    Series: (All)
    April 4, 2021. Pastor Meagan's sermon for this Easter Sunday is on the fear felt by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John when they went to the tomb and found that Jesus wasn't there. What would we have thought had we been there?
     
    Readings: Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Last Sunday, when we gathered for Palm Sunday Worship, we had a parade to celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem — and some of us took that parade down Lockwood, too. And Easter is another opportunity to celebrate with a procession. Many of you have probably heard the Judy Garland & Fred Astaire song, "In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it / You'll be the grandest fella in the Easter Parade.” So on Palm Sunday, we kept in mind as we walked where we were headed — into the city, where Jesus would be arrested, tortured, and die on the cross. And this Easter Sunday, this morning as we gather with joy to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, it's important to remember where we've come from.
     
    Our Easter story, as joyful as it is as Mr. Jesse pointed out, doesn't begin with hope. It begins with an acknowledgement of death and profound loss. The women — Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and John — who went to the tomb that morning bearing spices, were there when Jesus died. They knew he was gone, and they didn’t have the slightest expectation that he had survived everything that had happened. They were drawn to the tomb that morning not by the thought that Jesus might be alive, but by the call of their faith to honor one that they had loved and followed by anointing the body that was left. They were there because they were not afraid to face the grief and reality of the tomb.
     
    Pastor Luisa Cabello Hanse of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis shared her experience of Holy Week and Easter during her childhood in Chile and Mexico at a Lenten Wednesday service a few years ago, and she told of the parade that they always had every year through town — on Good Friday, not Easter Sunday. Pastor Luisa said that Jesus’ resurrection meant so much more when she first took time to acknowledge the reality of his death.
     
    Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John faced the grief, they approached the tomb, and there in the place of death they saw evidence of the miracle. The stone, as large as it was, had been rolled away. A young man, sitting in the otherwise empty tomb, was waiting to tell them the good news: Jesus is alive. What would you have thought, had you been there? Each of the gospels tells the story a little differently, as Dr Neidner pointed out in our forum a couple of weeks ago. In Mark’s telling, the women do not instantly believe, and in fact the women who had courageously faced the tomb are so frightened by the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection that they leave with the intent of not telling anyone what had happened.
     
    All of us who have been through wounded-ness, death, and grief know resurrection does not erase the tomb. We all grieve loved ones who have died, losses brought to us by the pandemic, all of those things about church that we miss, the damage wrought by the sins of racism, poverty, and violence. Death is real, and the process of grief lasts a lifetime. Hope, new life, and joy grow slowly as healing continues.
     
    So it's not so surprising to think that the women were not ready to embrace the hope and joy of the good news and go out to tell everyone what’s happened the first minute they're told that Jesus is alive.
     
    And yet we know that eventually they did tell the story of the resurrection, if only because today we are still telling of the miracle that they found when they went to the tomb that first Easter morning. This Easter morning, we are gathered to tell again of how God brought life out of death, and Jesus who has died is now alive again among us.
     
    And today, most appropriately, we celebrate the baptism of Mae Lenhart. From the story of creation when God spoke earth and water into being, to the story of Noah and his family traveling through the flood in an ark and finding dry land to start a new life, to the Israelites crossing through the raging water of the Red Sea to find freedom on the other side, to Jesus’ baptism in water by John when God claimed him as beloved, water has always been a part of our story as people of faith. Baptism with water and the words of God’s promise reminds us that nothing can separate us from God. In baptism, we claim the promise of who we are — children of God, beloved, called and sent, to embody and proclaim the love and mercy of God for the world.
     
    As we celebrate Mae’s baptism on this Easter Sunday of the resurrection, we remember that we too have been through death and grief, and we too have been baptized, and that God’s promises prevail even in the face of death. We are all chosen, all called, all sent, to share the good news that in Christ, death will never be the final word. The women were afraid, and we may be too, but Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that Christ is with us even in our fear, and however unworthy we may feel, we are beloved and called to share the good news. On the other side of horror, loss, and grief, Jesus has come, and we have discovered hope and joy.
     
    How would you have told the story to the others who were waiting back in that Upper Room to hear about the visit to the tomb? What would you have thought, if you were one of Jesus’ other followers, hearing the story of Christ’s resurrection? What are you afraid of today? And who are you called to tell of this miraculous, radical hope? Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8, Easter Parade, Irving Berlin, Jesse Helton, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus
  • Apr 1, 2021What Has Been Handed Down
    Apr 1, 2021
    What Has Been Handed Down
    Series: (All)
    April 1, 2021. Today as we celebrate Maundy Thursday, we come together to carry on the sacred traditions that have been handed down to us.
     
    Readings: Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31-35b
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    What traditions or wisdom have been handed on to you? I learned how to make popcorn from my grandmother. Use a big pan — the kind with two handles on it — and put in just enough oil to cover the bottom. Add exactly three kernels of popcorn, put it on medium heat on the stove, and when the third kernel pops add the rest of the popcorn. Shake occasionally. And when the popping slows, remove from the heat. And when all the popping has stopped — not before — pour the popcorn into the bowl. Add real melted butter and salt. Don’t skimp.
     
    Over the years, I have tried many ways of making popcorn, from air poppers to oil poppers to kettle corn makers and even microwave, and none have ever measured up. A big part of it is the taste, of course. But more important than that is the connection that I feel to my grandmother. Sure, I use olive oil instead of Wesson oil, and Kosher salt instead of regular table salt. But in all essentials, each time I make popcorn on the stove, I'm participating in what my grandmother handed on to me. What has been handed on to you?
     
    Jesus knew the hour had come for him to depart from this world, that this was the last time he would sit with his disciples and share a meal. It was his last opportunity to hand on his most sacred thoughts before he died — to show them, and us, what is really important.
     
    Today we celebrate Maundy Thursday, and so we begin the most sacred days of the Christian church year. This is a time set aside for us as a community to remember. We have come before our God, acknowledged our sin, and received God’s love and forgiveness. And now we begin this journey. Over these days, we remember the extravagant, redemptive, love of God for us and for all of creation revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And today, we remember what our dear friend, Jesus, handed on to us in the hours before he died.
     
    Jesus and his friends were preparing to celebrate Passover, to remember how God had saved them and guided them in the desert. They were following an ancient command that had been handed on to them to tell and retell the story of how God brought them out of slavery and led them through the unknown, to freedom.
     
    Jesus wants us to remember, too. In this last year we have been on a journey into the unknown together, far more than we anticipated when John Hoffmann and I distributed ashes in my first worship service with you all. It has been a sort of exile, our own time in the desert in many ways. And it has been an invitation to explore what is means to be church, and how God is calling us to minister together from here. What traditions and ways of being are serving God well, and what we need to let go of, so we can better contribute to the Kin-dom of God.
     
    As we approach the end of the voluntary physical exile from our buildings and one another’s physical presence, these questions are all the more important. Tonight, for one of the few times in over a year, I have three of you with me seated in the pews of the sanctuary. And this is just the start our return to being together in person. We have learned a lot, this last year, about what is possible when we put our minds together. We've committed ourselves to being accessible to one another and our community through technology we never considered before — some of you had never heard of Zoom before March 22, 2020! We’ve discovered in new ways that we, the followers of Christ, are the church. We're renewing our commitment to welcome and to serve, and we're exploring what that looks like for all of our ministries. And in truth, that is what Christ was doing: welcoming his friends by serving them a meal — we love doing that don’t we, and we will do it again — and serving, kneeling to wash his friends’ feet. How will we live into Christ’s call to welcome and serve, as we journey on into 2021?
     
    Times of transition call us to these questions, and Jesus wants us to remember that we are not alone. God freed the Israelites, and guided them every step of their way. God frees us from all that enslaves us, and guides us on our way. The command to remember has been handed on for centuries, and it is ours now.
     
    Jesus wanted us to know this. Our journey in COVID that is finally beginning to evolve into something of a new normal, like the journey in the desert, can feel dry and long and lonely sometimes. Jesus wanted his friends to know that in spite of what would happen later tonight — later that night — and tomorrow, the next day — no matter how much grief and despair they would feel, Jesus’s death would not be the final word. In times like this, with so much division, hatred, and fear in our world, including a pandemic that has gone on far longer than we would have guessed last March, we need to know that God can bring life out of death. We need to know that God is with us — even, and perhaps especially, when things are at their darkest. Jesus tells us to share the Eucharist as a remembrance of his death and the promise of resurrection. And every time we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus shares his very life with us. We are nourished, body and soul, as our bodies are fed and our spirits are filled again with the promise of life and forgiveness. This promise has been handed on to us.
     
    After Jesus and his disciples had finished eating, Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples. It was, of course, an act of humility and service. But more than that, washing another person’s feet is incredibly vulnerable, intimate, and full of love. Jesus was telling his friends, “I know you. I know those parts of you that you keep hidden. I know your dirt, your sweat, your warts, your pain, your exhaustion. And I love you.” There is no part of you that God does not know, intimately. And there is no part of you that God does not love.
     
    And here is the most remarkable thing about Jesus’ act of intimate love: Jesus washed the feet of not only John — who will stay at Jesus’ side, holding Jesus’ mother while he dies — but all of the disciples. The ones who will abandon him. Peter, who will deny he even knew Jesus. Even Judas, who will betray him, turn him over to be tortured and killed. God knows us intimately, and loves us fully, even when we abandon and deny and betray God, and one another.
     
    And then Jesus says, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” We are called to know and love one another that way, actively, humbly, intimately. We are called to see one another’s warts, and love them. We're called to allow God, and others, to see our warts, and love us. We are reminded of the waters of our baptisms, and the promise of God’s radical, unconditional love and forgiveness. Be vulnerable to one another. Love one another, no matter what. This vulnerability is terrifying... and it is precisely how God heals and frees us to be the people we were created to be. And how God works through us to heal and free others. This kind of love cannot be contained. It must be handed on, and on, and on.
     
    Today we come together to carry on sacred traditions handed on to us, and as happens each time I make my grandmother’s popcorn, we are carried beyond ourselves, beyond this moment in time. This is about us, but it's not just about us. As we share the Eucharist, and tell the stories, we are profoundly connected to God, and to our whole Christian family going back generations. We remember who we are, who we're called to be, as children of God. This is what has been handed on to you. How will you hand that on to those coming after us?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Maundy Thursday, Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31-35b, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus
  • Mar 28, 2021Hosanna! Save Us Now!
    Mar 28, 2021
    Hosanna! Save Us Now!
    Series: (All)
    March 28, 2021. Today we celebrate Palm Sunday and commemorate Jesus' triumphant parade into Jerusalem. But why does it cause such turmoil? What was so earth-shaking about it? And most of all, who is this Jesus who has us all crying out to be saved?
     
    Readings: Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Our 40 Days of Lent is drawing to a close, and once again this year we take time this Palm Sunday to mark the transition from the days of reflection and seeking, to walking with Jesus into Jerusalem as Holy Week begins. And as always, we tell the story of how Jesus, the son of a carpenter turned itinerant preacher, entered Jerusalem with a parade.
     
    A crowd gathered to meet Jesus as he approached the city, perhaps because they had heard him preach when he had been there before, perhaps because they had been among those healed over Jesus’ time of ministry, perhaps because they had heard that Jesus had actually raised a dead man — Lazarus — to life again. Whatever their motives, their cries as they walked revealed the hopes they had as they welcomed Jesus on the road — “Hosanna!” Save us now! The people, whatever their specific longings and desires, believed that Jesus could save them. They had very specific ideas as to what that might look like, and greeted him as they would greet a king: shouts of joy and praise and recognition, leading and following in procession, waving palm branches and laying them along the road in front of him.
     
    Hosanna! Save us now! We have spent our 40 days of Lent seeking God’s truth in our scriptures, and in our lives — the truth of God’s love and mercy and our identities as children of God, and the truth of our sin and brokenness, and the sin and brokenness of the world. Over two thousand years have passed since Jesus walked the road to Jerusalem, but the brokenness of the world and our deep need for God have not changed.
     
    We, like those crying out hosanna on the road into the city, need to be saved. Our communities face the evils of gun violence, which resulted in the deaths of ten people in yet another mass shooting this week, this time in Boulder. And it feels like we hear of more every day. The challenges and even trauma of the pandemic, which is just beginning to wane after a year. The sin of white supremacy and racism which continues to wound and divide, even as the trial for the man who murdered George Floyd moves forward this week. Poverty, which holds so many trapped in situations they cannot escape from.
     
    We think of all the pain in this world that can seem insurmountable, and we know, if we didn’t before, that we need help. We know, as we hear the stories of God’s promise to us and how God has brought freedom, healing, and love to people since the beginning, that there is only one place to turn. And we join our voices with the crowd walking that road with Jesus crying out, “Hosanna! Save us now!”
     
    There is something else about this event that we don’t often think about because it isn’t mentioned in our scriptures, but historically the procession, greeting, and leading the way for Jesus as he enters Jerusalem is not the only parade taking place in the city. Pilate, the Roman ruler who would in a few short days give the order for Jesus’ brutal execution, was also entering Jerusalem — and in a much grander procession: trumpeters, banners, royal guards, strong horses. As the Jewish people celebrated Passover to remember their freedom from slavery in Egypt, Pilate wanted the Jewish people to know without question that no matter what triumphs they may have experienced in the past, Roman rule was absolute. And so, as he did every year, Pilate processed in glory from the east, and Jesus came surrounded by the least of these from the west. Compared to Pilate’s demonstration of a royal glory fit for a king, Jesus’ humble parade hardly seems worthy of mention.
     
    So why does Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem cause, as Matthew puts it, turmoil? This is no mild, eyebrow-raising event that leaves people scratching their heads, but a significant disruption, leaving people as shocked as if an earthquake had moved the ground under their feet. Why would a gathering of people carrying palm branches lead to turmoil? What was so earth-shaking about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? And most of all, who is this Jesus who has us all crying out to be saved?
     
    As we've heard so many times, one thing we know about Jesus is that whatever our expectations, he seems to fail them, and exceed them, all at the same time. Many expected that when the Messiah came, he would come with military might, overthrowing Roman occupation and restoring the kingdom of Israel. Religious leaders expected those who deigned to teach and minister to follow Mosaic law, and show deference to the traditions of the temple above all else. We might expect Jesus to erase all the evil of this world instantly, removing all pain in a magical sort of way, and show us what we are to do in, perhaps in a great billboard in the sky. (How many times have I asked God for that?) But Jesus doesn’t do any of that.
     
    Instead, Jesus tells the story of a man attacked by robbers, and how the religious leaders pass him by — and the Samaritan, of all people, cares for him. Jesus eats with those with power, certainly, but over and over chooses to spend his time with tax collectors, sinners, and outcasts. Of all the conversations Jesus had that are recorded in our gospels, the longest conversation takes place by a well, in the middle of the day, with a Samaritan woman. He heals on the Sabbath, proclaims forgiveness of sins, and in so many other ways, Jesus is constantly pushing the boundaries, stepping outside of accepted norms, and challenging the powers that be with the expansive force of God’s love.
     
    And now he has raised a person from the dead, and has people believing that he can save them too. And he enters the city, a crowd leading the way for him, in a procession that is far less ornate than Pilate’s, but patterned after it so closely that it almost seems to mock with its simplicity and inclusion of the very people Pilate would like to control. It's also interesting to know that palms were meant to be waved only for national heroes, not for “ordinary people,” adding insult to injury for Pilate. Not military might, not conforming to norms, but showing up in a way one would not expect of God incarnate — and making a farce of the emperor while he’s at it. No wonder the city was in turmoil!
     
    Our second reading today gives us one explanation of what Jesus was up to as he walked and talked and ministered among God’s people on this earth, and perhaps what God is still up to in our world today. Jesus, Paul writes, “Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.”
     
    Jesus came to be a king, absolutely, but not the kind of king who rules with military might and force and controls through fear and intimidation, but a king who empties himself out of obedience. We might think of Jesus as one who so embodied God’s love for all of us that he couldn’t help but enter into the very depths of our pain and brokenness and empty himself, pouring out his love on all of creation, all of us, even if it meant suffering and dying on the cross.
     
    And this is where God in Jesus exceeds our expectations, over and over and over again. No matter what we do, or what happens to us, Jesus does not turn away. No matter what the mistakes we make, God is always there to forgive, and guide us closer to God’s kin-dom. And however unworthy we may feel, Jesus constantly calls us to be part of the procession, leading the way and proclaiming that Jesus will, in ways we may never expect, save us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-11
  • Mar 21, 2021A Place to Belong
    Mar 21, 2021
    A Place to Belong
    Series: (All)
    March 21, 2021. The truth of our identity as children of God is in our very DNA. We humans struggle. But ultimately we don’t have to struggle to see Jesus, because he draws us to him.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12:20-33
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    From the time we're born, we human beings long to know who we are and where we belong. When we're infants, those who love and care for us watch and listen for each little gurgle and smile and coo, and they delight as they see our unique personalities emerging. And as we grow, we figure out how we fit in our family, adjusting as younger siblings are born, grandparents or others move in or out, or as family members die. Our families are generally our first place of belonging, and our first place of discovering who we are.
     
    As we grow older, that process continues. We go to school, we make our first friends, maybe find a best friend, another person with whom we fit. We go to college, leaving our families behind, and after a time find our “people.” And along with what we learn in the classroom, we learn about ourselves in ways we would never have expected. We begin to find out who we are as adults, and dream of what our lives might be like when we are on our own — where we'll live, what our purpose will be, who we'll spend our time with, who we will be, and where and with whom we'll belong.
     
    We find out at some point along the way that we will never be completely done with this. Divorce, death, loss in abilities or illness, employment transition, even perhaps a pandemic, could lead to a change in our circumstances we didn’t anticipate. And we may once again find ourselves wondering who we are and where we belong, long after we thought we had figured that out.
     
    There can be joy and excitement along the way. And the process can also bring loneliness, isolation, confusion, grief, frustration, and a host of other very real human emotions. The truth is, becoming the person God created us to be, and finding our purpose and place of belonging, are not easy — not for us, or for those close to us.
     
    If we have ever struggled with this, or are struggling with it now, we can find a lot of hope in our readings for today. Because one thing that becomes clear as we listen is that God understands our need for belonging, and how easy it is to forget who we are. Jeremiah is bringing God’s word to a people who have been exiled, cut off from the place they belonged and from many of those they belonged with. It even felt to them that they had been cut off from God, as they had been driven away from the temple in Jerusalem where they had celebrated all of their holy days, the place they went to be with God.
     
    Perhaps we can understand that better now than ever, when it is almost exactly a year since we celebrated our first Zoom worship. We have, in a very real sense, been living through a time of exile, from our church building and for many of us also from our schools and workplaces, and we've been physically separated from one another in ways we have never experienced before. We have had to do so much rethinking about who we spend our time with, and how. We as a community have had to reimagine what it means to be church, and how to minister together.
     
    I find it really encouraging to know that none of this is new. God knew how hard it was for the Israelites, and through Jeremiah’s words, he reminded them of who they were: ones with God’s promise written on their hearts. And the same is true for us. Think about that for a moment. God has written God’s promise on our hearts. Your council reflected on this at our monthly meeting this last week, and shared what this means for them: forgiveness, as we know God is with us when we make mistakes, guiding us back to the right path, knowing that no matter how hard or confusing things are, God will show us what we need to know. Comfort, in trusting God's presence, even in chaotic or frightening times. And the freedom to be the people God has created us to be. Our identity as beloved of God is coded in our DNA. Nothing can change that. In spite of recent declarations that LGBTQ people are not acceptable as they are, the constant denial of basic human rights and dignity of People of Color, the shootings targeting Asian people in Atlanta that took eight lives this week, the brutal assault on life and freedom of people in Myanmar who are calling for justice, the trauma and exile of pandemic. Despite all of that, God is faithful, and the promise holds. We don’t have to struggle and work and study and strive to belong to God. We just belong.
     
    In our gospel from John today, Jesus tells everyone listening just how faithful God is to this promise. John tells us that two Greek people showed up wanting to see Jesus, and in response, Jesus says not only that all people are welcome, but that this is exactly why he came — to draw us all to himself, and to God. Jesus doesn’t shy away from the pain and the struggle of that call. He says that his death will lead to the life that is promised, and that it is through being raised on the cross that we will be drawn together. Jesus, in John, knows who he is and what he is here to do, and it is all part of that plan to bring us home.
     
    This world carries so much beauty and promise, and we know this year more than most that there is pain and suffering in this life too. As Mr. Jesse is saying, there are things that are positive and strong and happy and hopeful, and there is struggle and mistakes and pain in this world too. And through all of it, the truth of the cross is clear. As much as we humans may wonder and question and seek, God’s promise is coded in our very DNA, so nothing can erase it. No matter what else happens or what changes may come, no matter what challenges or pain we face, through the cross, Jesus calls us all to him. It's what he came to do, and it is where we belong.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jesse Helton, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12:20-33, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Mar 17, 2021The Truth of Being Beloved
    Mar 17, 2021
    The Truth of Being Beloved
    Series: (All)
    March 17, 2021. Tonight's testimonial comes from Rachel Helton, who shares with us the idea that finding the truth can be complicated. Some things that are not true can sound and almost feel true. And some things are so absurd that they sound like lies, but are actually true.
     
    Reading: John 8:12-20, John 3:16
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Have any of you ever played the game Two Truths and a Lie? So I’ve played this game both as a kid in the middle of the night at slumber parties, and as an adult as an icebreaker activity. And so if you haven’t played it, here’s how it works: you tell the group of people that you're with two true statements (usually about yourself) and one that's a lie, and then the group has to try and figure out which of the things you're saying is the lie. So if it were my turn, it might go something like this: as a kid I used to ride my bike to my grandma’s house almost every day; I once had a pet goat; I learned to drive a tractor before I learned to drive a car. Okay, those are my three things. And depending on how well you know me, and how much you know about my life as a kid growing up on our family’s farm in rural Illinois, you may or may not be able to pick out which one of those is the lie.
     
    So interestingly when you're playing this game, the more absurd your truths are, the more complicated it is to tease out which one of your statements is the lie — because they all sound suspiciously untrue, right? So if I were to say: I once rode an elephant through the streets of a city in India; I once came within 20 feet of a leopard shark while snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef; and I once walked on a suspension bridge made of rope above the rainforest canopy in west Africa. Now which one of those is the lie? It gets a little bit trickier, right? Because they all sound somewhat far-fetched and untrue, right?
     
    And on the flip side, if your lie is really close to the truth, it makes it hard to spot. So this is my last example, I promise — and if you want to play this game on your own later, you are welcome to do that. So, here are my last three statements: today is the birthday of a kid who's pretty special to me; on my next birthday I’ll be 45; next Sunday is the baptismal birthday of one of my own kids. It might be hard to find the lie, because those three statements probably all sound like they probably could be true.
     
    So all that to say: finding the truth can be complicated. And that’s maybe why I’ve struggled to put down into words the reflection that I wanted to share tonight. The more we know about the subject or the person, the easier it is. But sometimes, it requires us to trust that something that sounds completely absurd, just might actually be true. And sometimes it requires us to question whether something that sounds “mostly true” might in fact be a lie.
     
    So when our son Isaac was a baby, Easter fell on the same date as it does this year. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Lent from the year 2010. The first time we ever took Isaac out in public, we took him to the Ash Wednesday service at our church — and he wasn’t even a month old yet then. When I went forward to be marked with ashes, our pastor reached out and marked the cross on my forehead with ashes, and then without even a moment's hesitation he reached down and traced the cross on the forehead of the baby who was sleeping in my arms.
     
    I remember thinking wow, this kid hasn’t even been baptized yet. He hasn't even received a blessing at communion. For goodness sakes, his belly button hasn’t even healed. He had just arrived to the world, and here we were marking that he would one day return to dust — that his life on earth, just like mine and yours, would someday end. And the truth of that felt so very heavy to me. And it wouldn’t be hard for me to get stuck in the weight of that truth — the truth that we are sinful and mortal.
     
    A good friend recently reminded me though that the ashes that mark our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are mixed with the oil that anoints us at our baptisms, so that that mark of our mortality is also the promise of life, the promise of being chosen and beloved — not because of anything we do or don’t do, but because of who God is.
     
    The truth of being beloved, no matter who I am or what I do or don't do, is almost too absurd to sound true. The lie that I sometimes hear myself saying to myself is that I can earn God’s love, maybe even that I should somehow earn God’s love — because that almost sounds true by the standards of the world.
     
    But there’s another lie that sometimes sneaks in — that because I am freed by grace, because I am given it without having to earn it, that I am also freed from any responsibility. And that part is simply not true.
     
    In tonight’s reading, Jesus says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world… the light of life.” And in Sunday’s reading from John chapter 3 we heard that God so loved the world that God sent his only Son into it, not for the sake of wagging an accusing finger at us, but to bring about justice and to put the world right again. And I really think that we have a responsibility to be a part of that ongoing work of bringing about God’s justice and love in the world.
     
    So in a world of uncertainty, of indistinction where sometimes it's hard to tell the truth from the lies, in a world where we do not need to look hard to be reminded that we will one day die, the truth that I’m holding onto right now, no matter how hard it is sometimes to believe, is that I am beloved — beloved by a God who is life. And being loved by the God of life frees me from trying to earn God’s love. It frees me to focus on loving others, and to participate in bringing about God’s justice. That is my responsibility.
     
    And just for the record: I’ve never driven a tractor, and I’ll be 44 (not 45) on my next birthday, and I’ve never snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef. And as far as those truths go? Well, if you're watching, happy birthday Xavier!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Rachel Helton, John 8:12-20, John 3:16
  • Mar 14, 2021The Power of the Cross
    Mar 14, 2021
    The Power of the Cross
    Series: (All)
    March 14, 2021. Challenges are part of human experience, and our life is meant to be lived in their midst. God doesn't always remove our challenges, but God does show us mercy. God promises he will always be with us no matter what happens, that suffering and death will not be the final word. And as Pastor Meagan preaches today, the cross is evidence for that.
     
    Readings: Numbers 21:4-9
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    On March 7, 1965 black people and allies, led by 25-year-old John Lewis, marched toward the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama as part of a long, hard journey for freedom — and in particular the right for black people to vote. They planned to cross the bridge that day and continue on to Montgomery, but instead they were met by one of the more brutal assaults in the history of civil rights. So much blood was shed, and so many people died as the result of dogs, chains, hoses, and clubs, that it became known as Bloody Sunday. After that attack, many wondered if they should just give up. Martin Luther King himself, it is said, wondered about the wisdom of trying again after what had happened.
     
    And in spite of the progress that has been made since then, the struggle against racism continues. And this week the Minneapolis community is praying its way through the beginning of the trial for the person who murdered George Floyd last May 25th. The same pain, wondering, exhaustion, and woundedness the freedom fighters felt after Bloody Sunday is very real among those still working for justice today in George Floyd Square.
     
    The Israelites' journey from Egypt to the Promised Land had been really long, and like the march to Montgomery and the struggle for justice today, it was not exactly easy. They had been walking in the desert for literally years, nearly starved before God provided manna for them. And when some of them were taken captive by the Canaanites, they had to fight to defeat them. And they still weren’t there yet.
     
    And as our journey in COVID continues — one year ago tomorrow we made the decision to close our buildings for a while — we may be feeling this too. We are so tired, but we still haven’t arrived yet. The Israelites’ walk continued, and after all that time they were getting really sick of eating only manna. And, we are told, they complained not once, but continually. They whined, as Mr. Jesse talked about. “Are we there yet?!”
     
    So often, we move along in our routines until we find ourselves expecting that this is how life should be. Work gets done, bills paid, vacations taken, decisions made, perhaps with some bumps along the way, but more or less predictable. And when things happen to make life difficult, our first response is typically to complain, as the Israelites did. The food is not good or hot or fast enough. The internet keeps cutting out on us, right in the middle of that email we’re sending — or worse yet, in the middle of a Zoom meeting with our boss or our teacher. We have to wait too long in traffic, or the doctor’s office, or the grocery store.
     
    The Israelites were sick of manna, and they complained. It's so human, isn't it? And they soon found themselves facing something much bigger than boring food. Poisonous snakes, perhaps symbolic of the toxic atmosphere they had created in their community, came into the camp, and many of them died. Suddenly the food didn’t matter, and they realized how foolish they had been, having forgotten that God freed them, fed them, and given them water to drink when they were thirsty — having forgotten that they still had each other, that God was still with them. They realized their sin and told Moses to ask God to have mercy on them. And in the mind of the Israelites, mercy meant removing the snakes that were biting them.
     
    God didn’t remove the snakes, but God did show mercy. Interestingly enough, the proof of God’s mercy looked just like the thing the Israelites feared the most: the snakes. God told Moses to raise a bronze serpent in the middle of the camp, a reminder of both the sin of the people, and the faithfulness of God. Like Mr. Jesse said, God is big enough for all this, isn't he? By looking at the bronze serpent raised in their camp, the Israelites saw that their God was bigger than a few poisonous reptiles, and even their own sin and brokenness. God assured them that God was with them, even in the midst of this. The snakes remained, but the people lived. A source of pain and fear and death was transformed into a symbol of God’s faithfulness and triumph over death. And I am struck that as we read these passages this year, in the middle of George Floyd Square in Minneapolis another bronze statue has been raised — an image of a black hand, a reminder of both the pain and damage of the sin of racism that still exists, and the resilience and hope of redemption to come for all of us.
     
    Often, the big challenges in our lives — unemployment, illness, death — are not removed either. These things are not interruptions to the life we are supposed to live, although they can certainly feel that way. Nor are they, as the Israelites believed, punishment from God for sin — although at times, if we're honest, it can feel like that too. The truth is, the challenges of life are all a part of human experience, and our life is meant to be lived in their midst. Sometimes these challenges are of our own making, or someone else’s, and they truly are the result of choices made, natural consequences of our sin. And sometimes, difficult things just happen. Life is not always easy, and it is certainly not what we might think of as fair. But either way, the struggles and pain we experience does not mean that God has abandoned us.
     
    God never promised that life would be easy, or go according to our plans, but God did promise that God would be faithful to the covenant and always be with us, no matter what happens. God did promise that suffering and death will not be the final word. And the proof of that for us as Christians is revealed in another symbol of pain and humiliation and death — the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. As we make our way through Lent, we look to the cross, and remember not only the reality of Jesus’ death, but the truth that because of the resurrection, the cross, like the bronze snake, is transformed into evidence that God has power over everything, even death.
     
    Our encounter with the cross of Jesus does not take away the challenges of our lives, but it transforms them — it transforms us. When we are finished with our complaining, our questioning, our blaming, God is still right there with us, and the cross of Jesus is proof of that promise. The cross reminds us that the little things in life — long lines, spotty internet service, cold food — are not really that important. And the big things, the real sin and pain and struggles of life, are not too much for God to handle.
     
    God created us to bring good and beauty into this world, and we can trust God to make it possible for us to do that, even when we don’t see how we can possibly make a difference. The Israelites, and centuries later the marchers in Selma, and today those who continue to seek healing and justice in Minneapolis and across the country, lived out that truth in every step they took. We too are called to march on, carrying the truth of faith in that struggle.
     
    When we in our humanity fail, as we are bound to, the cross reminds us that God is still there, giving us the courage and the strength to face the ways we have caused or contributed to the struggles of this world. We have seen in the last year how economic injustice and inequities in access to health care and other resources that continue to exist have resulted in a stark disparity in how the pandemic has impacted marginalized communities, and how reluctance to change allows these and other wounds in the world to continue.
     
    Debie Thomas says in her blog this week, “In other words, he unveiled the poison, he showed us the snake, he revealed what our human kingdoms, left to themselves, will  always become unless God in God’s mercy delivers us. In the cross, we are forced to see what our refusal to love . . . , our hatred of difference, our addiction to judgment, and our fear of the Other must wreak. When the Son of Man is lifted up, we see with chilling and desperate clarity our need for a God who will take our most horrific instruments of death, and transform them, at great cost, for the purposes of resurrection.” We look to the cross, acknowledge our sin, and ask God for forgiveness and help. And we're renewed for the journey.
     
    When we're in pain, the cross is a symbol of the promise that even death is not the final word. We have a God who answers prayer, if not in the ways we might expect. God has promised to be with us, to lead us to truth and redemption when we can’t see the way.
     
    God will not break the covenant, no matter how we stumble. From the Israelites in the desert, to the marchers in Selma in 1965, to each of us today, God loves, forgives, and strengthens us. Nothing is too much for God to handle — even our whining. And every time we see the cross, we are reminded of the lengths God will go to keep that promise.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Numbers 21:4-9, Jesse Helton, pandemic, COVID-19, coronavirus, Debie Thomas
  • Mar 10, 2021Telling the Truth When it Matters
    Mar 10, 2021
    Telling the Truth When it Matters
    Series: (All)
    March 10, 2021. In tonight's testimonial, Jon Heerboth reflects on telling the truth. He relates the story of a young student who confessed the truth of his actions after 60 years of carrying the guilt around with him, and contrasts it with the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, telling the truth as he saw it and facing the consequences immediately.
     
    Readings: Mark 11:15-19, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Aren't we lucky to hear this same, wonderful story about Jesus cleansing the temple twice in one week? We had the lesson from John on Sunday, and my favorite version of this story from Mark tonight. So crisp, and Mark always leaves you wanting a little more.
     
    But tonight I want to talk to you about Frieda Peck. Frieda Peck was a legend in the school district I served for the last ten years prior to my retirement. She was a high school teacher for many years, and then became the high school principal in our small town, when the high school was the center of community life. Ms. Peck, according to her former students — all of whom were in their 70s and 80s — was an intimidating woman. They knew when she spoke, she meant business.
     
    In 1956 Ms. Peck disciplined a boy, who came back that night and threw a brick through the principal’s window. (It was one of those that was reinforced with metal wire. We used to see that back then.) He was angry about some discipline action and took it out on the school. He was too scared of the consequences to ever bring himself to fess up.
     
    In 2015 I received a letter from him in my office, and a $50 check. The young man — who was now an old man — was dying, and he wanted to confess and make good on the damage he did almost sixty years before. He carried that guilt around with him all his life. This sort of thing happened to me several times in my career as a school administrator. As people neared the end, they wanted to make something that had been wrong in the past into something that was right for them.
     
    So at the point of death, the man felt compelled to tell the truth and somehow to make this right. I guess he felt better about himself, but that truth didn’t matter anymore. I asked around. No one had seen him in the decades after high school. In 1956 he was angry, and then he was afraid when he realized what he had done. He couldn’t face up to the truth, and it affected his life to the point of his death. But according to his obituary he was a good and faithful family man, who regularly volunteered to visit and minister his faith to people who were in prison. The lapse in behavior from his school days did not keep him from having a good life.
     
    Jesus, on the other hand, faced the truth immediately when he walked through the temple grounds in the gospel for today. At that time people believed that goods and wealth were finite, so that one person’s gain was another person’s loss. Calling the temple square a "den of robbers," where thieves stored their stolen goods that others might have had, was a harsh condemnation. Jesus called it like he saw it. I can imagine the disciples with him at the time. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Wait a minute,” they might say. “Lighten up, man. You’re going to get us all killed.” But Jesus was willing to face the immediate consequences of telling the truth as he saw it.
     
    The business of the temple was to enrich the traders, the priests, the Romans — at the expense of the poorer people. “Don’t you know,” Jesus said, “This is supposed to be a house of prayer for all the nations?” A place of prayer for all nations. That’s the truth he was willing to risk death to pronounce. Jesus calls our church to confront the truth of our own mission, to proclaim the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Christ.
     
    You’ll recall, I'm sure, the lesson from last Sunday from 1 Corinthians: For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
     
    Who was scared of Jesus’ truth? It was the people he spoke against — the temple bigwigs. Jesus had his listeners spellbound, the text said. He paid the price for it later when they crucified him. But his teaching and truth-telling left the people spellbound, and the leaders were terrified of that.
     
    One of Ms. Peck’s former students told me that he spent four years terrified of the woman. And then, on their senior class trip to Chicago, she took them all dancing and they had the time of their lives. Sometimes the truth is tough to discern when we don’t have the wisdom to separate our fears from truth. Let’s grasp our truth: that Jesus suffered, died, and rose so that together we are free to confess our sins, embrace our forgiveness, and be people of prayer and service to all the nations.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jonathan (Jon) Heerboth, Mark 11:15-19, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
  • Mar 7, 2021The Commandments and Holy Anger
    Mar 7, 2021
    The Commandments and Holy Anger
    Series: (All)
    March 7, 2021. Today's sermon is on how the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, paired with the Ten Commandments as a guide for our lives, gives us a lot to think about.
     
    Readings: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, John 2:13-22
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When I was kid I was really strange: I actually loved the rules! I knew them all and followed them, well, religiously. And not only did I follow them, but I made it my job to be sure you did too. I remember being in third grade and getting into an argument with a friend in the classroom, because she wanted to break a rule and I was trying to stop her. I can still tell you to this day what the rule was, why she thought it was okay to break, and why she was wrong. And I remember coming home from school on more than one occasion to report to my mom that my brother hadn’t worn his hat and mittens on recess. I had a really good whine to it, too. As my brothers can attest, I was lots of fun at parties! I'm guessing I'm not alone in this.
     
    Some of you, on the other hand, likely follow or followed my brothers’ perspective on the rules — that it only counts as breaking rules if you get caught. And someone from a text study this week shared that they have always been inclined not to break the rules exactly, but to push the edge just a bit, just to see how far they could go.
     
    Whatever your perspective, it certainly is a fact, like Mr. Jesse pointed out, that rules are a part of life. Traffic laws, classroom rules, rules against things that harm others, rules that help keep order. And these days, rules for public health: mask mandates, capacity limitations, and distancing — all for the purpose of lessening our risk of catching or passing on the virus that is still circulating. And our motives for following them can range from wanting to protect ourselves and others, to fear of the consequences if we are caught not following them.
     
    For those of us who do like the rules, the first reading today is a real treasure, the ultimate in rule books: the 10 Commandments. Some of us may still be able to recite them by heart: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Here we have a set of rules that has been handed down to us for millennia, from God!
     
    We as Christians often, I think, overlook the 10 Commandments, perhaps relegating it to a thing we had to learn and study in Confirmation class — perhaps thinking, mistakenly, that since Jesus came the law just isn’t important anymore. We may even have heard it said that Jesus came to overturn the law. As we hear our gospel story about Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers and making a ruckus in the synagogue, which could be interpreted to be a story of Jesus tearing down Judaism, it's really important to remember that Jesus was Jewish. As a faithful Jewish teacher, Jesus probably felt about the law and the commandments the way the psalmist describes today — reviving, rejoicing, enduring, true, desirable, sweeter, clear, enlightening. Wow. All of that, for a list of rules, like honor your father and mother, you shall not murder, you shall not steal?
     
    Luther shared a great appreciation for the Commandments, and had actually a lot to say about them — not just as a list of do's and don’ts, but as a guide for our lives. Because ultimately Jesus tells us in Matthew, like Mr. Jesse pointed out today, the greatest commandment is love of God and love of neighbor. As we humans wrestle with how to live out the law, how to be in relationship with one another, the answer is simply to love.
     
    Simple but not easy. We humans often need specifics to help us get it — specifics like don’t covet our neighbor’s goods, and don’t bear false witness against one another. And still, we fall and get up, and fall and get up, and fall again... Luther makes it clear, as he describes the law, that we will never be able to live this out perfectly. Part of what we learn from understanding the law is that we on our own can’t do it. We humans will always and forever need God to help and guide us along the way.
     
    We need to be reminded, often, that the whole purpose of the law to begin with is to guide our life in community, and guide our relationship with God. As Fred Buechner writes, “The difficulty is increased when you realize that by loving God and your neighbors, Jesus doesn't mean loving as primarily a feeling. Instead, he seems to mean that whether or not any feeling is involved, loving God means honoring and obeying and staying in constant touch with God, and loving your neighbors means acting in their best interests no matter what, even if personally you can't stand them.”
     
    As Luther says in his explanation of the eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” not only are we not to tell lies or slander, but we are to “come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” Even, to echo Buechner again, if you personally can’t stand them.
     
    Simple, but certainly not easy. We will never be able to do this on our own, and we are greatly mistaken if we think we can, or if we think that doing so is required to earn God’s approval — that we can simply check the boxes and know that we have made it, somehow. Jesus understands this, I think.
     
    And Jesus, in his zeal in the courtyard of the temple, is reminding all of us of two other very important things about the law. One is that faith is not just about what we do in the sanctuary. Our faith is meant to be lived out in every aspect of our lives, in all of our relationships. As Jesus turns the tables, he is telling the money changers in no uncertain terms that they don’t get to profit off of their neighbors in the courtyard, and then enter the sanctuary and feel good about themselves. The 10 Commandments offer us not a way to earn our righteousness badge or as a measure by which to judge others, but a guide for embodying the love of God and neighbor in everything we do — especially with those we don’t like. All of this leads us to realize once again that sacred space and our lives of faith are not limited to what happens in the sanctuary, that sacred space is not defined by walls, but by how we live. How do we live sacred space? The barriers are down, and our whole lives become sacred!
     
    The other thing Jesus is telling the money changers and us is that the path of faith, the way we live with God and our neighbors, is not transactional — it's relational. Jesus’ burning zeal and passion came from holy anger at the barriers of wealth and privilege that prevented some from having access to the temple. In turning over the tables in the courtyard, Jesus is removing artificial barriers that had been placed between the people and God, ensuring that everyone could enter the temple without going through the money changers.
     
    This is one of the more interesting stories of Jesus we have in our gospels. We don’t often see Jesus get angry, but we see today that he did. If you are like me, this can be a really uncomfortable truth. I like the rules, after all, and isn’t one of the rules to not show anger like that? And yet, sometimes faithful love calls us to holy anger. And I will admit too, as one who has experienced barriers to the sanctuary in my own life, that in spite of my discomfort with passionate anger, there is something very satisfying about seeing Jesus let loose today.
     
    This story of Jesus turning over the tables, paired with the 10 Commandments as a guide for our lives, gives us a lot to think about. So I will leave you with just a few questions to reflect on. What about our faith brings out our passion? What are we willing to turn tables to proclaim or to defend? What walls and barriers are we willing to tear down, to ensure that someone who is excluded can come in? And whose wrath are we willing to risk?
     
    As our gospel ends today, there is one other thing to note as we continue our journey with Jesus of Nazareth in these 40 days of Lent. Jesus foreshadows his death, telling them that the temple of his body will be destroyed, and then says that it will be raised again in three days. The disciples, we're told, don’t get it then, or in the few days following Jesus’s death. It is only after Jesus has risen from the dead that they understand what he was trying to tell them — that he would die, but that would not be the end of the story. Sometimes the old has to die before the new can emerge. Love and life would prevail, even after the horror of Good Friday. And this is the promise of God revealed in all our scriptures: life springs forth in the most unexpected places, and death will never be the final word.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, YouTube, video, Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, Martin Luther, Fred Buechner