Sermons

           

Mar 20, 2022
Dig the Soil and Add the Fertilizer
Series: (All)
March 20, 2022. Why? The need to know is a very human thing. We humans have been asking for centuries why bad things happen to good people. The sermon today is about our reading from Luke on Jesus' response to the suffering of the Galileans, and the parable of the barren fig tree.
 
Reading: Luke 13:1-9
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Years ago, I was babysitting for my cousin’s three kids, the youngest of whom was about two or three at the time. Ben’s favorite word was “why.” “What’s this?” “These are my glasses.” “Why?” “So I can see with them.” “Why?” “Because my eyes need help. You can try them, but you need to be very gentle.” “Why?” “Because they’re breakable.” “They’re breakable… why?” At this point, I couldn’t help it anymore and I began to laugh. Then I promptly needed to apologize, and explain to an offended Ben that my glasses were breakable because they could break.
 
It seems like most of us go through that phase of asking why about everything we encounter, in our quest to learn about the world that we live in. And for the most part we grow out of that, perhaps because we learn to search for answers to a lot of our questions ourselves. (Google is really helpful, isn't it?) Or perhaps because we begin to feel confident in our capacity to understand the world to our satisfaction, and even at times feel a certain level of control over our lives, illusory though that might be.
 
The last few years have shattered that illusion of control in spades, hasn’t it? Two years ago, we celebrated my installation with Bishop Candea joining us. And two years ago, we were all entering into a world that at the time we could never have imagined. The pandemic, along with everything else that has been occupying our newsfeed, is enough to have us all scrambling to find ways to manage the chaos. And enough to have us all asking why as much as Ben, although about far weightier subjects than eyeglasses.
 
Why a pandemic? Why so much upheaval, with so much people in so much pain? Why so much heartless attack on the dignity and lives of vulnerable people, like trans people and their families and allies, who aren’t hurting anyone? Why such a bloodthirsty lust for land and power that they, and we, don’t need, that leads to inhumane treatment of people at our borders, or terrifying war in Ukraine, and so many other places in the world that we have honestly forgotten about most of them? This? Now? Really, God? Why?
 
The desire — the need — to know is a very human thing. We humans have been asking why bad things happen to good people for so many centuries that books have been written in an attempt to answer that question. (And it is interesting that we don’t necessarily ask why around good things — getting the new job, a clean bill of health, or a just resolution to conflict — but about things at their worst.) It's so much a part of human nature that when people tell Jesus about the death of the Galileans, they don’t have to actually ask the question. Jesus hears the question in the telling... Why did these people all die?
 
And beyond that, Jesus hears the speculations and the suspicions they carry. The same speculations held by those who looked at the man born blind and asked Jesus, “Who sinned, to cause his blindness?” The same that has us ask today when someone is the victim of a crime, “Why were they there? What were they doing? Do they have a criminal record?” There must be a reason. They must have caused it, somehow.
 
The first thing Jesus does in our gospel today is acknowledge the why, and name the assumed answers that he knows people carry. “Do you think they died because they were worse sinners than anyone else? Do you think this is punishment for their wrongdoing?” And Jesus’ answer is an emphatic, “No. This same thing could happen to you too,” taking away any safety they may have felt by thinking that the victims of these tragedies had done something to deserve what happened to them.
 
As I felt the harshness of this, I realized how clearly this illustrates the truth that when we judge others, and try to figure out what they did wrong, in conscious or unconscious hope that we will not suffer the way that they did, we are inevitably judging ourselves, too. By judging others, we are in a sense guaranteeing that we will share their fate, that we too will find ourselves lost not only in the brokenness of this world, but in judgment — our own and others.
 
Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop there. At first, the story of the fig tree seems oddly out of place in the context of the conversation Jesus is having, but as he shares this short parable, Jesus actually tells us what to do when the “whys” of life elude us. We hear first the judgment. “See that fig tree? It’s not good enough. Cut it down.” And then we hear the new way that Jesus is suggesting for us. “Let me nurture it, do the bit I can to give it a chance for life, and give it time. Let’s see what happens.” There is no promise here of the outcome. We never hear what happens to the fig tree in the end. It is not the responsibility of the gardener to make the tree bear fruit, after all. They simply do what they can, what they are moved to do, to embody love and grace in the place they are, in the time they have.
 
The same is true for us. Like the gardener, we cannot on our own solve the problems of the world, accomplish all the things, make all trees bear fruit — not even ourselves. Like the gardener, we are invited in each moment to do the thing we're moved to do, to embody love and grace in the place we are, in the time we have. To dig soil and add fertilizer, if you will, and entrust the rest to God’s loving care.
 
And through it all, in Christ we know that God is with us. The God who formed the world, shaped each of us and breathed life into us, has walked with us these last two years of ministry together in a pandemic, guiding and inspiring us as we creatively dug soil and added fertilizer to our community through parking lot food and school supply collections, Palm Sunday processions, park and churchyard cleanups wearing our masks, Saturday evening churchyard worship, and parking lot Advent children's program, trunk or treat, and so many other things.
 
And God will be with us in the years to come, as we continue to follow the Spirit and discover how we are called in this place, and this time, to embody the love, justice, and grace of God in the world around us.
 
Jesus ends the parable with an invitation to patience and trust, knowing that it takes time for fertilizer to work and fruit to grow. And so I end with the words from Archbishop Oscar Romero to encourage us on our journey.
 
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that's the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
 
So let us go and dig soil and add fertilizer, and wait to see what the Spirit will do.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 13:1-9, COVID-19, coronavirus, Prophets of Future Not Our Own, Archbishop Oscar Romero
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  • Mar 20, 2022Dig the Soil and Add the Fertilizer
    Mar 20, 2022
    Dig the Soil and Add the Fertilizer
    Series: (All)
    March 20, 2022. Why? The need to know is a very human thing. We humans have been asking for centuries why bad things happen to good people. The sermon today is about our reading from Luke on Jesus' response to the suffering of the Galileans, and the parable of the barren fig tree.
     
    Reading: Luke 13:1-9
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Years ago, I was babysitting for my cousin’s three kids, the youngest of whom was about two or three at the time. Ben’s favorite word was “why.” “What’s this?” “These are my glasses.” “Why?” “So I can see with them.” “Why?” “Because my eyes need help. You can try them, but you need to be very gentle.” “Why?” “Because they’re breakable.” “They’re breakable… why?” At this point, I couldn’t help it anymore and I began to laugh. Then I promptly needed to apologize, and explain to an offended Ben that my glasses were breakable because they could break.
     
    It seems like most of us go through that phase of asking why about everything we encounter, in our quest to learn about the world that we live in. And for the most part we grow out of that, perhaps because we learn to search for answers to a lot of our questions ourselves. (Google is really helpful, isn't it?) Or perhaps because we begin to feel confident in our capacity to understand the world to our satisfaction, and even at times feel a certain level of control over our lives, illusory though that might be.
     
    The last few years have shattered that illusion of control in spades, hasn’t it? Two years ago, we celebrated my installation with Bishop Candea joining us. And two years ago, we were all entering into a world that at the time we could never have imagined. The pandemic, along with everything else that has been occupying our newsfeed, is enough to have us all scrambling to find ways to manage the chaos. And enough to have us all asking why as much as Ben, although about far weightier subjects than eyeglasses.
     
    Why a pandemic? Why so much upheaval, with so much people in so much pain? Why so much heartless attack on the dignity and lives of vulnerable people, like trans people and their families and allies, who aren’t hurting anyone? Why such a bloodthirsty lust for land and power that they, and we, don’t need, that leads to inhumane treatment of people at our borders, or terrifying war in Ukraine, and so many other places in the world that we have honestly forgotten about most of them? This? Now? Really, God? Why?
     
    The desire — the need — to know is a very human thing. We humans have been asking why bad things happen to good people for so many centuries that books have been written in an attempt to answer that question. (And it is interesting that we don’t necessarily ask why around good things — getting the new job, a clean bill of health, or a just resolution to conflict — but about things at their worst.) It's so much a part of human nature that when people tell Jesus about the death of the Galileans, they don’t have to actually ask the question. Jesus hears the question in the telling... Why did these people all die?
     
    And beyond that, Jesus hears the speculations and the suspicions they carry. The same speculations held by those who looked at the man born blind and asked Jesus, “Who sinned, to cause his blindness?” The same that has us ask today when someone is the victim of a crime, “Why were they there? What were they doing? Do they have a criminal record?” There must be a reason. They must have caused it, somehow.
     
    The first thing Jesus does in our gospel today is acknowledge the why, and name the assumed answers that he knows people carry. “Do you think they died because they were worse sinners than anyone else? Do you think this is punishment for their wrongdoing?” And Jesus’ answer is an emphatic, “No. This same thing could happen to you too,” taking away any safety they may have felt by thinking that the victims of these tragedies had done something to deserve what happened to them.
     
    As I felt the harshness of this, I realized how clearly this illustrates the truth that when we judge others, and try to figure out what they did wrong, in conscious or unconscious hope that we will not suffer the way that they did, we are inevitably judging ourselves, too. By judging others, we are in a sense guaranteeing that we will share their fate, that we too will find ourselves lost not only in the brokenness of this world, but in judgment — our own and others.
     
    Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop there. At first, the story of the fig tree seems oddly out of place in the context of the conversation Jesus is having, but as he shares this short parable, Jesus actually tells us what to do when the “whys” of life elude us. We hear first the judgment. “See that fig tree? It’s not good enough. Cut it down.” And then we hear the new way that Jesus is suggesting for us. “Let me nurture it, do the bit I can to give it a chance for life, and give it time. Let’s see what happens.” There is no promise here of the outcome. We never hear what happens to the fig tree in the end. It is not the responsibility of the gardener to make the tree bear fruit, after all. They simply do what they can, what they are moved to do, to embody love and grace in the place they are, in the time they have.
     
    The same is true for us. Like the gardener, we cannot on our own solve the problems of the world, accomplish all the things, make all trees bear fruit — not even ourselves. Like the gardener, we are invited in each moment to do the thing we're moved to do, to embody love and grace in the place we are, in the time we have. To dig soil and add fertilizer, if you will, and entrust the rest to God’s loving care.
     
    And through it all, in Christ we know that God is with us. The God who formed the world, shaped each of us and breathed life into us, has walked with us these last two years of ministry together in a pandemic, guiding and inspiring us as we creatively dug soil and added fertilizer to our community through parking lot food and school supply collections, Palm Sunday processions, park and churchyard cleanups wearing our masks, Saturday evening churchyard worship, and parking lot Advent children's program, trunk or treat, and so many other things.
     
    And God will be with us in the years to come, as we continue to follow the Spirit and discover how we are called in this place, and this time, to embody the love, justice, and grace of God in the world around us.
     
    Jesus ends the parable with an invitation to patience and trust, knowing that it takes time for fertilizer to work and fruit to grow. And so I end with the words from Archbishop Oscar Romero to encourage us on our journey.
     
    “It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that's the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
     
    So let us go and dig soil and add fertilizer, and wait to see what the Spirit will do.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 13:1-9, COVID-19, coronavirus, Prophets of Future Not Our Own, Archbishop Oscar Romero
  • Mar 13, 2022So That They May Live
    Mar 13, 2022
    So That They May Live
    Series: (All)
    March 13, 2022. Today's sermon by Pastor Meagan is a reminder of how Jesus gave himself for us, for all people, for creation, so that one day the kinds of sacrifices we saw on 9/11, and see in the wildfires, the struggles for justice on the streets of our country, and the courageous stand of the Ukrainian people, will no longer be necessary.
     
    Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Some of you may know how much I love Harry Potter. (For those who don’t, you are about to find out.) Harry Potter is a wizard whose parents died when he was just a year old. For those who don't know the story, he lives with his aunt and uncle, who are Muggles — not wizards — and they led Harry to believe his whole life that his parents, James and Lily, had died in a car accident. But the truth is that they were murdered by Lord Voldemort, an evil wizard. Eventually, Harry learns that when the evil wizard Lord Voldemort came after them, James told Lily to grab Harry and run while he tried to hold Voldemort off on his own.
     
    When Voldemort had killed James, Harry's father, he caught Harry and Lily, and he gave Lily a choice: stand aside, and you'll live. Harry’s mother Lily stood in front of Harry, shielding him from Voldemort’s curse in an effort to save his life. After killing Lily, Voldemort tries to kill Harry as well, but for the first time ever, he fails. Instead of killing Harry, Voldemort himself is hit by the curse, and Harry survives. No one seems to know why.
     
    Ultimately, Harry finds out that Voldemort’s curse failed because Lily had given up her life to save him. The protection of her love is so strong that it shields Harry not just that one time, but for his entire childhood, until he becomes an adult at the age of 17. Harry is alive because of his mother’s love.
     
    As we continue our Lenten journey in the wilderness of this beautiful and complicated world we live in, our gospel from Luke today tells us of Jesus grieving for Jerusalem. Jesus yearns, more than anything, to bring the beloved together — to gather them, not as a teacher gathers students or a general gathers soldiers or an employer gathers employees, but as a hen gathers her brood under her wing.
     
    This is not a conquering love, but a love that is vulnerable, unfailing, and embracing. It is a love that carries Jesus toward Jerusalem, a place that he says kills its prophets. Jesus doesn't shy away from evil, destruction, and death, but walks towards it, even knowing that he will die in the process, even knowing how often we humans turn away from this vulnerable love and seek guarantees where there are none.
     
    Jesus knows humanity has the capacity for incredible evil. Humans destroyed the Twin Towers and so many lives on 9/11. Humans wittingly and unwittingly lift up systemic evils like racism and economic oppression, act in disregard for creation. In the last few weeks, we have witnessed humans wreaking destruction and death on Ukraine, and pushing for laws that undermine the dignity and lives of trans people.
     
    And we humans have the capacity to follow the way of Christ. And at times we sacrifice our own safety, well-being, and even our lives to embody the love of God in profound ways. First responders ran into the burning towers on 9/11, many of them giving their lives that day and in the years since to save those trapped inside. Wildland firefighters in the West run toward the fires, to save people, animals, and the places they call home.
     
    President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and others with him, are staying and advocating and fighting in an effort to stand for justice and protect the most vulnerable in their communities who cannot leave, or don’t want to. We may never know how many lives are saved because of their love.
     
    Our human capacity for love like this is a reflection of the love of God revealed in Jesus: vulnerable, unfailing, embracing. It propels Jesus toward Jerusalem. And Jesus does not shy away from it but walks towards it, even knowing that he will die in the process. Jesus’ love for us and creation reveals the love of God that will not, and cannot, fail. God’s promise to us, echoed in the covenant made with Abram and Sarah, is life and abundance like the stars that can’t be counted. The psalmist today sings of the safety and goodness of God’s house, and Paul in his letter leans on that promise as he tells readers and us that we can stand firm in God. We, beloved, are alive because of the love of God that Jesus reveals.
     
    We witness the brokenness of the world around us, and we witness the love of God in Christ echoed in the world among us in the actions of those who move toward brokenness and stand in the face of death as Jesus did. And it may sound a little radical but we need to know, beloved, that this is not God’s dream for us. This is not God’s dream for us.
     
    Jesus goes to Jerusalem, people of Christ, not because God wanted Jesus to die, but because where there is brokenness, sin, violence, and death, God must be there. God is there. Jesus went to Jerusalem, toward the reality of death that awaited him, because there was no other way to embody the love of God for a people in pain.
     
    Lily stood in front of the evil Voldemort knowing she would die, so that Harry might live. Jesus goes to Jerusalem knowing he would die, to embody the vulnerable, unfailing, embracing love of God that gives us life. And because of the resurrection, we know that even when we must confront the evil and death of our day, God’s promise of life is sure.
     
    Jesus gave himself for us, for all people, for creation, so that one day the kinds of sacrifices we saw on 9/11, and see in the wildfires, the struggles for justice on the streets of our country, and the courageous stand of the Ukrainian people, will no longer be necessary. Jesus gave himself for us, all the way to death, so that one day, the covenant God made with Abram, the promises of God claimed by the psalmist, and the assurance of Paul that God is faithful, will be fulfilled. Jesus gave himself for all of creation so that one day, all the brokenness of this world will be healed.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35, Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling
  • Mar 6, 2022Real-Life Deserts
    Mar 6, 2022
    Real-Life Deserts
    Series: (All)
    March 6, 2022. On this first Sunday in Lent, Guest Pastor Tina Reyes preaches on the temptation of Jesus in the desert, and the real-life deserts in our lives that open up all those things that we try to push back: our vulnerability, our fears, and our anxieties.
     
    Reading: Luke 4:1-13
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In the name of Jesus. Amen.
     
    In the last few years I've been drawn to deserts. And I think one of the very first things that I truly realized was that they are not the wastelands of nothingness that sometimes we attribute them to be. Deserts, as places apart, are full of mystery and abundance and life. My trips to New Mexico and Southern Arizona amaze me every time, at the diversity that can be found in these places, and if you allow yourself to be still long enough, the promise of life that exists.
     
    And so as we approach this text this morning from the fourth chapter of Luke, it's a familiar text. If you said, "But I heard it last year on the first Sunday of Lent," I would say, "Yes, and you will hear it again next year on the first Sunday of Lent. That's how it works." This year it feels a little different though. Jesus isn't cast into the desert as a punishment or a test insomuch as the Spirit drives him there — for a time apart, for discernment, for retreat, for guidance as to what's next. This time apart comes directly after Jesus is baptized, and God announces for all to hear that Jesus is indeed God's son, the Beloved. It should really make us all think about our own baptisms — and that it's not just the water sprinkling, that baptism really changes our lives. And in discernment and in hunger, at the end of this long time apart, Jesus is confronted with choices: to lean into an economy of scarcity, for which the world can satisfy for a short amount of time, or to lean into an economy of abundance, knowing that he has all that he needs right now as he begins to live out the good news — which, if you kept reading in Luke, is the very next story. See how it all works together there?
     
    So we have these options this morning: trusting in God's abundance, that God will always be there and that God will always give you what you need for that moment, or to become your own God and to provide for yourself.
     
    I've been thinking a lot about how we ourselves interact with deserts, real and metaphorical, this past week, those places that seem lifeless and empty and daunting. You know, you've had some of those desert places in your lives: struggling to find enough, or really what the world deems is enough for you — even though, let's be honest, our basic needs are being met. Are you racing through these deserts just to get things done? Or do we allow ourselves grace to explore and to delight what is in this odd, and amazing place? Even in our text, we tend to zip through the desert that Jesus is in to get to that crux of the matter. If Lent is a desert, I often feel that we try to get through it as fast as we can. It's a necessary thing to get to Easter; we don't necessarily like to do it. I mean, it's not really in the Bible, is it? All of that is true.
     
    And the hope for Lent though, is to take that time to explore, to see what is out there, to join others. Lent (or deserts) in our lives open up all those things that we try to push back: our vulnerability, our fears, our anxieties... which is why I believe we try to get through Lent really fast and not have to think about it so much so we don't have to get stuck on those things, the end. Not really.
     
    Beloved, the desert calls us to stand with others in their own wilderness experiences. And that is hard. The desert calls us into the promise of abundant love and to cast aside the temptations of the world that is set aside, that they live for power, wealth, and invulnerability. Beloved, the desert calls us to live in the tension of desolation and to possibility. And through it all, in the desert, God is with us.
     
    As a campus pastor, I witness and walk with students who find themselves in all sorts of real-life deserts. The whole experience of being away from home, of having to rely on their own for things like getting up on time, having clean clothes, and advocating for oneself, are all journeys through a wilderness. And some students do it better than others. For others, this time is a journey into who or to what they are called to be: the abundant, extravagant person God created — and that person quite often is different from the one they had envisioned. And so they're stuck in that tension of desolation and a possibility, and it's rough for them. There is grief for what was and hope for what will be. Some students will wrestle and ask questions, and try to push it back and shove it down. And others will seek solidarity. They will look for people like them to accompany them. Others will just try to tough it out, and find that they are surprised to find that they had a support system all along.
     
    This past Wednesday, my ecumenical partners and I went to SLU and to WashU to impose ashes on students, faculty, and staff. We just set ourselves outside in spaces with our little plastic containers of palm ash and oil, in our black cassocks — three female pastors, and a non-binary pastor standing in a row, looking a little bit out of place, but welcoming and inviting folks to receive that ash cross on their forehead and answering any and all questions that students asked us. And we were blessed to have a beautiful, 80 degree day on Wednesday to do this. Standing at the edge of Mudd Field at WashU it did feel like a bit being in a desert. Students were reveling in the sun at a school known for its academic excellence and its very secular stance. Yes, there were looks. Who are those people in black, with crosses on their heads? And yet folks from all ways of life had different reasons that they came up to us asking for ashes.
     
    And I want to share my favorite story. I think this kind of reminds me of the abundance in the desert. The young man's name is Sayish. He came up and he said, "Are you giving out ashes?" "Yes." "Can I get ashes?" "Yes." "I went to a Catholic School in Dallas, Texas, and I'm not religious or anything. But I really like to get ashes. Is it okay if I get ashes?" "Yes." And so we started talking and having this conversation. I've never seen, honestly, anybody with such a big smile walking up to a group of strange pastors asking for ashes. A lot of times it's, "Ooh it's Ash Wednesday, I need to get my ashes." It's like a thing that you do, because it's Ash Wednesday — especially if you grew up in the tradition.
     
    Sayish grew up adjacent to a Christian tradition, because the Catholic schools were the better schools. And he remembers having to put his hands to cross his arms on his chest to receive his ashes, signifying that he was not Catholic in that place. And he was excited that he just got to receive ashes. And so I asked him, "Why? Is it just because it's what you remember from 12 years of school?" And he says, "No, it helps to ground me in the rest of the world and with creation." What a gift. What a gift that was to us.
     
    You probably, if I'm speaking for myself, felt kind of good about being in my black cassock, standing on the edge of Mudd Field, giving out ashes at WashU. And here is this Spirit moment of being reminded of why we do it. Not only because of our mortality, but we're connected back to God and God's creation.
     
    So what, beloved, if this Lent, this Lent as we're learning once again what it means to be community with one another after a long period of desolation, what if we leaned into those places, as much as we're trying, as fast as we can, to get back to something that we used to know, but maybe that we're being called to still, slow down there, buddy. Dig in a little deeper. Find our people. Acknowledge that even in this space, God is with us, and that's enough. What if, beloved, instead of searching and striving for more — more money, more power, more stuff — we acknowledge that we have enough, and that a full life is not what the world of scarcity claims is good, but our life is full because God's promises spill over, and God hasn't broken a promise yet. What if, beloved, in our abundance we live out our calling, our baptismal callings, to strive for peace and justice by joining others in the places that are their deserts, places where there are literally food deserts (and we don't have to go very far in St. Louis to find those), education deserts, equality deserts? So what if we join others in those places and proclaim God's love in word and deed, because God loves all of God's creation?
     
    Beloved, with the help of the Holy Spirit and by God's amazing grace, I pray that you know abundance and hope in whatever desert you journey this Lent.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Tina Reyes, Luke 4:1-13
  • Mar 2, 2022A Way in the Wilderness
    Mar 2, 2022
    A Way in the Wilderness
    Series: (All)
    March 2, 2022. On this Ash Wednesday, Pastor Meagan preaches on our reading from the prophet Joel: “The day of the Lord is coming, it is near.” Many passages in scripture about the wilderness can feel discomforting or uninviting, and the wildernesses of our time can feel vast, overwhelming, and unconquerable. But God is no stranger to the wilderness, and so we begin our journey into the wilderness these next 40 days knowing that God will be with us every step.
     
    Readings: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, Isaiah 43:19
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We start with these words from tonight's reading from the prophet Joel: “The day of the Lord is coming, it is near.” What are the first images you think of? The first images that come to my mind are justice. Life. Abundance. Healing. Reconciliation. Tears being wiped from our eyes, all hunger being satisfied. All the promises of God being fulfilled in the blink of an eye. All promises we hear throughout the scriptures.
     
    But the prophet Joel tonight describes the day of the Lord a little differently: “A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been seen from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.” Gloom, clouds, an army coming that covers the mountains? Especially today. Really, God, how am I supposed to look forward to that?
     
    Many of the passages in scripture about the wilderness can feel just as discomforting or uninviting. Jesus being driven into the desert for 40 days. The Israelites, wandering for 40 years. Hagar and her infant Ishmael, in the wilderness and at the point of death before returning to Sarah, who abused Hagar while Abraham looked the other way.
     
    I’m dating myself here, but I was in college when the United States and other allied nations attacked Iraq in the early '90s. Iraq had invaded Kuwait and annexed part of their land, and the allied nations moved in to support and free the annexed territories. It was the first time in my awareness that we had been able to watch a war unfold on live television. Every channel covered it (there were only about five) and I felt completely consumed, overwhelmed, and lost in the horror that was taking place on the other side of the ocean. And I wondered at the time, if that's how I feel just watching it on television, what is it like for the people of Iraq and Kuwait, hearing the bombs go off, fearing for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, with no safe refuge to turn to?
     
    As we worship tonight, some 30 years later, we humans still haven’t figured things out, and are still lost in seemingly the same old wilderness. Once again, the world watches as one nation — this time Russia — attacks and annexes another — this time Ukraine — and allied nations one more time try to figure a way out.
     
    The wildernesses of our time and our lives can feel vast, overwhelming, and unconquerable, filled with Joel’s gloom, as we face powers as imposing as Joel’s armies. In our own lives, the wildernesses of addiction, loss and grief, physical and mental illnesses. The wilderness of struggles in employment, in relationships, and unexpected crossroads. In our world, the wilderness of a third year of COVID, climate change, poverty, political upheaval, and injustices. The wilderness of the horrific injustice being done to the Ukrainian people as we watch.
     
    The wilderness of knowing that in the midst of it all, we ourselves have failed to be the people God created us to be. That like all of God’s people that have gone before us from the Israelites until now, we all have, as Luther said, sinned and fallen short, and we may at times feel as broken as the world around us. We're left wondering sometimes where God might be and what God might be up to, because we can’t see it. And here we are, this Ash Wednesday evening, hearing Joel’s description of the day of the Lord, and I think to myself how long, O God, will we be left in this wilderness that we are wandering in?
     
    When the Worship team met to reflect on where we felt God might be leading us this Lent, we were all feeling the vastness of the wilderness of this world that we're living in. Isaiah 43:19, which we'll hear in a few Sundays, began to resonate for each of us in profound ways. It also speaks to wilderness, but with a different perspective. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” New thing. Springing forth. Rivers in the dryness of the desert. God making a way in the wilderness.
     
    We find in the scriptures that God is no stranger to the wilderness. Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and Ishmael followed God through the wilderness to an unknown land that God showed them. Moses and the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness of the desert, as God led them out of captivity and to the Promised Land. Isaiah speaks those words of invitation and promise to people who have been living in the wilderness of exile for almost 50 years and are finding their way finally into community once again. In the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist calls himself “the voice of one crying out in the desert, preparing the way of the Lord.” And no sooner has John baptized Jesus than the Spirit leads Jesus himself into the wilderness of the desert for 40 days. God is no stranger to the wilderness.
     
    Lent is indeed a season of reflection on wilderness — the places of brokenness and sin, lostness in our lives and in our world, and the profound need for God’s love and mercy. We mark ourselves with ashes tonight to remind ourselves of this. This Lent especially, it is also a time to remember that the God who formed and shaped us out of dust, and breathed life into us, never abandons us, no matter how lost and broken we may be.
     
    God is no stranger to the wilderness. And so together, we journey into the wilderness these 40 days, knowing that God is with us every step. We name the brokenness, and we perceive the new things that God is bringing to life, springing forth where it seemed that there was only death. We follow the rivers of the Spirit in the dry places in our lives, knowing that God is making a way in our wilderness, where we least expect it.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, Isaiah 43:19, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus
  • Feb 27, 2022Trusting a Changing God in a Changing World
    Feb 27, 2022
    Trusting a Changing God in a Changing World
    Series: (All)
    February 27, 2022. In today's gospel reading we witness Jesus being transfigured, and hear that Peter suggested trying to capture what had happened, so he could understand it, recreate it, and make sure it wouldn't be lost. We humans like the familiar, the predictable, the understandable. But the truth is that life is always changing, and we are always changing with it.
     
    Reading: Luke 9:28-43a
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I was in a workshop on anti-racism this week that was provided by the Synod, and one of the facilitators said something — not once, but several times — that really got me thinking. They said, “In this world that seems to be changing faster and faster, and calling on us to keep up with those changes, we can be comforted by the fact that God never changes. God was, and is, and ever shall be, the same.” God never changes.
     
    And then, on this final Sunday before Lent begins, in the gospel, we witness Jesus being transfigured — experiencing a complete change of form or appearance — in front of our eyes. I reflected on all the ways God reveals themselves throughout scriptures — a burning bush, parting waters, a nursing mother, a pillar of cloud, a voice from heaven, a whisper, just to name a few. And I wonder, if it is true that God never changes, what does that mean? And if God does change, how can we trust God, if we don’t know how they will show up, if we can’t even understand her?
     
    We humans like the familiar, the predictable, the understandable, don’t we? I certainly do. I learned long ago that my favorite way to control things, to feel safe, to cope with things that felt beyond me, is to understand them, categorize them, put them safely in a box that I can analyze from a distance. I will admit to spending a fair amount of time doing this since we entered into a world of pandemic two years ago. Does anyone else relate to that?
     
    The disciples, after witnessing the amazing mountaintop scene, seem to want to do this too. As soon as it is over and Peter has recovered his speech Peter says, “It is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Let’s try to capture what happened, so we can understand it, recreate it, and make sure it won’t be lost. Theologian Debie Thomas writes in her blog Journey With Jesus this week:
     

    “The problem in the Transfiguration story is that as soon as Peter experiences a spiritual high, he tries to hoard it. What I hear in his plan to 'make dwellings' is an understandable but misguided attempt to contain, domesticate, protect, and process the sublime. To harness the holy. To make the fleeting permanent. To keep Jesus shiny, beautiful, and safe up on a mountain. After all, everything is so good up there. So clear. So bright. So unmistakably spiritual. Why not stay forever?”

     
    In our desire for the familiar, predictable, and understandable, we often do the same thing. When we have an experience of God in worship or on retreat that feels powerful or sublime, or hear an exquisite performance, or perform a piece of music perfectly, or create a work of art that somehow, miraculously comes out even better than we could have imagined, or go on a hike and find ourselves in a place that seems to be surely be where God lives... who doesn’t want to stay there forever?
     
    The sacred truth of life is that it is always changing. The sacred truth is, we are always changing. How we see the world, how we see God, and how we understand ourselves changes over time. A young adult realizes their parents are human, after all. An addict admits after years of struggle that they need help. An LGBTQIA person embraces the beautifully unique person they were created to be, claiming gender or ways of loving and living for perhaps the first time. One comfortable in their understanding of God comes to realize that God is far bigger than they had ever thought. Transfiguration, beloveds, is not just for Jesus, but for all of us. Transfiguration means that the Spirit is never done transforming us, revealing us more fully. Change, beloveds, is not only unavoidable, but is part of God’s creative work in our lives.
     
    In the end, the voice of God is enough for Peter to set aside capturing Jesus’ moment of transformation. Having failed to encapsulate the mountaintop, the disciples tell no one what they have experienced. They come back down from the mountain, after all, to the world that is not always shiny, beautiful, and safe. They return to an occupied land on a road that in a few short weeks will lead from Transfiguration, to Jesus’ death on the cross.
     
    In our time, we witness the gross injustice and horror of the attack and invasion of Ukraine by a dictator that has already brought death. A war is unfolding, the likes of which has not been seen since World War II. We as people of faith, with leaders around the world, are faced with the question of how we can contribute not just to an empty peace, an absence of war, but God’s justice and mercy in this world, and especially for the people of Ukraine, whose autonomy, dignity, and very lives are being treated as pawns in a deadly game of corrupted power.
     
    At times like this, it may feel that when we leave the mountain, we leave God behind too. It may help in those times to remember that when the disciples left the mountain, Jesus walked with them, down the road into the broken world below. For us in our day, we can know that God is present in this world, even in the midst of violence and war. Jesus walked with them. Debie Thomas reflects on the return from the mountain:
     

    “God is just as present, active, engaged, and glorious down in the valley as God is in the visions of saints, clouds, and shadows that Peter experienced in the high places. In fact, what Peter eventually learns is that the compassionate heart of God is most powerfully revealed amidst the broken, the sinful, the suffering, and the despairing. The kingdom of God shines most brightly against the backdrop of the parent who grieves, the child who cries, the 'demons' who oppress, and the disciples who try but fail to manufacture and capture the holy. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. God’s beauty is best contained in broken vessels.”

     
    Today we celebrate, in the midst of all else that is going on, just a few of the leaders in our own community who have ministered among us as council members for the last year, and those who we have chosen to minister among us for the next year. Family of Christ Lutheran, we experience in many ways the moments of clarity, beauty, safety, and joy of the mountaintops, and we and our council walk together in those transfiguration moments.
     
    And, as Peter and the disciples discovered, we are called down from the mountaintops, with newly opened hearts and spirits, to follow Jesus, witness God present, active, engaged, and glorious, and embody love and mercy in the ordinary, sometimes broken world of sacred, everyday life in our neighborhoods and communities. We as people of faith are called to stand against evil and injustice wherever it manifests, whether in our own backyard or in Ukraine. We are called to continually seek the peace that can only come when God’s justice prevails for all people.
     
    We are, council members, staff, every one of us followers of Christ, called to journey through the many transfigurations and transformations of our lives, as we live in a world that continually changes around us.
     
    It may not be true that God never changes. The good news of the transfiguration is this: in a world that just won’t stop changing, as we ourselves change day by day, we can trust God not in spite of, but because God is moving and changing right along with it. Peter and the disciples witnessed it on the mountaintop, and we can see it in our own lives. In the midst of all the seeming chaos, what will never change is God’s unfailing presence and unbounded love.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 9:28-43a, Debie Thomas, Journey With Jesus
  • Feb 20, 2022From Blame to Compassion
    Feb 20, 2022
    From Blame to Compassion
    Series: (All)
    February 20, 2022. The sermon today, on our reading from Genesis about Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery, is about forgiveness, of ourselves and others.
     
    Readings: Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Luke 6:27-38
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Joseph’s brothers did him wrong. There's no question about that. The choice they made out of jealousy, resentment, annoyance, vengeance, has no excuse. And no matter how arrogant and presumptuous Joseph was as a young man, no matter how unfair Jacob’s favoritism of his younger son, there is no excuse for what Joseph's brothers did. And the damage they did was significant. For years, Joseph lived in slavery. He endured physical hardship and even abuse, false accusations by Potiphar’s wife, ridicule for the gift of dream interpretation that God had given him. And Jacob, Joseph's father, lived all those years thinking that his beloved son was dead.
     
    Ultimately, Joseph’s fortune turns around. Pharaoh comes to believe him, and not only releases him from prison, and sets him free from slavery, but puts him in charge of guiding the whole country through the famine that had come over the land. By the time Joseph’s brothers come to him desperately seeking food they will need to survive the famine, Joseph has forgiven them for what they did — sort of, anyway. We aren’t told how that happens for Joseph. Maybe it was the time that had passed since his brothers sold him. Maybe it was because the physical slavery and the hardship that had resulted from what his brothers did had ended. Maybe it was the great position of power and privilege that he found himself in. One way or another, Joseph has been set free not only from his physical prison, but from the emotional prison of resentment and anger. Truly, a miracle has happened.
     
    Forgiveness is not an easy thing. If it were, the Bible would not need to include so many stories about it, such as Joseph’s story today, and Jesus would not have continually taught things like we hear in our gospel today: “Love your enemies, be good to those who hate you.” If forgiveness was something we could just choose once and for all and be done, there would be no need to talk about it, right? But it is hard. And there's much to learn from what scriptures share about how to respond when we are wounded.
     
    But this time through these readings what caught my attention was not only Joseph and his ability to forgive, but his brothers who had done him so much harm. Because we’ve all been there, too.
     
    Some years ago, I did something that hurt someone else. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last — I am human after all — but this particular time felt epic. I didn’t intend to hurt the other person. I didn’t even realize it at the time. But when it was over, harm had been done. The kind of harm that brings heat to the cheeks and a rock in the gut, and the desire to never show myself in public again — at least not if that person was involved.
     
    This is, perhaps, some of what Joseph’s brothers were feeling, when they realized that the very person they stood before as they asked for food in the famine was the brother whom they had sold into slavery years before. Our translation says “dismayed” but the Hebrew is perhaps a little closer to the mark: disturbed, alarmed, anxious, terrified.
     
    For years, they had agreed amongst themselves to never tell anyone what they had done, and to that day even their father didn’t know that Joseph, the favored son, was still alive. For years, they had been silent about the horrible harm. The shame they felt had bound them in fear and blame, separated them from each other, and from everyone else.
     
    To go back to Joseph for a moment, he didn’t immediately leap to forgiveness. In the chapters right before today’s story, Joseph actually seemed to delight in tormenting his tormentors for a time, although they didn’t yet recognize him, accusing them of stealing and threatening them with imprisonment and starvation. It is only after seeing his eldest brother willingly sacrificing himself for the youngest that he relents. And Joseph wept, bitterly and loudly, before perhaps choking out the words, “I am Joseph. I'm your brother. Is my father still alive?” Forgiveness doesn’t come easy but Joseph does it, with God's help.
     
    And now here his brothers were, asking the one they had betrayed to the point of death to save their lives. Disturbed, alarmed, anxious, terrified.
     
    And as we imagine ourselves in their shoes, perhaps we can see that it is hard to forgive, but it is also hard to be forgiven. They have over the years never told anyone what they did to Joseph, never went to their father begging forgiveness, never went to seek the brother they had sold. But still, the transformation was happening. And when it came down to a choice between repeating the harm they had done or giving themselves up in slavery, the eldest brother offers himself up. He can’t do this to another brother. He can’t grieve his father a second time. The selfishness of the past has become courage and compassion.
     
    This seems almost miraculous, doesn’t it? Joseph, sold into slavery and abused, imprisoned for years, face to face with the brothers who had betrayed him. Somehow, the brothers have been changed from what they were the day they took the gold. And somehow, Joseph, weeping, moves past his own resentment to forgiveness. It seems impossible, doesn’t it?
     
    Fortunately, it is precisely where we fall short that God steps in. And as Joseph’s brothers stare at him, speechless in the shame they still feel, Joseph tells them that it is God who has brought the healing they are experiencing. Let’s be clear: God did not send Joseph into slavery to save people from famine — God does not work that way. Joseph’s brothers did the selling, and as the scales of years of fear, blame, and disconnection from his family fall from his heart, Joseph can see with courage and compassion instead, and say to his brothers that God took that harm and transformed it for a good none of them could have imagined.
     
    And as the scales of years of fear, blame, and disconnection fall from the brothers’ eyes, they understand fully the harm they have done, and recognize the courage and compassion that has transformed not only Joseph, but themselves as well.
     
    Forgiveness is not easy, and there are times when the harm done has been so great that boundaries and distance and even separation are necessary for healing and wholeness to take place. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. But whether reconciliation is possible or not, miracles of courage, compassion, and connection happen every day, just as they did for Joseph and his brothers. It takes time and patience. But with God, it is possible.
     
    We are, in our humanity, people who mess up often, who hurt one another, who fail to live in the love of the God who made us for love. We can all be bound up in the shame we feel and feel that we will never be free. And we are, in our humanity, beloved children of God who continue to grow and experience the miracles of community, forgiveness, and healing that God has for us.
     
    Joseph’s brothers did him wrong, no question. But when it comes to forgiveness, of ourselves and others, God never gives up — not on them, not on Joseph, and not on us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Luke 6:27-38
  • Feb 13, 2022Come to the Water
    Feb 13, 2022
    Come to the Water
    Series: (All)
    February 13, 2022. Today we remember our own baptisms and name our connectedness, to one another by the water that fills and nourishes every cell of our bodies, and to our God whose love for us and for all creation is beyond our capacity to understand.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I've always loved water. Maybe it goes back to the hours I spent with my family on a boat on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota, or the beauty of the Mississippi River that connects my hometown of Minneapolis down to St. Louis where we are right now, the lakes around the Twin Cities and all the ponds that are up there, but water has always seemed to bring me to a place of calm and connectedness. One of my favorite places is Gooseberry Falls, in northern Minnesota on the North Shore. The splashing of the water against the rocks grows louder with every step you take toward the falls, and that's along with the sounds and voices and laughter on sunny days when there are lots of people. One of the best parts of Gooseberry is that it is really three waterfalls in one, with the water pouring down each rocky cliff, one after the other.
     
    The river is surrounded by rock — all colors, shapes, and sizes, some like sets of stairs to climb as you make your way to the Upper Falls, some smooth and flat and perfect for sitting on if you want to just watch the water, some rising out of the river itself like stepping stones allowing the courageous to cross from one side to the other and back in search of new paths. And framing the stone are thousands of trees, with paths running through them like so many veins, carrying light, air, animals, and people into the woods, and back again.
     
    And then, of course, there is the water itself. One year I sat by the edge of the Upper Falls, listening to the water colliding with the rocks and then rushing over and around them, when I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. As Gooseberry River makes its way down the Upper Falls, it doesn’t go down all in one rush, but divides and flows around the rocks in the cliff, forming hundreds of mini water falls as it goes. I became fascinated with how different they all were, in size, shape, direction, even speed, and I could have spent hours just watching them.
     
    I took pictures of course, but that doesn’t capture the beauty experienced when you are sitting there, so close you have to raise your voice to be heard over the roar of the water, and can feel the mist off the rocks a few feet away.
     
    Jeremiah says today, and our psalmist echoes, “They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots to the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” That describes something of the feeling I have when I am near water. Moments like this connect me to the presence of God in profound ways, because with stone, dirt, water, trees, sunlight, and air all around, I feel grounded in the Spirit of the one who created it all.
     
    That feeling of being parched, which Jeremiah and the psalmist also describe, are probably familiar to all of us — especially these days perhaps. We've all experienced feeling like chaff, withered, empty, at different times in our lives. We all need the water of the Spirit, to be connected to the God who is the source of all love, healing, hope, and life.
     
    Perhaps some of you, like me, experience God when you are close to the world God created, whether it be literal water, or mountains, the thick of a forest, or the unique beauty of the desert. But that is certainly not the only way or place to connect with our Source. Where and how do you experience the life that comes from being connected with God? You may feel the Spirit close when you create music, with voices or instruments. Some of you have shared that arranging flowers for our altar is a meditative experience that feeds your soul. The rhythm of breath and feet as you walk, or run, or ride your bike, may ground you as it connects body, spirit, and creation and the Creator together. The words of scripture, or the sacredness of silence, or the feeling of the holy in this building perhaps, can connect us to the Word, who existed long before anything else.
     
    Our readings today carry a message for those who know they need God. It is a promise for every one of us, whose very breath of life comes from the one who formed and shaped us in the womb. Where do you go to connect with the life and love of the Spirit of God?
     
    For today, we return to that water. As Luther put it, water plus the Word of God, the waters of baptism . . . . we know and celebrate the promises of God who is present in all things. We remember how much we need God who gives us life. We sing with the psalmist of the abundance of love and life that flow out from us to the world, a gift of the God who created it all.
     
    Today, we remember our own baptisms, and who we are as beloved children of the God of life. We celebrate Scarlet and Zachary, and proclaim in this community the overflowing love that God has for them, and has had since the beginning of time. We name our connectedness, to one another by the water that fills and nourishes every cell of our bodies, and to our God whose love for us and for all creation is beyond our capacity to understand.
     
    Today, we come again to the water of the Spirit, our source. There, we will find life.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, Martin Luther, Scarlet McMullen, Zachary McMullen
  • Feb 6, 2022Cast Your Net to the Other Side
    Feb 6, 2022
    Cast Your Net to the Other Side
    Series: (All)
    February 6, 2022. As we claim in our baptisms, whether we believe we can do it or not, regardless of how much the very idea may terrify us, we too are called to be fishers of people. In her sermon today, Pastor Meagan talks about what that means for us.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 6:1-13, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    That day, on the sea, Simon Peter was doing what he always did on any ordinary day. He, along with his shipmates and partners, had been hard at work, trying to make a living and provide for their families, as many of us do. He had no reason to expect, when he got up and said goodbye to his wife and left home, that this day would be any different from any other day. He got into the boat, set out to sea, and cast the nets, hoping to catch enough fish to pay the taxes he would owe the tax collector, with enough left over to cover his family’s needs.
     
    All night they fished, casting the nets again, and again, and again, and — nothing. And this was Peter’s profession, something he had been doing for all of his adult life. They knew these waters. If anyone should be able to catch fish, it would be Peter and his crew. And still, as happens sometimes: nothing.
     
    Finally they gave up and came back to shore, and as they cleaned up so they could go home after a long, unproductive but quite ordinary night, the first unexpected thing happened. Jesus, looking for a way to preach to the large crowd that had gathered to hear him, came to Simon Peter and asked for a favor.
     
    So out they went, so that Jesus could speak from Peter’s boat. And when he was done, Jesus told Simon Peter to head out to deep waters and let his nets out again. And in spite of his weariness, the worry of not bringing anything home to his family, and annoyance at the itinerant preacher who was telling this career fisherman how to do his job, something about Jesus had drawn Peter in. Or perhaps, he just wanted to prove Jesus wrong. “If you say so,” he said. And then the second unexpected thing of that otherwise ordinary day happened.
     
    Thank goodness Peter wasn’t alone on the water that day. His partners had gone back out with them, and between the two boats they just barely managed to get back to shore, hauling the biggest load of fish they had ever seen. And like Isaiah of the unclean lips, and Paul who had persecuted followers of Jesus, like almost all of the prophets of God, and like so many of us, Simon Peter falls to his knees and says, “Wait a minute, what are you thinking? I can’t do this! Go find someone else. You’ve got the wrong person.” Funny thing is, Simon Peter doesn’t even know what Jesus is asking him to do yet.
     
    And just like that, Simon Peter’s whole life changed. He went out that day to catch fish to provide for his family. He hit a wall, perhaps not for the first time, and they caught absolutely nothing. And just when they had given up for the day being “fishers of fish,” Jesus showed up, and Simon Peter became one of his followers, “fishers of people.”
     
    As we claim in our baptisms, whether we believe we can do it or not, regardless of how much the very idea may terrify us, we too are called to be fishers of people. What does that even mean? Because it certainly doesn’t mean we go around throwing nets over everyone we meet, pulling them into our boat, and hauling them back to shore.
     
    For one thing, if we are to be fishers of people, we have to step out of our comfort zones. That’s part of why this is such a scary thing. Isaiah answers God’s call saying, “Here I am. Send me,” not knowing where God may send him. Paul, who was raised as a Pharisee and taught to be suspicious of anything that seemed to threaten what he knew, left his comfortable upbringing far behind as he went out to share the good news and promise of God in Jesus.
     
    For Peter, it meant giving this itinerant preacher a lift, and then listening to him when he suggested something that sounded a little crazy. Throwing the net down on the other side of the boat. And in a matter of a few hours, Simon Peter has put down the fishing nets he has used his whole life in order to follow Jesus.
     
    For us as for them, answering Jesus’ call to be fishers of people challenges us to leave the solid ground of what is familiar to us, what we have always done, with its steadfastness and predictability and familiarity, and head out to the sometimes chaotic deep waters of trying something new. We, like all those before us, are invited to let go of what we think we know, and trust that God will lead us when we don’t know the way.
     
    Being fishers of people opens our hearts to see people we may normally overlook, especially to those who may look, talk, think, and live differently from us, extending the “net” of God’s grace and love in unexpected ways, right in our own neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. We do this within, as we strive to welcome everyone who enters into this space in our sanctuary and our Zoom space, but also outside of this congregation. Jesus tells Simon Peter to set out for deeper waters, and Isaiah says, “Send me,” not knowing where he will end up after all.
     
    We learn, as we fish with Jesus, just how wide the net of God’s grace is. It is wide enough to catch us when we feel the least prepared or capable. It is strong enough to carry us when we have tried everything we know, and are exhausted and have nothing left. It is deep enough to hold us when we are at our most broken. This is what Peter learns on the boat with Jesus that day. And this perhaps is why, even after catching so many fish they could barely haul them to shore, he was willing to leave his boat and all that he had known to follow this itinerant preacher who showed up, asked for a ride, and then told them to cast their net on the other side.
     
    “Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells Simon Peter. Like Simon Peter had his partners to help him with his unexpectedly large catch of fish, we have each other as we follow Jesus. This is something we do together, in community. Jesus does not promise that being a fisher of people will be easy. But Jesus does promise to be with us and guide us when we cast our nets on the other side, no matter what unexpected things may happen along the way.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 6:1-13, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
  • Jan 30, 2022The Spirit Unleashed!
    Jan 30, 2022
    The Spirit Unleashed!
    Series: (All)
    January 30, 2022. For centuries we have believed in a “zero-sum game,” that there are limited resources available, and if we extend resources to those who have none, there will be less left for the rest. But today we hear that God promises to be with us all the way, and that there will always be enough.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I remember when I was newly on a board for a conference planning committee, and I was chosen to be the committee co-chair. The chair, among other things, was responsible for facilitating the joint meetings of the board and the committee, a gathering of about 40 people, a responsibility that would be mine if they needed to be absent for any reason. My immediate reaction, as I thought about the possibility that I might need to step in to chair the meeting, or that I might be chosen as chair the following year, was panic. There is no way I can do this, I thought. I can’t possibly facilitate a meeting like that. They’ve got the wrong person.
     
    In our first reading today, Jeremiah has a similar reaction when he hears God’s call for him. Maybe some of you can relate as well, as Rachel was just talking about. “You say you’ve known me since the womb, but honestly, what are you thinking, appointing me to be a prophet to the nations? Just look at me! I’m too young! I can’t speak your words to all these people. You’re going to have to find someone else. I’m not worthy. I don’t have what it takes.”
     
    And as we read on, we can hardly blame Jeremiah for trying to beg off what God is asking him to do. It’s not as simple as it sounds at first, after all. God has appointed Jeremiah “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” In other words, God is calling Jeremiah to challenge the powers and empire of his day, and turn the world upside down.
     
    Jesus’ ministry is no less disruptive. Mary sang in the Magnificat that God had scattered the proud, lifted the lowly, brought down the powerful, filled the hungry, sent the rich away empty. And as we heard last week, when Jesus preaches in the synagogue at Nazareth for the first time, he reads Isaiah’s words claiming release for the captive, freedom for the oppressed, and good news for the poor — turning the world upside down.
     
    And in today’s gospel, when Jesus tells his listeners that these words have been fulfilled in their hearing, and that they really mean what they say, his friends, neighbors, and family find it so radical and hard to accept that they try to push Jesus off a cliff.
     
    Interestingly, it seems as if one of the specific things about what Jesus said that his neighbors were angry with was that this message of good news was not just for them, who knew Jesus best. Jesus belongs to God, not Joseph, he says. In fact, the Spirit often carries the promises to the very last person you would expect, even going to them first of all. Jesus’ neighbors rage, believing that if others benefit from the good news, there will be less left for them, perhaps even nothing.
     
    A group from Christ Lutheran is reading The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee, and in it she fleshes out what she refers to as our nation’s “zero-sum game.” For centuries, we have believed that there are limited resources available, and if we extend resources to those who have none there will be less left for the rest.
     
    Specifically, those who hold the most resources have lifted up the narrative that if money, time, and freedom are available to those on the margins, who they say do not actually deserve these resources — usually starting with people of color, and extending to immigrants, people living in poverty, people with disabilities — these people who they say do not deserve the resources. And those who don't deserve the resources in their estimation are the ones who will suffer the most from it.
     
    Jesus’ neighbors may have bought into their own zero-sum game. When Jesus tells them that a prophet is not accepted in their hometown — that those who know a prophet best often reject the prophetic voice and therefore miss the working of the Spirit among them — they hear him saying that the Spirit is going to skip them entirely. And they lose it. The prophet is indeed, as Jesus predicted, rejected in their hometown.
     
    Clearly, the call we have to follow the Spirit who unleashes herself among us is harder than it seems. We are called not to comfort and ease, but to commitment to love in action. We're called to go out of our safe places right to the margins, to challenge the powers that oppress and impoverish and imprison, and speak words that, if we're honest, even we may not want to hear. That’s what we're called to as people of faith.
     
    This is radical. Sometimes, like Jeremiah, we want to say we just can’t do it. Find someone else. Sometimes, like the people of Nazareth, we want to take the bold hometown prophet who is calling us to transform in ways that make no sense to us, and throw him off the cliff, rather than listen to another word. Sometimes, like the Corinthians, we distract ourselves by clinging to old ways of thinking, ranking ourselves and earning our place, rather than following Christ into the kin-dom work of love in action.
     
    Today, we have our annual meeting, and we reflect on the ministry that our congregation has experienced in the last year. We recognize the council who has invested all they have in leading us through the incredibly challenging time that has been 2020 and 2021. We see the creativity, energy, time, and excellence of our staff as they have reinvented their roles more than once since COVID began. We celebrate how we as a congregation, in the midst of our weariness, fear, and frustration, have followed the Spirit’s lead in so many ways.
     
    We hear the call of Jesus, the call of God that came to Jeremiah, all the prophets, and to us today. We recognize that, as Jeremiah learned and as Rachel pointed out, each of us has gifts that we are called to share for the good of the world. The Spirit has been unleashed among us, and we follow that Spirit’s lead, to carry the message of God’s promise out of our comfortable spaces, right to the margins. God doesn’t promise it will be easy — in fact, it probably won’t — but God does promise to be with us all the way, and that is enough. There will always be enough. May the Spirit fill us with love that guides all we do, and embolden us to share the good news as we welcome and serve within our walls and well beyond.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30, Rachel Helton, The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic
  • Jan 23, 2022Today God’s Promises are Fulfilled
    Jan 23, 2022
    Today God’s Promises are Fulfilled
    Series: (All)
    January 23, 2022. “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” If someone were to come here and say that to you, what would you think? Pastor Meagan preaches in her sermon today that the Spirit of God is upon us, anointing us to bring good news to those who need it most, and that this scripture has indeed been fulfilled among us.
     
    Readings: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Luke 4:14-21
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When a president or a bishop is elected, or a CEO starts at a new company, or a professor is introducing a new class of students to the semester, their first words carry a lot of weight. It's a key opportunity to let everyone know what to expect, and what the vision is for the work they have been called to do together. While of course much more will be revealed over time, the power of that first speech or article — the inaugural address, if you will — cannot be underestimated.
     
    In today’s gospel, Luke presents Jesus’ first words to his neighbors — his inaugural address — to those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. And as such, it is well worth spending some time with what Jesus chose to share in the synagogue that day.
     
    Much of what Jesus says he reads from the scroll. For Jesus, as a faithful Jewish man, the Hebrew scriptures were sacred, and of all the texts he knew and studied, he searched through the scroll he was handed from Isaiah and chose a certain passage starting with, “The Spirit has anointed me...” From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus points to God, the Spirit who anoints and brings life to all of creation. The Spirit of God is embodied in Jesus as he stands in front of his neighbors, friends, and family, reading from those sacred scrolls.
     
    As the scripture continues, Jesus reads of the promises of the Spirit who anointed him: good news, release, recovery of sight, freedom... for those who are poor, blind, captive, and oppressed, those who need it most.
     
    And, even more significantly, Jesus tells them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Not next week, not next year, today. In our reading from Nehemiah, Ezra was speaking to people who had lived through exile and the destruction of all that they knew, and they had barely returned to the ruins of their former community when they gathered to hear the reading of the law, which was itself a gift of their time in exile. The priests and scribes had spent their time of exile compiling and editing ancient stories and scrolls that had been handed down among the Hebrew people, and it was a gift of their reunion just to be together hearing those sacred scrolls. And when he had finished the reading of the Torah, Ezra gave the Israelites the same message Jesus gave those in the synagogue: today is the day of the Lord. Today is the day to celebrate the fulfillment of the promises of our God.
     
    If someone were to come in this morning to this sanctuary, to our Zoom space, and say that, what would you think?
     
    Today, Sunday, January 23, 2022, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. This morning, at the beginning of our third year of pandemic life, as we sit in our sanctuary wearing masks, and in our living rooms on Zoom, or isolated due to exposure or infection, the scriptures have been fulfilled.
     
    Today, at about 10am Central Standard Time on this Sunday morning, with the sin of racism still painfully evident, homelessness a reality, and voting rights, affordable housing, and even clean water inaccessible to many, in our own neighborhood, community, country, and across the world, God’s promises are at hand.
     
    Today, on this Third Sunday after Epiphany, almost a month after our celebration of Christ’s coming into the world, with unusual storms brewing and weather patterns shifting and scientists warning that our earth has reached — or is reaching — a crisis point, today is the day to celebrate and claim God’s presence in this world.
     
    Today, as we look forward to our community’s annual meeting next week, where we will celebrate what God has done among us in the last year, and look forward with hope to a future that in so many ways is unknown, the Spirit of God is anointing us.
     
    Today, on this day of your life, with all of the joys and sorrows, illnesses and health, community and loneliness, healing and brokenness, as you may wonder, as Mr. Roger talked about, whether you are a head or heart or perhaps just the stomach, hungry, the Spirit is alive and God’s promises are a reality.
     
    What are you thinking? How are you feeling, as those words are proclaimed?
     
    We have an idea how some of those listening to Jesus, and to Ezra many centuries before him, were feeling. Many of the Israelites, we are told, wept as the scrolls were read before the people, overcome by the grief of all that had been lost, and overwhelmed by sheer joy and relief of being together in community again, hearing the stories and the history and the promises of God read among them for everyone to hear.
     
    In next Sunday’s gospel the story of Jesus’ inaugural address continues, as some of Jesus’ neighbors press him to the edge of a nearby cliff and try to push him over, they were so desperate to silence a message that seemed to make absolutely no sense.
     
    In the midst of all the reactions, protests, tears, joy, wondering, the promise of God persists, as it always does. Jesus, pushed to the edge of that cliff, simply walks through the crowd and on to continue sharing the good news. Nehemiah and Ezra assure the Israelites that among the rubble they see in front of them, with all of their grief and joy, today is indeed the day of God’s favor.
     
    So what are you thinking? What are you feeling? There is room for all of it, and all of us, with all of the gifts we heads and hearts and stomachs have to share. And through it, the Spirit of God is upon us, anointing us to bring good news to those who need it most. This day is holy to our God, and God’s joy is our strength. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled among you, in your hearing.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Luke 4:14-21