Sermons

                   

Nov 22, 2020
A Different Kind of King
Series: (All)
November 22, 2020. As we continue to rethink and reimagine everything we're doing these days, maybe it's time to reimagine what it means to say that Jesus is our king, and what Jesus’ kingdom looks like. On this Christ the King Sunday, we intentionally leave the palaces, and the crowns, and the money, and the power behind us, and we see Christ the servant.
 
Readings: Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
 
*** Transcript ***
 
So, a new kind of king. We've already talked a little bit about this. What do you think of when you hear that this is Christ the King Sunday? What is your idea of royalty? Even though the United States hasn’t had a king or queen since we declared our independence from England nearly 300 years ago, we’ve probably all seen a king or queen, or a prince or a princess, at least on TV. Maybe you watched Princess Diana get married to Prince Charles, or shed tears as her funeral procession wound through the streets, carrying William and Henry while they mourned their mother. You might picture a large, beautiful palace, with lots of gold, ornamentation, intricate carving, statues by famous artists commissioned by kings and queens past, bustling with servants who keep everything immaculate and take care of every need of the royal family. Perhaps you see young royals, being instructed in the proper ways to dress, speak, sit, walk, stand — ensuring that they will know how they are supposed to act as royalty. You might imagine the grand hall, with the royal leaders sitting on their thrones, ready to make proclamations and lay down orders that no one would dream of opposing. Power. Glory. Wealth. Unquestioned rule. Perfect royal dress, food, speech, and behavior.
 
And in our reading from Ephesians today, the description of God lifting Jesus above all people, putting all things under Christ’s feet, ensuring that Jesus’ name will be known and revered above all others, certainly seems to lean into the idea of Jesus as king, ruler of all, with a power over everything else in all creation that can never be challenged. A king who wields power over creation, and utilizes authority to send those who do not do enough into eternal torment.
 
And yet, there are some details in the story that reveal a slightly different picture of Christ our king. Today being Christ the King Sunday seems a good day to reflect on what it really means to be a king — and especially, what it means to us today to say Jesus is our king. What is it we are celebrating today?
 
Many times in the gospels, we hear stories that indicate Jesus is not the kind of Messiah people were expecting. They thought the Messiah would be a great military leader, ready to challenge and overthrow the occupying rulers who oppressed them so badly. They anticipated Jesus being someone so powerful no one would be able to stand against him. He was, they believed, coming to rule and not to serve. Jesus was not what they expected. He was given the title King of the Jews, but when Pilate asked him about this, Jesus said, enigmatically, that his kingdom was not of this world — and he left Pilate to figure out what that meant.
 
We still, today, are tempted to lift up and even idolize those who have power and strength, and we can easily miss those who are in the margins — those who are weak, hungry, and powerless. Too often, we as Christians see serving others as something that we do because we are told we should, because God has done so for us. And that's certainly true. But we can easily carry this further, and sometimes come to feel that we need to serve in order to be worthy of God’s love and welcome in God’s kingdom, even though we Lutherans claim the grace and mercy of our God. And our gospel today can easily be read — or misread — to tell us this. If we feed the hungry, visit those in prison, clothe the naked, we will be judged worthy. And if not, we will be sent to eternal punishment.
 
And all around us the world too often lifts up and celebrates above all else those who have power here on earth, and we even hear it said that God has given that power. And those who do not have power, those who live on the margins, are denigrated and demonized. We even hear, sometimes, that challenging those who hold power here, leaders who have wealth and the capacity to affect people’s lives — for ill or for good — is the same as challenging God.
 
But maybe, as we continue to rethink and reimagine everything we are doing these days, it's time to reimagine what it means to say that Jesus is our king, and what Jesus’ kingdom looks like. Because something tells me that Pilate never quite understood. But Jesus himself gives us a lot of clues in the parables where he tells us, “The kingdom of God is like this . . . .”
 
Lutheran Pastor and Bishop’s Assistant Libby Howe shares that when Pope Pius XI established Christ the King Sunday in 1925, he hoped it would inspire Christians of his time, and us today, to do just that. He saw that, like today, people were getting caught up in the empires of their times, prioritizing and valuing economic and social systems that benefited a small number of people in power, at the expense of so many others. He witnessed, all over the world, wealth that depended on poverty, systems of law that worked in favor of those with money and other resources and disproportionately penalized and incarcerated those without. Pope Pius XI saw a culture that cared far more for those like us than it did the stranger.
 
On the heels of World War I, Germany and other parts of Europe and the United States were fostering a culture that ultimately allowed all of the “others” — non-Christians (especially Jews), people of color, LGBTQIA people, those who had disabilities, immigrants — to not only be cast out, but to be murdered, while those who were not targeted, those seen as privileged and desirable, ignored, watched, supported the efforts, and sometimes even cheered.
 
Pope Pius XI established this day in hopes that we as Christians would be reminded that we are called to follow not political leaders, or wealthy decision-makers, or those who put nation and power above all else, but we are called to honor and follow Christ. Where some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time proclaimed “we have no king but Caesar,” we are called to turn our hearts to Christ.
 
Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate never quite understood what that meant, and as we watch and listen to what Jesus is telling us, and notice God’s creative and redemptive acts through all of our scriptures, we begin to see that the kingdom Jesus is talking about is unlike any earthly kingdom we have ever known. Jesus tells us in last week’s parable that the servant who had the courage to challenge and oppose his master and refuse to take advantage of those around him is the hero of the story. The story Jesus shared of the wise and foolish bridesmaids a couple of weeks ago reveals a God who cares far more about us than he cares about oil. And today, Jesus wants his listeners — us — to know that if we are looking for Christ our King, we will find him in the eyes and stomachs and bodies and hearts of those who have nothing.
 
And we're back to the tripwire of thinking that the way to get God’s approval and love is by doing good, that we need to earn our place. Interestingly, the sheep in Jesus’ parable don’t know that they are serving Jesus. The sheep, apparently, serve their community not because they’ve been made to, or because they’ll get a reward, but because they are sheep. And we, followers of Christ our king, serve one another, ensure that God’s bounty is available for all, value creation and seek justice, not because we are made to, or because we will earn anything, but because we belong to God.
 
Jesus tells us his kingdom is not of this world — and it isn’t. But it is always, and every day, in this world. The kingdom of God is not a place, but is the creative, redeeming, abundant, loving movement of God that leads us closer and closer to who we were meant to be all along. We're entering into Advent, a season of waiting and watching and preparing and seeking Christ in this world, and this feast that we celebrate as we end one year and prepare for the next shows us where to start.
 
So this Sunday, Christ the King, we intentionally leave the palaces, and the crowns, and the money, and the power behind us. We see Christ the servant, the one who refused to give in to the empires of this world, and we do the same, not because he told us to but because, in the end, we can’t help it. Like the bridesmaids, we may fall asleep. Like the first two servants, we may be swayed by the promises of the empire at times. Like the goats, on some days we may be blind to the world around us. But still, we belong to God, and Christ’s kingdom is coming. In fact, it's already here! And in a world where there is so much pain, and weariness, and grief, and confusion, that is truly good news.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
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  • Nov 22, 2020A Different Kind of King
    Nov 22, 2020
    A Different Kind of King
    Series: (All)
    November 22, 2020. As we continue to rethink and reimagine everything we're doing these days, maybe it's time to reimagine what it means to say that Jesus is our king, and what Jesus’ kingdom looks like. On this Christ the King Sunday, we intentionally leave the palaces, and the crowns, and the money, and the power behind us, and we see Christ the servant.
     
    Readings: Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So, a new kind of king. We've already talked a little bit about this. What do you think of when you hear that this is Christ the King Sunday? What is your idea of royalty? Even though the United States hasn’t had a king or queen since we declared our independence from England nearly 300 years ago, we’ve probably all seen a king or queen, or a prince or a princess, at least on TV. Maybe you watched Princess Diana get married to Prince Charles, or shed tears as her funeral procession wound through the streets, carrying William and Henry while they mourned their mother. You might picture a large, beautiful palace, with lots of gold, ornamentation, intricate carving, statues by famous artists commissioned by kings and queens past, bustling with servants who keep everything immaculate and take care of every need of the royal family. Perhaps you see young royals, being instructed in the proper ways to dress, speak, sit, walk, stand — ensuring that they will know how they are supposed to act as royalty. You might imagine the grand hall, with the royal leaders sitting on their thrones, ready to make proclamations and lay down orders that no one would dream of opposing. Power. Glory. Wealth. Unquestioned rule. Perfect royal dress, food, speech, and behavior.
     
    And in our reading from Ephesians today, the description of God lifting Jesus above all people, putting all things under Christ’s feet, ensuring that Jesus’ name will be known and revered above all others, certainly seems to lean into the idea of Jesus as king, ruler of all, with a power over everything else in all creation that can never be challenged. A king who wields power over creation, and utilizes authority to send those who do not do enough into eternal torment.
     
    And yet, there are some details in the story that reveal a slightly different picture of Christ our king. Today being Christ the King Sunday seems a good day to reflect on what it really means to be a king — and especially, what it means to us today to say Jesus is our king. What is it we are celebrating today?
     
    Many times in the gospels, we hear stories that indicate Jesus is not the kind of Messiah people were expecting. They thought the Messiah would be a great military leader, ready to challenge and overthrow the occupying rulers who oppressed them so badly. They anticipated Jesus being someone so powerful no one would be able to stand against him. He was, they believed, coming to rule and not to serve. Jesus was not what they expected. He was given the title King of the Jews, but when Pilate asked him about this, Jesus said, enigmatically, that his kingdom was not of this world — and he left Pilate to figure out what that meant.
     
    We still, today, are tempted to lift up and even idolize those who have power and strength, and we can easily miss those who are in the margins — those who are weak, hungry, and powerless. Too often, we as Christians see serving others as something that we do because we are told we should, because God has done so for us. And that's certainly true. But we can easily carry this further, and sometimes come to feel that we need to serve in order to be worthy of God’s love and welcome in God’s kingdom, even though we Lutherans claim the grace and mercy of our God. And our gospel today can easily be read — or misread — to tell us this. If we feed the hungry, visit those in prison, clothe the naked, we will be judged worthy. And if not, we will be sent to eternal punishment.
     
    And all around us the world too often lifts up and celebrates above all else those who have power here on earth, and we even hear it said that God has given that power. And those who do not have power, those who live on the margins, are denigrated and demonized. We even hear, sometimes, that challenging those who hold power here, leaders who have wealth and the capacity to affect people’s lives — for ill or for good — is the same as challenging God.
     
    But maybe, as we continue to rethink and reimagine everything we are doing these days, it's time to reimagine what it means to say that Jesus is our king, and what Jesus’ kingdom looks like. Because something tells me that Pilate never quite understood. But Jesus himself gives us a lot of clues in the parables where he tells us, “The kingdom of God is like this . . . .”
     
    Lutheran Pastor and Bishop’s Assistant Libby Howe shares that when Pope Pius XI established Christ the King Sunday in 1925, he hoped it would inspire Christians of his time, and us today, to do just that. He saw that, like today, people were getting caught up in the empires of their times, prioritizing and valuing economic and social systems that benefited a small number of people in power, at the expense of so many others. He witnessed, all over the world, wealth that depended on poverty, systems of law that worked in favor of those with money and other resources and disproportionately penalized and incarcerated those without. Pope Pius XI saw a culture that cared far more for those like us than it did the stranger.
     
    On the heels of World War I, Germany and other parts of Europe and the United States were fostering a culture that ultimately allowed all of the “others” — non-Christians (especially Jews), people of color, LGBTQIA people, those who had disabilities, immigrants — to not only be cast out, but to be murdered, while those who were not targeted, those seen as privileged and desirable, ignored, watched, supported the efforts, and sometimes even cheered.
     
    Pope Pius XI established this day in hopes that we as Christians would be reminded that we are called to follow not political leaders, or wealthy decision-makers, or those who put nation and power above all else, but we are called to honor and follow Christ. Where some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time proclaimed “we have no king but Caesar,” we are called to turn our hearts to Christ.
     
    Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate never quite understood what that meant, and as we watch and listen to what Jesus is telling us, and notice God’s creative and redemptive acts through all of our scriptures, we begin to see that the kingdom Jesus is talking about is unlike any earthly kingdom we have ever known. Jesus tells us in last week’s parable that the servant who had the courage to challenge and oppose his master and refuse to take advantage of those around him is the hero of the story. The story Jesus shared of the wise and foolish bridesmaids a couple of weeks ago reveals a God who cares far more about us than he cares about oil. And today, Jesus wants his listeners — us — to know that if we are looking for Christ our King, we will find him in the eyes and stomachs and bodies and hearts of those who have nothing.
     
    And we're back to the tripwire of thinking that the way to get God’s approval and love is by doing good, that we need to earn our place. Interestingly, the sheep in Jesus’ parable don’t know that they are serving Jesus. The sheep, apparently, serve their community not because they’ve been made to, or because they’ll get a reward, but because they are sheep. And we, followers of Christ our king, serve one another, ensure that God’s bounty is available for all, value creation and seek justice, not because we are made to, or because we will earn anything, but because we belong to God.
     
    Jesus tells us his kingdom is not of this world — and it isn’t. But it is always, and every day, in this world. The kingdom of God is not a place, but is the creative, redeeming, abundant, loving movement of God that leads us closer and closer to who we were meant to be all along. We're entering into Advent, a season of waiting and watching and preparing and seeking Christ in this world, and this feast that we celebrate as we end one year and prepare for the next shows us where to start.
     
    So this Sunday, Christ the King, we intentionally leave the palaces, and the crowns, and the money, and the power behind us. We see Christ the servant, the one who refused to give in to the empires of this world, and we do the same, not because he told us to but because, in the end, we can’t help it. Like the bridesmaids, we may fall asleep. Like the first two servants, we may be swayed by the promises of the empire at times. Like the goats, on some days we may be blind to the world around us. But still, we belong to God, and Christ’s kingdom is coming. In fact, it's already here! And in a world where there is so much pain, and weariness, and grief, and confusion, that is truly good news.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
  • Nov 15, 2020A Convicting Parable
    Nov 15, 2020
    A Convicting Parable
    Series: (All)
    November 15, 2020. Guest Pastor Karen Scherer preaches on the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25.
     
    Readings: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Okay, would you all please pray with me? Holy and loving God, we pray open our hearts and our minds this day to receive your word and free us. In your holy name we pray. Amen.
     
    Well I've got the sunlight coming in on me now. I was thinking it was going to be overcast, but I'm going to be sort of like Moses. I'm going to shine so much you may not be able to see me. But I hope that you will hear my word today, the word that I have gleaned from our lesson today.
     
    I'm going to go back today to the beginning. In the beginning, God's ruah, God's spirit, God's creating breath, hovered over the waters of chaos. And God spoke creation and order. Heavenly bodies above, and stars and suns and moons and planets and bodies of earth and water below, were formed and separated. And God said, "It's good." And then God spoke, and systems of life and creatures flowed from the earth. Things that fly and walk and slither and crawl, things that grow and sustain the earth. And God said, "It is good." Then God created human beings out of the earth. In God's image God created them, with the same spirit of God, the ability to imagine and create and love. And God gave them responsibility to look after and care for the earth and its systems. And God even gave them instructions. And God laughed with delight and said, "They are good."
     
    What a mess we have made, of ourselves and of God's good creation. Such a mess. But God chose — rather than to wipe us out and just start over — God chose to come among us, Emmanuel, to be with us, to save us and recreate us in God's image, again. And God has chosen to do that, we know, through Jesus, God's son, Emmanuel. This I believe.
     
    And I believe that this parable God speaks to us today through Jesus, through Matthew, is about just that: about how far we have fallen, how far we have twisted our purpose for being, how far we are from the human beings God created us to be, and the consequences of that. You know, for 50 years I was taught that this parable — of the talents as we call it — was about using our talents and money in service to our master, which was always defined as God or Jesus or the church. And that it was about being good stewards, much as Jesse related to us today.
     
    But I always felt quite uncomfortable with the twist at the end, of the master being as harsh and greedy and cruel as the fearful third slave said he was. Because truly it turns out he is just that. When he takes away what the man had saved, and now returns to him and then gives it to the one manager who really doesn't need it. And the master calls the third slave wicked and lazy and worthless, and commands he be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
     
    Did that not make you a little uncomfortable? A little uncomfortable, as you heard this parable read today? And the use of the language of "master" and "slave" — and I know that that was pretty normal in Jesus' day, but has a very different ring to us today — but the use of that language just adds deeply to my conclusion, of rejection of this parable as one about the traditional form of stewardship interpretation. I believe that this parable is not really about stewardship in the traditional way of thinking, but that it is about how thoroughly messed up we have become in this world of haves and have-nots, and about how badly we have betrayed the goodness of who we were created to be.
     
    So let me try to explain, try to unpack this for you if I can, give you a little bit of background. I'm sure that you've heard that talents were not coins like pennies and quarters and half dollars. But talents were hefty, precious metals like gold and silver, that weighed 80 to 100 pounds, and that a single talent was worth approximately 20 years of an ordinary laborer's wage — a staggering amount of money to Jesus' peasant audience. How did the elite of that time amass that kind of wealth? They lent money to the farming poor at exorbitant interest — which by the way was against Jewish laws on usery. And they systematically stripped those debtors of their land, and they did it this way: often the people who took such loans, at rates between 60% to 200% sometimes, did so out of desperation — the people who took out these loans — putting their fields up as collateral and in last-ditch efforts to save their livelihoods. Inevitably their efforts would fail. Drought, illness, too little crop yield, and then foreclosure was not far behind. The poor man would have no choice but to surrender his ancestral land, and watch as the wealthy elites repurposed his field for profit. And then the poor man joined the multitudes of landless day laborers, who couldn't know from day to day where their bread would come from.
     
    This is the situation Jesus describes in the parable of the talents, I believe. The three slaves in the story are the wealthy masters, retainers, or household bureaucrats — essentially the middlemen who oversee the land and the workers, collect the debts, and keep the profits coming while the master travels away on business or goes to rest at his seaside home in maybe Caesarea. And it is understood by everyone involved that the slaves are free to make a little interest on the side, these middlemen, by charging the farmers additional fees or interest. They can do this as long as they keep the money flowing for their master. So, of course the name of the game is exploitation, and no questions asked. And the only rule is a turn of profit. Turn as huge a profit as possible.
     
    And two of the slaves do exactly that. They do as they're told: they take their talents out into the world and double them on the backs of the poor. When the master returns and sees what they've accomplished on his behalf, he's thrilled. He invites the two enterprising slaves to enter into his joy — the joy of further wealth, further profit, further exploitation. But the third slave? The third slave in this story carries out the Jewish law. He buries the heavy talent in the earth. He hides it, literally taking it out of circulation, putting it where it will do no further harm to the poor. He was being faithful to the law, to the instructions if you will, that God had given God's people. And he did this knowing full well what it will cost him. The slave, afraid yet faithful, speaks truth to the master, speaks truth to power. "I knew that you were a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed." In Greek, the phrase "a hard man" means one whose eyes and heart, mouth and ears and hands and feet, are rigid, non-functioning, and arrogantly inhumane. "I knew that you were a hard man."
     
    By acting and speaking the truth, this third slave refuses to participate in a messed-up system that goes against God's will for human beings. And for doing so he is deeply shamed by the master and the others, and is fired, thrown out. And without a job, without land, he's as good as dead, thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. I sort of wondered, could this anticipate in fact what will happen to Jesus? Because this comes just before his suffering, his arrest, his crucifixion.
     
    I believe this is a convicting parable about how far we have fallen, how far we have twisted our purpose for being, how far we are from the human beings God created us to be. Yet there is an urgency of hope embedded in the placement and the timing of this parable. For you see, I believe it is an antithesis to the parable that Jesus tells that follows, that you will encounter next week on Christ the King Sunday, the parable of when the Son of Man comes. And it is, yes, a parable of judgment — but a parable of mercy as well. We often hear it called sheep and goats, the parable of the sheep and goats. This parable leads into that parable. This is how messed up we are. "But when the Son of Man comes." Pay attention to these parables. Pay attention to what Pastor Meagan will tell you next week.
     
    This was a time of urgency for Jesus. As he faced his arrest and coming crucifixion, he speaks truth to power, the power that we have that has messed up things. This is a time of urgency for Jesus. It is a time of urgency for us as well to hear this word. But I say to you friends, know this: Jesus Christ — Son of God, Son of Man, Emmanuel — is God with us. Is with you. For he entered into our messiness, spoke truth to our twisted power, interrupted business as usual for the sake of justice and mercy, suffered rejection, impoverishment, loneliness, and crucifixion, to bring us back to God and to begin God's new creation.
     
    It is through baptism into his life, death, and resurrection that we are being created in God's image again. And it is through the lens of the Son that God sees our goodness still. Through God's living word the Spirit is working, you see, to soften our hard hearts. The Spirit is working to open our blind eyes and see what we have become, and what we are to be. The Spirit is working to open our deaf ears to hear God's word, and to open our clenched fists so that we might be open to neighbor, to our siblings, that we might care for one another and be knit together as one humanity. And that we might care for the earth again as we are meant to do, as we are meant to be for the earth: its caretakers.
     
    So friends in Christ, hear the words of Paul, put on the breastplate of faith and love — and for a helmet, the hope of salvation that God is healing this world, has healed it through Christ Jesus. For God has destined us, Paul writes, not for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
     
    And may the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Karen Scherer, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11,  Matthew 25:14-30
  • Nov 8, 2020Are You Prepared?
    Nov 8, 2020
    Are You Prepared?
    Series: (All)
    November 8, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on Jesus' Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, and being prepared in the midst of so many long hauls.
     
    Readings: Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I am a planner. I always have been, since birth. As a kid, I loved to read Nancy Drew mystery books, and when I read the Tale of the Twister, it offered a list of things to include in an “emergency preparedness kit” and I was all over it. I assembled the most complete backpack of supplies I could manage at the age of 9 — water, flashlight, batteries, granola bars, duct tape, even toothpaste. My brothers got a lot of mileage teasing me when I insisted on bringing the kit on a boat ride one day — until the lights on the boat went out, after dark. And my kit, if you recall, included a flashlight, which we were able to use to aid our way home. I have rarely felt more vindicated in my passion for preparing than in that moment.
     
    This desire to plan ahead has followed me into adulthood, and when we were heading out to be with my mother-in-law in her final days in a Wisconsin hospital and weren’t sure how long we would be gone, I made a list of over 30 things to do before we left so we would be ready for an extended absence. And, I got them done in a day!
     
    Part of me, when I read today’s gospel about preparing for God’s coming, immediately wants to get out a piece of paper and pen — or maybe the task list on my phone — and begin making my checklist of things to do. Fellow planners back me up on this: isn’t that what Jesus is telling us? To be prepared? To get everything ready, so that we aren’t taken by surprise when God shows up?
     
    In spite of the passion I have for planning ahead and preparing, I have to admit that I find Jesus’ parable, of the wise people who planned ahead and had a good stock of oil for their lamps, and the foolish people who didn't have enough oil, a little disturbing. After all, no matter how well we prepare, we may never be fully ready for what actually happens. I don’t think any of us felt prepared for a pandemic — I certainly didn’t, and still don’t, although it’s not from lack of trying.
     
    This story of the unprepared, foolish people who miss their opportunity to be with the bridegroom definitely triggers anxiety, and assuming that Jesus is the bridegroom, it leaves us with a rather unforgiving image of our God. If you have enough oil, it seems to say, you’re in. If not, you’re out. The poor, foolish bridesmaids live out the worst nightmare for a planner like me — having failed to plan well enough, they miss their chance, and they're left in the cold. And although the wise bridesmaids don’t overtly judge the foolish ones who don’t have oil, their decision not to share their oil is rather harsh. At least Matthew leaves out the often-mentioned “wailing and gnashing of teeth” that is the punishment for those who are turned away from the banquet!
     
    As we look more closely, though, some interesting details are revealed that may help us to understand this parable perhaps a little better. For one thing, Jesus tells us that it wasn’t just the foolish bridesmaids who fell asleep. They all did. None of them were awake and waiting for the bridegroom when he approached. The bridesmaids, the foolish ones, weren’t any better off in that regard.
     
    And then, there is the oil. The wise people had oil to spare, and the bridegroom had arrived. Was there really not enough to light all the lamps? Couldn’t they have split the oil among them, like Martin divided his cloak? They just needed enough oil to get them back to the banquet hall, after all. It seems a little selfish not to share, when the light would benefit them all in the end.
     
    Theologian Debi Thomas, in her blog “Journey with Jesus,” offers an additional perspective on the oil situation. Perhaps, she suggests, the problem isn’t so much that the foolish ones didn’t have enough oil and the wise ones did but wouldn’t share, but that they all believed that having an abundance of oil was necessary in order to be allowed into the banquet hall. They all thought that the bridegroom cared more about the oil than he did about them!
     
    It is, Thomas points out, a very human thing to feel like we can’t present ourselves for the banquet, or whatever challenge or opportunity is in front of us, unless we are completely prepared. The wise people, with their extra oil, probably didn’t want to wait for the bridegroom to arrive. They were tired, we know, and fell asleep because it took so long for him to get there. They were probably as impatient as we were waiting for the last of those election results to come in, perhaps feeling that familiar catch of breath every time they thought they saw a glint of light in the distance the way we did when our browser recycled or we thought we saw a breaking news banner on the top of the page and thought, maybe it’s finally Nevada, or Pennsylvania, or Arizona. And then we sighed and sat back again, until the next time, and the next.
     
    No, the wise people probably didn’t want to wait, but they realized that they might have to. And so, they were prepared not just for what they hoped for — the eventual coming of the bridegroom — but for what they knew might be a very long night. If they were anything like me, they probably not only had extra oil, but some food and drink and blankets as well. And so, if we set aside their selfishness for a moment, we can appreciate and learn from them the wisdom of being ready not just for what we hope for, but for the very long wait and journey that it will take to get there.
     
    We are in the midst of so many long hauls, family of faith. The pandemic, with its treatments and eventual vaccine that we know so many people are working so hard on, but it still seems like it's taking far too long, certainly much longer than we thought it would take when we began that journey in March. The continued pain and woundedness and division of racism in our country, which people of color and allies have been living with and addressing for so many years. And people are still suffering and dying in its wake wondering, “How long must we wait before justice comes?”
     
    The wise ones were prepared for the long haul, and we are wise too if we also prepare for the long haul. But we are foolish if we think that our preparation will make what we wait for come any faster, or make us any more acceptable to the one for whom we are waiting. The wise ones could have shared, like St. Martin did his robe, and not been loved any less. The foolish ones, had they stayed, would have been loved just as well without oil, but they didn’t realize that, and they missed seeing the bridegroom because they thought they weren’t ready enough as they were.
     
    The long haul is not an easy path, is it? It is not what any of us choose. It's tiring. It can wear us down, if we aren't ready — and even if we are. And it can leave us feeling unworthy and raggedly unacceptable, even if the truth is that the bridegroom we are waiting for loves us no matter how little oil we have, or how soundly we fall asleep while we're waiting.
     
    Because worst of all, the long haul can make us forget what we are really hoping and waiting for to begin with. We can forget that no matter how long it takes, the bridegroom is coming! All of the prophets, and Jesus himself, remind us of this all the time. There will be a banquet. This pandemic will end. The election will be resolved. There will come a time when racism, homophobia and transphobia, poverty and injustices of all kinds will be overcome by the love of God.
     
    And we are invited to wait and watch and participate in the reign of God as it approaches, knowing that it will come. Amos reminds the people that it’s not so much about getting everything right so that we can make God’s spirit come on this earth, but about recognizing that God is already here, at work in the world all around us. It’s about letting God’s justice roll down like water, like an ever-flowing stream. We're invited into God’s reign, which is coming not someday way in the future, but is happening right now. And no matter how prepared, or unprepared, or raggedy, or tired we are, we are all invited, and known, and loved.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13, Debi Thomas, Journey with Jesus, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Nov 1, 2020Celebrating the Saints
    Nov 1, 2020
    Celebrating the Saints
    Series: (All)
    November 1, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon on this All Saint's Day celebrates all the saints who have come before us.
     
    Readings: Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Some years ago, we got word that Joanne O’Neil, a beloved administrator of the church and school that we attended as kids, had died. Although she wasn't a family friend exactly, Joanne was one of those iconic figures in our lives for all of our growing up years — one of those steady, ever-present people who always seemed to have space and time in her office for anyone. She seemed to particularly love those who were expert trouble-makers in class, like my youngest brother, perhaps because she had a spark of that rebellious nature in herself. Upon hearing that she'd died, as a young adult, I remember calling my youngest brother and saying to him, “So bro, who’s the adult now?” Who's going to take the place of this iconic figure who was just always there, embodying love and grace in her unique way?
     
    And we both realized — we were now the ones called upon to be those iconic ever-present people in the lives of those coming after us. We were now the adults. And we wondered with each other, as young people in our early twenties, what that even meant.
     
    Today is All Saint’s Day, that specific day each year that we remember those people who have died. We grieve again in community the loss of those who are no longer physically with us, whose deaths have left a gap in our contact lists, our tables, and our lives. We remember those who have, like Joanne, made an impact on our lives, blessed us, helping to shape in many different ways who we are as people of God. We grieve, and we're grateful.
     
    The reading from the first letter of John today says that we continue to be transformed by the love of the God who created us, and even if others don’t understand, they can’t help but notice. And we don’t know yet, John says, what we will become.
     
    Jesus fleshes this out for his disciples in many ways. But in today’s reading, the gospel, through the beatitudes Jesus lifts up empathy, a capacity for love and grief, humility, mercy, passion for justice, truth, and God’s shalom as some of the ways that God’s love can be embodied in this world. Jesus encourages his followers to aspire to live out these ideals, telling them, in effect, that when you are empathetic, humble or merciful, or when you grieve someone you’ve lost, or seek truth, justice or peace, you are experiencing God’s realm on earth.
     
    And beyond that, theologian Raj Nadella suggests that we are invited to participate in the kin-dom of God by actively noticing when we experience these things, and living out the second part of the beatitudes — showing mercy, working for justice and peace, offering comfort, approving and affirming truth. As we all know, we human beings are not God. We're all in process, becoming more and more the people God created us to be, and it is in our relationships with one another that God works this transformation in us.
     
    There are many people in my life who have helped make me the person I am, who have embodied the love of God and the beatitudes for me in ways that have changed me forever. My Grandma Anne had a faithful sense of humor, and a generous spirit — she would have given the shirt off her back to anyone, and in her gruff way showered the love of God on those around her. My neighbor Gail, whose children I babysat for years, had a capacity to really see me with a love that didn’t need to change me that few others seemed to have. And my mom’s sister, my Aunt Kate, who died in February this year, always inspired me with her sense of hungering for justice, her gratitude and joy, and her capacity to walk through the challenges of life with authenticity and grace.
     
    Who are the people who have shaped you and made you the person you are today? Who has blessed you? Who has revealed God’s love, and the values of the beatitudes, to you? And how are you different because of their presence in your life?
     
    In our reading from Revelation today, John shares a vision of all the saints coming together, brought to wholeness once more. Often when I hear this, I think of the designated saints, those whose lives have been what we might think of as perfect, and who seem to have been — seem to have been — flawless in their capacity to follow God. Today, on the heels of Reformation Sunday, I am reminded of Luther’s conviction that we are all sinner and saint, and I am struck by the statement that these saints gathering are those who have been through the ordeal. They've been through struggle, they have fallen short and stood up again, as we all do. They've experienced persecution, hunger, grief, and even death, and they've found healing in the God who loves and redeems us all. These are the saints.
     
    And we too are saints of God, human sinner and saint, called to notice and name when we see God at work among us, and called to embody God’s love in this world for those who come after us, just as others did for us. Called to bless others as we have been blessed. That, perhaps, is the answer to the questions my brother and I had when Joanne died, so many years ago. Who’s the adult? We are. What does that mean? Doing the best we can to be the people God created us to be, modeling God’s kin-dom in our lives, trusting God to bring us through our ordeals, and knowing that even death is not the final word.
     
    Every week when we celebrate communion, we are gathered not only with those we can see, but with the entire communion of saints. God’s table is wide, and as we share the meal, all the saints are present. In these months that we have been Worshipping and celebrating communion together via Zoom, perhaps our vision has been sharpened, as we know that in spite of our physical distance, we are still sharing the table of God together. Today, let’s envision that table extending beyond even the reaches of Zoom, making room for all of the saints who have gone before us to share in this celebration together.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
  • Oct 25, 2020The Truth Will Set Us Free
    Oct 25, 2020
    The Truth Will Set Us Free
    Series: (All)
    October 25, 2020. What does it really mean to be free? Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” His followers were confused, not realizing that they weren't yet free. Jesus’ reply to them is for us, too: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” In her sermon on this Reformation Sunday, Pastor Meagan delves into these readings.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So, as I was thinking about this — the readings that we have today and Reformation Sunday — I called to mind there was this time I was sitting in a restaurant and I was eating dinner (you know, this was back before COVID, when we could do those things) and I heard several thunks. And I turned around and I saw a bird flying around inside the restaurant, banging into windows here and there and everywhere in her frantic attempt to get outside again. She finally landed on the floor, exhausted, and I went over and I laid my jacket gently over her and I carried her through the door outside. I opened the jacket very cautiously, because I expected her to just burst out. But instead she clung for dear life, her tiny talons hooked into the lining of my jacket, afraid to let go and be free. And as I held her I wondered, how often do we do that? We struggle to be free from the things that confine us, and then cling to our cage when the door is finally opened. What does it really mean to be free anyway? And why are we, if we're really honest with ourselves, terrified of it?
     
    Jesus’ followers are confused when Jesus promises that they will be set free, in that moment not realizing that they aren’t free yet. At times we do the same thing again, don’t we? We can be bound up, trapped in familiar ways of doing things, convinced that the way we see things is the only perspective. Without realizing it, we can get caught up in the violence and the “isms” of this world. And we can forget that we need God, and go off on our own, believing we can handle things on our own. And before we know it, we're trapped in our own illusion of self-sufficiency.
     
    And often, we don’t even realize that we're stuck. Most of the time, we have the luxury of living in the illusion that we're in control of our lives, even if it is only through the false security of believing that we know what our future holds. Jesus in John promises freedom, and his followers protest, and we might well make the same claim. We live in a free country, slavery was abolished over 150 years ago! What do you mean by saying “You will be made free?”
     
    Jesus’ reply to his followers is for us, too: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” We are all trapped in our own brokenness. And on this Reformation Sunday, it's appropriate to remember that, as Martin Luther taught, we are all both sinners and saints. All of us, at times, forget that we need God. We forget what our true relationship with God is.
     
    We are free in one sense. But at a much deeper level, we are all slaves to our own brokenness. We all forget that, as we heard in Jeremiah today, God’s law — God’s word and God's promise — has been written on our hearts. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. God’s promise of love for all of us, God’s people, and our call to love God and our neighbor, has been coded into our very DNA. Kelly Brown Douglas, in her book Stand Your Ground, which a group of us are reading, says that God is by nature free, transcendent of all the brokenness of this world. And God’s work in us and in the world is about freedom. Freedom to be who we are as children of God. And still, we, all of us, forget who we are.
     
    Even Martin Luther was bound by sin — and I think he'd be the first one to admit that. Luther, whose leadership we celebrate today, did and said so many wonderful things. But he also said terrible things about Jewish people. And by doing that, he shared with us a heritage that contributes to hatred of our siblings in faith. Because of this heritage, we Christians can forget that the Jesus we worship lived and died as a faithful Jew, and so we continue to be bound.
     
    We are all sinner and saint. Especially when we're feeling battered or exhausted by life’s experiences, we can get trapped in fear, and ground our hope in our own efforts instead of trusting in God. We can go beyond reasonable steps to take care of ourselves, and feel separated from others, and from God. We can find ourselves tempted and even trapped into doing whatever we have to do to get the outcome that we believe we need. When I get into this mode of thinking, I end up stuck in a black and white story of my own making, terrified of losing control of the way it will end. We all have our narratives, the stories we create that end up binding us and separating us from life itself.
     
    Much of the time, we have the luxury of thinking we are in control. But there are times, like now perhaps, where we are painfully aware that we are not. Times like now when the world can feel chaotic and terrifying, when as the psalmist says, the earth is changing, the mountains shaking, the waters roaring and foaming, and the mountains trembling with the tumult of violence, uprisings, a global pandemic, and political upheaval.
     
    We can also be bound in the lies that tell us that we're not good enough. Voices that tell us that we're not worthy of love, and don’t have anything to offer the world. And yet, at the same time, this lie tells us that we have to earn our place. We believe we'll have to make ourselves worthy of God’s love, even as we know we’ll never ever get there. Luther struggled with this, daily. I have as well, and I imagine that I'm not alone here. These lies, this denial of our own beloved-ness, are a powerful bond that enslaves us, keeps us from the freedom that God is promising.
     
    We are all slaves to our own brokenness, but Jesus made his followers a promise — and makes us a promise today. “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And the truth that Jesus talks about, the truth that will free us, is precisely why we are so afraid of freedom. The truth, as Paul proclaims it in Romans today, is simply this: we have all sinned, and we all need God. Every one of us, without exception. We all need God.
     
    And as we hear from the prophet Jeremiah, we are all beloved children of God, and we all have the capacity to know and love and trust God within us, written in our hearts. Coded in our very DNA. Without doing anything, we are God’s beloved. We don’t have to earn it. We just are.
     
    What terrifies us about this truth is that when we embrace it, it takes us completely out of the driver’s seat. We can no longer cling to an illusion of safety that is built on our own efforts or beliefs that we are in control. We are vulnerable, exposed for who we are, face-to-face with our own humanity. This, ironically, is the truth that leads us to freedom, the freedom to be exactly the people that God created us to be.
     
    We are freed by this truth, because grounded in our own humanity, we can understand Martin Luther’s claim that we are simultaneously sinner and saint. The very truth of our own weakness reveals our need for God, and our identity as God’s beloved children. The promise of the covenant Jeremiah talks about is our promise. God’s law has been written on our hearts, God is our God, and we are God’s people. In the core of who we are, God has written the law of love, justice, faithfulness, and forgiveness. This is the promise of our baptisms. And as our illusions, addictions, and sinfulness die in the light of this promise, we can see that we've been enslaved. And we can see that we are free.
     
    God’s truth empowers us to claim the promise of freedom not just for ourselves, but for all people, especially those who are marginalized, and for all of creation. The truth frees us to call for change where it’s needed, even when it is chaotic and scary. The truth gave Martin Luther the freedom to challenge even the Pope, calling for the reform that was so desperately needed. He pounded nails and hung his beliefs and challenges on the door of Wittenberg Seminary, even though he had no idea how things would turn out, seeking his refuge in God.
     
    Empowered by the Spirit, the truth can give us the freedom to follow Luther’s lead, navigate the almost constant change and uncertainty that we are living in, and call for the transformation desperately needed today, in our world and in our church.
     
    Like the bird with its talons hooked into my jacket lining, we tend to cling to what we feel sure of, certain that there is nothing to catch us if we let go. The chaos, as the psalmist sings it, does not go away, and times like these can be anxiety-producing and chaotic. God’s promise to us is not that the chaos will end or that change will be easy, but that God will be with us, no matter what. This is the truth, and the truth will set us free. And you can trust in God, in faith that God will not leave you hanging.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36, Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground, coronavirus, pandemic
  • Oct 18, 2020Made in God’s Image
    Oct 18, 2020
    Made in God’s Image
    Series: (All)
    October 18, 2020. In today's gospel reading about paying taxes to the emperor, the religious leaders are trying to draw Jesus into a trap, and he knows it. But if Caesar’s image on the coins belongs to Caesar, then God’s image belongs to God. And we, who have been made in God’s image, belong to God.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    There is no right or easy answer to the question that the religious leaders ask Jesus today. And that’s intentional — the religious leaders are trying to draw Jesus into a trap, and he knows it. Jesus knows he is being flattered, he knows they are trying to catch him off his guard. And if he says yes, of course pay your taxes to the occupying tyrant, he will alienate those who trust him to help them find a way out from under, as well as violating temple law. If he says no, you don’t owe anything to the king, the leaders have grounds to have him arrested by the Romans — which of course they did anyway, eventually. He never tried to hide his alliance with those on the margins, after all. Jesus is caught between a rock and a hard place, isn’t he?
     
    And his answer is really nothing short of brilliant. By making them produce the coin, he is compelling them to demonstrate their alliance with the empire, with Rome, something they didn't necessarily want to do. Instead of successfully forcing Jesus to choose a side, the leaders revealed to everyone watching that they already had picked a side! The lives they lived and the privilege they had was made possible by the same empire that made the lives of so many others miserable and oppressed. The denarius in their pocket, bearing the image of the emperor, was proof of it.
     
    But before we get too comfortable with ourselves here, it occurred to me that if I am honest with myself, I can’t judge the leaders with that denarius in their pocket without acknowledging the denarius that I hold in my own pocket. It’s kind of like Jesus telling his listeners in another conversation that they should not try to remove the speck from their siblings’ eye before removing the plank from their own eye. There are many ways in which I have benefited from systems in this world that do great damage to others — banking with institutions that support payday lending, buying clothes made using unjust labor practices, getting food that is not sustainably produced and does damage to the earth and to other communities, and many others things. And although we've made changes to live more justly, sometimes it seems like there is no way to escape some of these alliances that I have — that we all have if we're honest — with the empire of our day. I know that I, like the leaders who are trying to challenge Jesus, are carrying that denarius in my pocket, too.
     
    Once the coin has been produced, Jesus makes clear this connection, claiming that because of the image on the coin, it belongs to the emperor. And that got me thinking about images and belonging — and this is where we get to the good news! Especially today, as we celebrate in this community Sloane’s baptism that happened yesterday. Because although the denarius has the image of the emperor, we have been made in the image of God! We go back to Genesis and the story of creation, and we know that God made us in God’s image. And if Caesar’s image like those on the coins belongs to Caesar, as Jesus suggests, then God’s image belongs to God. We, who have been made in God’s image, belong to God!
     
    Throughout sacred scripture, we're told over and over that we belong to God. The psalmist sings in Psalm 96 of the god who made all things, and describes all of creation singing out of joy, not because God commanded it, but because it can’t help itself. The heavens are glad, the earth rejoices, the seas roar, and the fields exult! Paul tells the Thessalonians that he has seen them embody the spirit and promise of God so well, that they don’t even need to say it, everyone just knows whose they are.
     
    We too can embody God’s promise in our world. We can makes choices, one decision at a time, that reflect God’s love and abundance and justice, and challenge injustice, violence, and the myth of scarcity. We can practice opening our hearts and our lives to those who are wounded and left out by today’s empire, embodying welcome like Paul says the Thessalonians did.
     
    Being the image of God is not something we do only here, within these virtual walls of Christ Lutheran Church, but in our neighborhoods, our families, our workplaces, and our schools. The image of God that we are can be reflected in all areas of our lives, in particular these next few weeks in our civic life. First, we vote, and we encourage others to do so also. And second, we bring our faith to the polls, claiming God’s promise and desire for the well-being of all people and all creation.
     
    And every time we celebrate a baptism, we remember this promise. Like the Thessalonians, more and more we grow in our capacity to reflect the image of the one who formed us out of clay and breathed life into us. We're reminded that even those we might think don’t belong — like Cyrus, that Persian king who Isaiah calls God’s anointed — they are all God’s children. We remember that we too were formed with great creative joy, and are made in the image of the one who continues to create us all anew today.
     
    Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s. Today we recall our baptisms, as we celebrate in this community Sloane’s baptism. We claim in the baptismal water and words the promise that we are made in God’s image, and belong to the God whose image we bear. So today, we give ourselves to God, and ask God to keep forming and shaping and teaching us throughout our lives, and we go out from here to embody God’s love and justice in the world — not because we are commanded to do so, but simply because we are God’s, and we just can’t help it.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
  • Oct 11, 2020The Raggedy Guest and the Values of God
    Oct 11, 2020
    The Raggedy Guest and the Values of God
    Series: (All)
    October 11, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on Jesus' parable of the petulant king and the raggedy guest, and how they can wake us up to envision our own communities and conflicts differently.
     
    Readings: Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Is anyone else feeling weary this week? The pandemic is ongoing with no break. We struggle with how to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, knowing that the weather is fast-changing and soon being outside isn't going to be an easy option. And that all seems to be weighing in on these last days. And the tension and anxiety around the upcoming election, and the stark divisions over issues that carry so much importance, certainly don’t help.
     
    My family and I have always seen things differently from one another. So many times over the years I've had to remind myself that it is not my job to make sure my family members agree with me, especially when it comes to issues at all related to politics. And in our world today, with so much hard division between one party and the other, so much chaos happening in so many ways, and so much at stake, that's become particularly difficult. And I have to admit, I have not been very good at remembering this of late. Maybe I need to practice Red Light, Green Light when I'm getting into that mindset. It doesn’t help that my youngest brother happens to be a committee chairman for the opposite political party from the one that aligns best with my views, and that my dad and I have diametrically opposed sources of news. It is so easy to get focused on particular personalities, specific issues, and get to arguing about statistics or perspectives on things, isn’t it? I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Red light!
     
    Once again, thankfully, we find that there really is nothing new under the sun, no problems that God hasn’t taught us about, nothing that God hasn’t seen before. In our passage from the letter of Paul to the Philippians today, we find that Paul is addressing what we might call political divisions that are happening among the leaders and people of Philippi, 2,000 years ago.
     
    There was a lot at stake for the young church, as they navigated their way through so many challenges and decisions. People argued over a lot of things — who should lead, who could belong, how to practice their faith with integrity with an increasingly diverse community. So we aren’t the first to get lost in personalities and fights over particulars, and struggle with how to live out our faith when so much is changing. Paul is definitely speaking to worry, anxiety, and stress, which I think we can all relate to these days.
     
    Thankfully, Paul has some wisdom to offer us, and not surprisingly, his solution brings us right back to what is really important. Paul starts out by counseling Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in Jesus. I've always read this as meaning that we need to agree with one another in everything — be of the same mind — but what jumps out at me today, in this divided world that we're living in, is the phrase “in Jesus.” As this resonates, it dives deeper than surface agreement on a personality or decision, going from sharing opinions to sharing values.
     
    Paul calls the Philippians, and us, back to the God-given values that Jesus embodied for us. And he gets specific. Joy, gentleness, gratitude, truth, honor, justice, purity. Being of the same mind in Jesus doesn't take away our differences, but Paul suggests that it does unite us as we find our common values. And it starts with rejoicing, and being grateful. Perhaps this is something we can do with our stoplight: rejoice and be grateful.
     
    And then we have the gospel. The religious leaders and Jesus’ disciples, like us, are also trying to figure out how to live their lives in faith, to make sense out of what it means to embody the kin-dom of God in this world. Jesus offers a very different and perhaps complementary answer from Paul, and as he does so often, Jesus talks in parables. And this week’s parable, I have to say, is quite a challenge! What on earth are we to take from this petulant and violent king, the rude people who ignore the king’s invitation, and the raggedy guest who gets bound and cast out into proverbial weeping and gnashing of teeth? Jesus is on a mission, these few weeks, to help us see not only the invitation to the joy and abundance of God’s kin-dom, but our own resistance to the invitation that God offers us so freely.
     
    Starting with the king. He’s throwing a party, and no one wants to come. How could they be so rude as to blow off the king?! It’s so easy to make things about us isn’t it, even when it’s about our faith. The king, it seems, has gotten caught up in what others think of them, and is badly offended when they don’t get the recognition they think they deserve. When you look at how the king acted though, it’s no wonder people blew off his invitation. And it’s easy for us too to get off track quickly, when we get caught up in our own agenda, and forget to delight in the community around us and let our gentleness be known to those around us.
     
    And the first round of guests, the ones who don’t come? They all have reasons — maybe really good ones, although Jesus suggests otherwise in this case — and the truth is, so do we sometimes. We take for granted the invitation we've been given to community, and ignoring the call to share gratefully in the abundance of God.
     
    And then, there is the second round of guests. These guests are not the first choice of the king, but still they're invited. They accept the invitation and all is well, until one of these last-minute guests has the audacity to show up in the wrong clothes. Often, we judge the guest, taking this as a cautionary tale about the need to dress properly (figuratively speaking) for the heavenly banquet. But theologian Debie Thomas in her blog proposes an alternative reading, and a question: what if this “ragged” guest is actually Jesus? What if the invitation to us today is to realize that it is not God who is judging and critiquing our worthiness, or other people’s worthiness, to enter the kin-dom, but us?
     
    Maybe today, we can let the absurdity of this image of a king, God, who sets a town on fire because the “worthy” people don’t show up at his party, invites the “regular people” only because the important people wouldn’t come, and then throws out the guest who doesn’t observe protocol — we can let all that wake us up to envision the kin-dom, and our own communities and conflicts, differently. To realize that when we demand compliance with arbitrary protocols, we cast out Jesus, the one we most want to welcome. We can dream of an abundant table, in the presence of our enemies, that needs no barriers or requirements because it has enough for everyone. And all who show up are transformed by the grace of that invitation.
     
    This brings us back to Paul, and the conflict among the Philippians. Rejoice, he tells us, first and always. When worry sets in, ask God for what we need with gratitude. Rather than seeking agreement on non-essentials, keep our focus on the values that bring us together as people of God. Truth. Justice. Honor. Jesus, the ragged guest at the feast, may not say anything, but he models for us an unwillingness to give in to the petty arguments and rules, he highlights the injustice of the arbitrary boundaries and barriers, and stands firm in his opposition to a king who clearly cares more about himself than he does about the community around him.
     
    Paul tells us to focus on the values of our faith, to ask God for what we need, and practice gratitude — all pillars of living out our faith, and rest for our weary souls. As you heard from Jesse today, and will hear from Carolyn and others in our Adult Forum later, taking care of ourselves and nurturing our community is the foundation of well-being as people of God. The stress of trying to agree may not disappear, but it lessens. Our worry fades. We have the courage and strength to stand firmly for truth, honor, and justice, in our families, our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools, and the ballot box, led by Jesus the ragged guest. And the promise is that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ.
     
    Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, COVID-19, coronavirus, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
  • Oct 4, 2020Tenants in God’s Vineyard
    Oct 4, 2020
    Tenants in God’s Vineyard
    Series: (All)
    October 4, 2020. The parable of the wicked tenants is a powerful story that contains the entire gospel message. In his sermon today, guest preacher Jon Heerboth delves into the meaning of this reading, and what God expects of us.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Well, that's quite a parable. Sometimes it is hard to interpret the parables. "Why did you always talk in parables?" we ask Jesus, along with his disciples. The disciples were right there with Jesus and struggled to understand what he was talking about. What chance do we have?
     
    The parable in today's gospel is easier to interpret than many, but its meaning is difficult to accept. Jesus is in Jerusalem. It's a couple of days after Palm Sunday. The people welcomed him with loud hosannas. It's been a long time since the light first shined on Jesus' listeners in Galilee. Many miles have been walked, many words have been spoken, and many wonders done. Jesus has been through the towns and cities of Galilee. He's been in the synagogues teaching and proclaiming, talking about the kingdom of heaven. He has healed every kind of disease and affliction, he's been in Gentile territory, and he's been in Judea.
     
    It's been a long time, many miles walked, many words spoken, many wonders done. Everyone has heard about him or gone to see him. Now Jesus arrives at the temple in Jerusalem, and he puts them on notice. He ran off the people who were selling. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of the dove sellers. He said they were turning a house of prayer into a den of robbers. And then he went back to healing the sick and lame and restoring sight to the blind.
     
    In the gospel lesson, the leaders of the temple came to challenge Jesus. They were the wealthy, the religious elite of their day. They depended on the money spent at the temple to maintain their power. You have to hand it to the chief priests and the elders: when Jesus told them the parable about the bad tenants, they got it. They understood right away that Jesus was talking about them. Jesus showed them the truth, that they were looking after themselves and their own wealth rather than tending to the needs of God's people. Jesus held a mirror to them, and they did not like it. They wanted to arrest him, but didn't want to offend the crowds he drew, who thought Jesus was a prophet.
     
    This parable is a powerful story that contains the entire gospel message. God's people — the vineyard — were producing fruit, but the tenants were not returning any of that fruit to God. God sent prophets, but they were rejected. Jesus is the son of the landlord who came to reclaim what rightfully belongs to his father, but his mission was violently received by the father's own tenants, the very religious leaders who were confronting Jesus on the temple grounds. Jesus told them that the stone that the builders rejected would become the cornerstone. That would be the Lord's doing, and would be amazing. Jesus also told them that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to the people who produce the fruits of the kingdom.
     
    We're going to retell that whole gospel story in the Apostle's Creed in a few minutes. That's the centerpiece of our faith. To reclaim the fruits that rightfully belong to the Father, the Son sets out to restore the world to its divinely created order. Jesus' own ministry revealed what that would look like: the sick made well, sinners forgiven and restored, the poor cared for, so that the people would praise God. Jesus was here to bring wholeness to a broken world and to give us a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. He showed us what God wanted creation to look like.
     
    It would be easy to read this parable and turn our eyes to our pastors, our bishops, and the churchwide leaders. Like the high priests in Jesus' time, they are God's tenants in the institutional church, and should make sure the landlord is receiving the fruits of their labor. Let's not leave the entire job to the church leaders though.
     
    When we lived in the country some years ago, our neighbors were all farmers. They were all tenants whose farming had expanded far beyond their original fields. They rented almost any productive parcel of ground they could find. They farmed the land and returned to the landlord cash rent, or a share of the crop — or both, depending upon their agreement. The farmers I knew, and they were very successful indeed, worked hard to keep their landlords happy. They cared for the land. The most conscientious cut the weeds in the ditches to keep the fence lines looking neat. One farmer I know made a point to travel around the country to visit his landlords in person during the winter. If the landlords were unhappy they would rent to another, and the farmer would lose production.
     
    We are all like tenants, aren't we? God has given our congregation and ourselves vineyards to tend. We have our personal lives and families. We have our professional lives. We have our friendships and other relationships. We have our faith and our worship together. Our landlord expects us to produce and share the harvests from every aspect of our lives. When we read again the words of verse 43, "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who produces the fruits of the kingdom," we know that our landlord will hold us to account.
     
    In the lesson from Isaiah, the prophet was speaking for God to Israel asking, "What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done?" The vineyard was Israel and Judah. God's people were his pleasant planting. That vineyard produced only wild, sour fruit. What was the sweet fruit that God expected? God demanded justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry of oppression from the poor of the day. The prophet tried to hold the leaders accountable. What more was there for God to do? Nothing? Then God would tear the vineyard down and stop the rainfall, and God's people would soon be gone.
     
    Well what are the sweet fruits of God's vineyard? What is God looking for from us? Fortunately, Matthew doesn't make us guess. If we walk back Jesus' many steps to the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, we can listen again to the words from the Sermon on the Mount. Who bears the fruit? "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The mourners, the meek who inherit the earth, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers who will be called the children of God, the persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, those who are reviled and persecuted and falsely accused for Jesus' sake. Remember, they did the same thing to the prophets who came before.
     
    If we are committed to a church that bears fruit, we ought to be feeding the poor — not giving cover to the rich. We ought to be concerned about preserving the land God gave us, in terms of the earth and climate change. We ought to be concerned with treating all of God's creatures equally, and not give support to those who have made it their business to be divisive, within the church and in our society as a whole. We don't want to stand behind Jesus and wag an accusatory finger at his opponents. We should put ourselves in the shoes of the high priests and the elders, and allow ourselves to be confronted by what Jesus has to say. When we step back from the lesson and examine ourselves, we can find bits and pieces of the rebellious and self-serving tenants.
     
    Our charge is to render unto God what is God's. For anyone called by God to a particular ministry, namely all of us, there is temptation to claim ownership of that ministry and to confuse service with entitlement. When we feel a sense of entitlement, we close ourselves off to what Jesus is doing in the world. We are no longer serving Jesus, but are protecting ourselves from him.
     
    Paul wrote about his own sense of entitlement. He said if there was anyone who had reason to be confident, he had more. He listed his pedigree, his compliance with the law, his status as a Pharisee. As a conscientious Pharisee he was a zealous persecutor of the church. He was totally without blame. Paul says all of that is rubbish. It counts for nothing before God. He lost everything he thought mattered, because he learned that righteousness before God can only come from the work of Jesus Christ. Like Paul, we learn that all of the stuff we think we own and in which we trust is rubbish. Everything that matters is God's. As tenants in God's vineyard, we can say with Paul, "But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."
     
    Let us pray for God to bless us all, but to extend a hand of particular care to our pastor and professional staff at Christ, so that they may continue to remind us that we are all tenants in vineyards that are the Lord's.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jon Heerboth, Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
  • Sep 27, 2020Actions Speak Louder than Words
    Sep 27, 2020
    Actions Speak Louder than Words
    Series: (All)
    September 27, 2020. We are all being transformed, called to humbly embody God’s justice for all of creation, one action at a time. And actions speak louder than words.
     
    Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    As I reflected on our readings this week, and the story that Alena shared of the Archangel Michael, the phrase “actions speak louder than words” kept echoing through my head. The parable Jesus tells his listeners describes one son saying he won't do something his father wants him to do, and then thinking better of it and doing it anyway, and the other son saying of course he would help, and then choosing not to. It’s pretty clear in the end who did what their father asked of them. What each of them said in this parable is not nearly so important as what they did. Michael too, in Alena’s story, went beyond words and took action, and stood against the evil of Lucifer. Actions speak louder than words.
     
    I thought of the classic 1988 movie “Working Girl” — starring Sigourney Weaver as Katharine, a high-powered executive woman, and Melanie Griffith as Tess, her new and naïve employee. Tess finds out how true it is that actions speak louder than words. Katharine sounds so supportive, promising to present Tess’s innovative ideas for consideration. And then she comes back to tell Tess that her ideas had been rejected. But Tess finds out later that Katharine lied — Tess’s ideas were approved, but Katharine took credit for them. Katharine said one thing, and did another thing entirely, and her actions definitely revealed far more of who she was than her words had.
     
    I’m sure we can all think of times in our own lives when someone said something, perhaps believing deeply they were speaking the truth and that they would keep their promise, but like the situation with Katharine and Tess, what actually happened didn’t match their words at all. As an LGBTQIA person, I have learned that the words “all are welcome,” far from being the end of a conversation, are not enough on their own, and that hearing stories about commitments kept and actions taken that show how a community lives into that promise is far more revealing. Actions speak louder than words.
     
    Perhaps like me, you yourself may have said you would do something, and not done it. It’s easy, isn’t it, to blame the religious leaders in today’s tale, laying responsibility solely at the feet of the Sadducees? But the truth is we’ve all been there — perhaps truly wanting to make the commitment we are giving voice to, perhaps wanting to say the thing we know we should say, maybe if we’re honest wanting to look better than our sibling who has just told our parent, “No!” It’s one thing, isn’t it, to say that we’ll do something, or that we believe something, and quite another to put those words and beliefs into action.
     
    Debie Thomas, in her entry for this week on her blog “Journey with Jesus,” says this:
     
    "We are meant to be uncomfortable, to be confronted, to ask ourselves: which son am I? Am I the child who makes promises I fail to keep? Am I the daughter who talks the talk, and sincerely believes that my sacred-sounding words are enough? Am I the son who doesn’t see repentance as a lifelong business, a business that didn’t end at the altar call, or the confirmation service, or the baptism, or the newcomer's class at church, that first drew me to Jesus?"
     
    Actions speak louder than words! And action, people of Christ, especially action that meets criticism and judgment by the world around us, is not easy. It is slow, hard work that results in change. Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” And lack of action, we know, can do immeasurable harm. It's how Nazism rose in Germany. Inaction contributed to slavery lasting for 400 years on this continent. And inaction allows for the wounds of racism, violence, poverty, and homelessness to continue in our country today. It is why someone could shoot Breonna Taylor, in her own apartment and — as we found out this week — not be charged. Edmund Burke said, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.“ Action — and sometimes inaction — speak louder than words.
     
    At times, we say the “right thing” and do the “wrong thing,” and at other times we say the “wrong thing” and do the “right thing.” Debie Thomas continues:
     
    "Or am I the son who says the wrong thing, but finally repents and obeys, anyway? The child who might not sound all spiritual and sanctified, but still does the work of love and mercy when the rubber meets the road? The daughter who recognizes that God is still at work, here and now, doing new things, transformative things, salvific things? The son who changes his mind when new truth, new life, new possibility, and new hope, reveal themselves?"
     
    Our reading from the letter of Philippians today is all about transformation. Jesus, out of radical, reckless, love, offers himself completely to God, and to us. And the promise Paul shares with us is that Jesus’ supporting act of surrender changes us, too. We are empowered to not only speak justice and mercy and truth, but live it out, the way Jesus did, in actions as well as words, as Alena suggested. With Jesus, we can face the evils of this world like the Archangel Michael did, and not turn away.
     
    For us as humans, on our own, this is not possible. In our reading from Exodus, we hear that one more time, the Israelites are struggling to trust that they will be OK, and one more time, God shows them that God will provide what they need to take the next step — this time, by bringing water from a stone. God provides for us, too.
     
    Putting our faith into action is not about our own strength, or earning our place with God, but about being transformed by God, turning outward to think of God, others, and creation, before ourselves, trusting as Paul says, that God is at work in us. Actions speak much louder than words. More in these days than ever it seems, it is so important to remember how much damage inaction can do.
     
    We are all being transformed, called to humbly embody God’s justice for all of creation, one action at a time. Each day we can ask, “What am I being called to do? How can I embody God’s love and justice, for my neighbor, for my community?” And when we're unsure of what to do, or afraid, God has shown that they will guide us and provide what that need — perhaps even sending angels to walk with us on the way. With the psalmist, we can pray: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.”
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, questioning, Alena Horn
  • Sep 20, 2020God’s Justice and Our Belonging
    Sep 20, 2020
    God’s Justice and Our Belonging
    Series: (All)
    September 20, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on the story of the laborers in the vineyard. As we learn from our readings, God’s concept of justice doesn’t look like ours.
     
    Readings: Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Once there was a woman who owned a small company that makes clothes. Business was steady and things were going well, and then the pandemic hit. She and her leadership team watched in shock, with the rest of the country, as sales plummeted. One of the team suggested that they make masks, and quickly they saw that had been a really wise decision. They had managed to keep most of their staff on with the help of a PPP loan, but soon they needed to hire more people to handle the extra workload.
     
    First, they hired a tech specialist to manage their online orders. The next week they brought on two people to help make the masks, and work on new designs for special fits and needs. Two weeks later they hired another person to deliver masks locally to larger clients like senior residences, care centers, and schools.
     
    The time came when all of the new staff were receiving their first paychecks, and although of course their hourly pay was supposed to be confidential, the delivery person exclaimed in surprise when they saw their check, and one of the long-time staff couldn’t help but overhear. They were frustrated because it didn’t seem right that someone who was so new to the staff, and only a driver after all, was getting paid so well. They went to the owner of the shop and complained. The shop owner replied, “Friend, I haven’t hurt you; we agreed on your salary, and you have been paid. Spend it as you wish with gratitude. I choose to pay our new staff a just wage also. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
     
    Sound at all familiar? Comparison, fairness, justice, and deserving are so much a part of our culture, and when someone gets something we don’t think they deserve — or when we don’t get something we think we do deserve — we are annoyed. It raises all kinds of questions of value, and belonging, and we’re tempted to judge who is deserving. We're all at least somewhat invested in the idea of fairness and justice. The thing is, as we learn from this parable, and from the story of the manna in the desert, God’s concept of justice doesn’t look like ours.
     
    So, what do we learn of God’s justice, from our readings today? It's easiest, perhaps, to look at where the justice of God and our concept of justice conflict.
     
    Our sense of justice says, “There is no free lunch. We get only what we earn.” Has anyone heard that? Anyone maybe said that? I certainly have that message in me that says I need to earn my place, earn love, earn approval, and at times it's even felt like I needed to earn the very air that I breathe. And I suspect I'm not alone in that.
     
    God’s sense of justice says look, every evening there's meat to eat. Every morning there's bread. No need to store anything away, no need to earn it, no pay being docked if you don’t make your quota or have to stay home with your sick child. Every evening and every morning, God provides what we need for the day.
     
    And Luther, in the Small Catechism, reminds us that this isn’t just about food and drink, but about trusting that everything we need — clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like — is provided for us, and for all people, by God. It may not look as we expected. Did you notice, the Israelites saw the manna and at first they were like, “What is that?” But unexpected as it may be, God provides enough for everyone. God’s sense of justice is that all people have what they need, for the day.
     
    Our sense of justice says, we have a right to judge whether something is just or not — that justice is based on values of fairness and equality, objective values that we can measure. Think of Jonah, and how upset he was at seeing God’s mercy for the Ninevites. Or the older son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, angry because his father showed compassion and abundance toward his younger sibling, who had abandoned the family and spent his inheritance. I remember vividly how frustrated I was when a classmate received a higher award than I did at our science fair, when I had helped her at the very last minute to put her project together — and I had spent weeks working on mine!
     
    And God’s response, as today when the workers who came in first were jealous of those who came in last and still received what they needed, is that it’s not up to us. God’s sense of justice says that we're called simply to ensure that God’s abundance is available to all without judgement, and whether something is fair or equal is up to God, and not us. Our sense of justice is grounded in what seems right for us. Like the long-time worker in the clothing shop, we can often slip into wanting to be sure we are getting what we deserve. We can, out of fear perhaps, be afraid of not having enough, and feel like the only way we can be sure is to prevent others — people who are not us — from having more than we do. As hard as I have tried to divest myself from companies that I know don’t treat their employees fairly, I admit that I'm still guilty at times of making the choice for convenience rather than justice.
     
    God’s justice is grounded in relationship. Belonging. The Israelites are in it together, all getting what they need to continue their common journey. And the workers are all paid, so they can all have food and shelter and safety, so that they can continue their common work. And here’s the thing — in the end, as God sees it, everyone belongs. As Jesse was saying, we are all interconnected and dependent on one another. God’s sense of justice is about relationship and belonging.
     
    And this brings us back to the first thing about justice. We can trust that God’s plan is to provide all people with what they need, for the day. And when we have that trust, we can let go more easily of what is fair or equal, and see more clearly the deep belonging that we share with all of God’s people, and all of creation. And if we discern with God’s sense of justice, we will see the damage that racism, anti-LGBTQIA action, ableism, economic oppression, and sexism, have done to us. We will know deeply the brokenness of a community that does not allow all people access to the bounty that God has provided, the woundedness that comes from denying people what they need to survive.
     
    Today, I am thinking so much about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of many who, like the shop owner in our story, imagined and worked for a sense of justice quite different from what is often lived out in this world. The notorious RBG claimed that laws that separated people on the basis of gender, preventing women from accessing education, employment, financial resources, and so much more, were not just, in spite of the fact that so many in power were convinced otherwise. And she continued to work for justice for all marginalized people right up until her death two days ago, at the age of 87. Like our shop owner, RBG can inspire and empower us as people of faith to live out a new vision of justice that is truly about trusting in God’s abundance, ensuring that it is available to all of creation, and it is based in a belief that all people belong, in our communities and in our world.
     
    When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating the intimate presence of God in our midst, and we're experiencing in a bodily way the abundance of God, in the smallest things, like bread and wine. Just like the Israelites did. We can see how God is providing for us, and for all people, each day. We can more easily see what we do have, and know that it is enough. And we're sent out share the good news in that awareness — there is enough for all, and God means for all of God’s children to have what they need, for this day. I invite you to take a step back today, and notice. Where is God providing for you today? Like Jesse said, who are the people that are participating in sharing in that abundance? And how can you ensure that God’s abundance is available for all people, as God intended?
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16, coronavirus, COVID-19, Paycheck Protection Program, Jesse Helton, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, questioning