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Nov 13, 2022
Falling-Apart-Times and Ordinary Days
Series: (All)
November 13, 2022. In falling-apart-times, we’re afraid. And Jesus tells us that as much as we may want to, as hard as we may try, we can't understand it or change it. But in those times, when the stones are coming down, God is present. And God will guide us and enable us to embody the love and mercy of God, no matter what is happening around us.
 
Readings: Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Often, when we come across apocalyptic passages like in our gospel today, images of people carrying signs saying “the end of the world is near” come to mind. We read them and often read on, letting these words pass, as we live our lives in a world that generally feels pretty settled, comfortable, and stable. We see the destruction as something that will come someday, in the future — perhaps when Jesus does come again. But not here. Not now. Not today.
 
And then, there are “those” days. Days when everything we knew seems, in one way or another, to have disappeared. Days which become markers in our lives, creating a “before” and an “after” that will forever be different.
 
September 11, 2001, is one of those days that many of us of a certain age or older will not easily forget. I was at work, when my co-worker exclaimed in shock about the plane that had crashed into the Trade Center in Manhattan, and the two of us spent the greater part of the day glued to the TV.
 
Over the weeks to come, I found myself shaken to the core. I was afraid of what the future held, in a way I had never been. I felt economically vulnerable. I grieved for the loss of so many lives, as we all did, and the devastation for families who had lost loved ones that day. Nothing felt safe, or secure, or familiar anymore. Grief, anxiety, isolation, confusion.
 
I remember talking to my dad in the weeks after September 11, as I struggled to find solid ground again. And he told me that he had experienced just such uncertainty, fear, and grief, following the assassination of President Kennedy 40 years earlier — a national tragedy which also rattled everyone who lived through it. Grief, anxiety, isolation, confusion.
 
March 15, 2020 is another day that will be with me, and many of us, forever. I remember gathering in this very space for Worship that day. I remember those who were here, and many who were not, as COVID-19 had begun to take hold in our community. Bishop Susan Candea was here with us that morning as we agreed to take a pause in gathering in person, and in so doing entered a trauma none of us would have anticipated. The virus, we thought, just a few days before that, was not here, but overseas. We wouldn’t be impacted, not really. And then came the stay-at-home orders. Empty shelves, where toilet paper and other necessities were supposed to be. Days stretched to weeks, to months, to over a year, as we worked and studied and worshipped from home, learned new technology, crossed streets to give ourselves space to breathe, wondering as time went on when we would ever get back to normal — and realizing, even still today, that we probably never will return to what felt like normal before, not really. Grief, anxiety, isolation, and confusion.
 
Collective events like those, the violence and challenges to democracy in our own country, viruses that threaten life across the globe, and personal experiences like losing a loved one or receiving a life-altering diagnosis, can leave us feeling shaken, and unsure about anything. On days like those, Jesus’ words about walls coming down (like we have on our altar today) and wars and insurrections in the Gospel of Luke, and the prophetic words of Malachi describing fires destroying everything, are no longer future possibilities and theories, but our lived reality as the world we knew in the “before” seems to crumble. It was lived reality for those listening to Luke, as they walked in the shadows of the ruins where the Temple used to be. Their whole world shattered. Their connection God changed forever, in ways they couldn’t understand yet.
 
Of course, in those falling-apart-times, we’re afraid, and that’s exactly why Luke would want to share these particular words of Jesus.
 
Jesus wanted the disciples and us to know that no matter what happens, and how final it seems, it is not yet the end of the story. Destruction, trauma, and death, will never be the final word.
 
And Jesus tells us that as much as we may want to, as hard as we may try, we can't understand it or change it. In fact, we don’t need to know what to say, or how to make sense of it all. Because in those times when everything seems to be falling apart, when the stones are coming down, God is present even when we can’t perceive it. And in each and every moment, God will guide us and enable us to embody the love and mercy of God, no matter what is happening around us.
 
We, as people of faith together, can face those times when the world seems to be falling apart differently because of this promise. We, as people of faith together, can live life differently on ordinary days because of this promise. As people of faith together.
 
We witness the stones falling, and the fires burning, and we bear witness in our lives to the promise of God’s love, justice, and mercy that will never fall or burn.
 
Last week we heard the Beatitudes in our gospel, illustrating for us one way of bearing this witness in falling-apart-times and ordinary days. As Roger pointed out, in our letter to the Ephesians, we are called to take action each and every day to embody this promise. Our passage from Malachi today gives the image of the calf leaping from the stall — claiming the joy and energy of new life in the midst of the fires.
 
Jesus tells us today in those times when we are shaken, and perhaps exhausted, and maybe a little lost, that we can trust that in each and every moment, we will have the words, and the life, and the hope that we need to share God’s promise with a world that is feeling the same way.
 
Today, we are reminded that God holds us in our brokenness, exhaustion, and fear. Healing comes, as Malachi says, when we are most wounded. And we are transformed, prepared in each and every moment to embody the holding, and the healing, and the life, and the love in the unique ways God has given to us, in all times. We witness the brokenness, and the beauty, of the world around us, and we bear witness in our lives as we share all that God has given us with courage and with hope. We celebrate today all that we, in this community gathered, have been given, and offer all that we are. And we trust as we will sing in a few minutes, that God will guide us and provide all that we need along the way. Because, family of Christ Lutheran, as all of our scripture tells us today, the story isn’t over yet. In falling-apart-times and ordinary days, the hope and healing of God lift us up and surround us, and we are sent to share that promise with the world.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19, pandemic, coronavirus, Roger Rose
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  • Nov 13, 2022Falling-Apart-Times and Ordinary Days
    Nov 13, 2022
    Falling-Apart-Times and Ordinary Days
    Series: (All)
    November 13, 2022. In falling-apart-times, we’re afraid. And Jesus tells us that as much as we may want to, as hard as we may try, we can't understand it or change it. But in those times, when the stones are coming down, God is present. And God will guide us and enable us to embody the love and mercy of God, no matter what is happening around us.
     
    Readings: Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Often, when we come across apocalyptic passages like in our gospel today, images of people carrying signs saying “the end of the world is near” come to mind. We read them and often read on, letting these words pass, as we live our lives in a world that generally feels pretty settled, comfortable, and stable. We see the destruction as something that will come someday, in the future — perhaps when Jesus does come again. But not here. Not now. Not today.
     
    And then, there are “those” days. Days when everything we knew seems, in one way or another, to have disappeared. Days which become markers in our lives, creating a “before” and an “after” that will forever be different.
     
    September 11, 2001, is one of those days that many of us of a certain age or older will not easily forget. I was at work, when my co-worker exclaimed in shock about the plane that had crashed into the Trade Center in Manhattan, and the two of us spent the greater part of the day glued to the TV.
     
    Over the weeks to come, I found myself shaken to the core. I was afraid of what the future held, in a way I had never been. I felt economically vulnerable. I grieved for the loss of so many lives, as we all did, and the devastation for families who had lost loved ones that day. Nothing felt safe, or secure, or familiar anymore. Grief, anxiety, isolation, confusion.
     
    I remember talking to my dad in the weeks after September 11, as I struggled to find solid ground again. And he told me that he had experienced just such uncertainty, fear, and grief, following the assassination of President Kennedy 40 years earlier — a national tragedy which also rattled everyone who lived through it. Grief, anxiety, isolation, confusion.
     
    March 15, 2020 is another day that will be with me, and many of us, forever. I remember gathering in this very space for Worship that day. I remember those who were here, and many who were not, as COVID-19 had begun to take hold in our community. Bishop Susan Candea was here with us that morning as we agreed to take a pause in gathering in person, and in so doing entered a trauma none of us would have anticipated. The virus, we thought, just a few days before that, was not here, but overseas. We wouldn’t be impacted, not really. And then came the stay-at-home orders. Empty shelves, where toilet paper and other necessities were supposed to be. Days stretched to weeks, to months, to over a year, as we worked and studied and worshipped from home, learned new technology, crossed streets to give ourselves space to breathe, wondering as time went on when we would ever get back to normal — and realizing, even still today, that we probably never will return to what felt like normal before, not really. Grief, anxiety, isolation, and confusion.
     
    Collective events like those, the violence and challenges to democracy in our own country, viruses that threaten life across the globe, and personal experiences like losing a loved one or receiving a life-altering diagnosis, can leave us feeling shaken, and unsure about anything. On days like those, Jesus’ words about walls coming down (like we have on our altar today) and wars and insurrections in the Gospel of Luke, and the prophetic words of Malachi describing fires destroying everything, are no longer future possibilities and theories, but our lived reality as the world we knew in the “before” seems to crumble. It was lived reality for those listening to Luke, as they walked in the shadows of the ruins where the Temple used to be. Their whole world shattered. Their connection God changed forever, in ways they couldn’t understand yet.
     
    Of course, in those falling-apart-times, we’re afraid, and that’s exactly why Luke would want to share these particular words of Jesus.
     
    Jesus wanted the disciples and us to know that no matter what happens, and how final it seems, it is not yet the end of the story. Destruction, trauma, and death, will never be the final word.
     
    And Jesus tells us that as much as we may want to, as hard as we may try, we can't understand it or change it. In fact, we don’t need to know what to say, or how to make sense of it all. Because in those times when everything seems to be falling apart, when the stones are coming down, God is present even when we can’t perceive it. And in each and every moment, God will guide us and enable us to embody the love and mercy of God, no matter what is happening around us.
     
    We, as people of faith together, can face those times when the world seems to be falling apart differently because of this promise. We, as people of faith together, can live life differently on ordinary days because of this promise. As people of faith together.
     
    We witness the stones falling, and the fires burning, and we bear witness in our lives to the promise of God’s love, justice, and mercy that will never fall or burn.
     
    Last week we heard the Beatitudes in our gospel, illustrating for us one way of bearing this witness in falling-apart-times and ordinary days. As Roger pointed out, in our letter to the Ephesians, we are called to take action each and every day to embody this promise. Our passage from Malachi today gives the image of the calf leaping from the stall — claiming the joy and energy of new life in the midst of the fires.
     
    Jesus tells us today in those times when we are shaken, and perhaps exhausted, and maybe a little lost, that we can trust that in each and every moment, we will have the words, and the life, and the hope that we need to share God’s promise with a world that is feeling the same way.
     
    Today, we are reminded that God holds us in our brokenness, exhaustion, and fear. Healing comes, as Malachi says, when we are most wounded. And we are transformed, prepared in each and every moment to embody the holding, and the healing, and the life, and the love in the unique ways God has given to us, in all times. We witness the brokenness, and the beauty, of the world around us, and we bear witness in our lives as we share all that God has given us with courage and with hope. We celebrate today all that we, in this community gathered, have been given, and offer all that we are. And we trust as we will sing in a few minutes, that God will guide us and provide all that we need along the way. Because, family of Christ Lutheran, as all of our scripture tells us today, the story isn’t over yet. In falling-apart-times and ordinary days, the hope and healing of God lift us up and surround us, and we are sent to share that promise with the world.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19, pandemic, coronavirus, Roger Rose
  • Nov 6, 2022Resurrection Hope
    Nov 6, 2022
    Resurrection Hope
    Series: (All)
    November 6, 2022. We who grieve on this All Saints' Day, who feel overwhelmed by the beasts and brokenness of this world, can rest in the promise of resurrection.
     
    Readings: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Ephesians 1:11-23
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Two years ago my family gathered, in an outdoor space to be safe in COVID despite late fall weather in Minnesota, to lay my Aunt Kate to rest. We raged at the disease that had so tragically taken her body, and her mind, and eventually her life. We celebrated her life, claimed hope in the resurrection, and at the same time, we grieved her loss, and wondered together why it had to be this way, and what to do with her gone from our day-to-day lives. In those moments of grief, claiming the resurrection can feel a bit like watching a garden bed of dry earth and brown remnants of perennials in the early spring, hoping against hope that new life will come, eventually, but not quite believing that it will be possible. Those who have had this experience have perhaps also taken comfort in knowing that Jesus grieved too, weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus.
     
    The Ephesians, and many of the other communities that Paul was writing to in his letters, certainly knew death. The Ephesians may not have known Jesus personally, but his life and death impacted them profoundly. They believed in the promise of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And we know from Paul’s letters that they expected Jesus to come back, in their lifetimes, to fulfill the mission and promises that he made while he lived and taught and healed.
     
    But his return had been delayed. In many of Paul’s letters, he is addressing people who are still trying to figure out what Jesus’ promise of life means when they haven’t seen it yet. When people around them, faithful, good people, are still dying. When their own lives are threatened by the Roman soldiers. When resurrection doesn't seem to be happening from anything they are experiencing.
     
    Today we celebrate All Saints' Day together, as a community, many of us in the sanctuary, and some on Zoom. And it is so good to be together, to celebrate the communion of saints, to remember those who have died. We take time this morning to acknowledge the reality of loss and grief, and in the face of that reality we claim, in this time, in this place, the promise of the resurrection that we profess every week in the Apostle’s Creed. We wait together, as the Ephesians did, in the space between the now, and the not yet.
     
    Like the Ephesians, and all peoples who have come before us, we know death. We know the brokenness of this world that comes in so many forms, the powers that Daniel describes as the beasts. Injustices, illness, violence, abuse, and the internal beasts, too — anger, resentment, anxiety, self-judgement... and the reality of death and grief that can overwhelm all of us. All the beasts of this world that can hold onto us, weighing us down, creating the illusion that their power is absolute.
     
    And we know, as we hear the stories, that God is bigger than all of that. God, Daniel proclaims, overcomes the beasts. The kingdom of God, Daniel’s vision reveals, will not be overcome, no matter what beasts may threaten it. We come together because we can’t do this alone. Even Daniel needed the encouragement and clarity of a witness to help him understand the hope of his vision. None of the brokenness and pain of this world surprises God, and God can handle all of it. And The Holy Ones of God — not the perfect or the pious, but all of God’s beloved, all of us, and all of those who have gone before us and all of us who are called God’s children — will possess that kingdom forever.
     
    And the promise we know in Christ, the promise of our baptisms, is that God can even overcome death. Death will not have the final word. God shows up and breathes in life, just when we least expect it. Debie Thomas, in her blog Journey with Jesus, writes, “Resurrection means living in circumstances that should render living impossible. Resurrection means enduring, overcoming, persisting, and surviving.” Just like new growth always, finally, emerges from garden beds that look as if they will never live again, resurrection often happens when we have no hope left.
     
    We who grieve today, who feel overwhelmed by the beasts and brokenness of this world, can rest in the promise of resurrection. We come together as people of faith, because the promise is for all of us children of God, and just like Daniel, we can see that better as a community. We remember with gratitude our communion of saints, those who have died whose lives touched us in profound ways. And with our saints, we claim the promise of Jesus’ resurrection, and we watch in hope for new life, even when it seems slow in coming.
     
    Paul reminds us that we, and all of those who have gone before us, are beloved children of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit. And we receive his blessing today: “I pray that you may have wisdom in the Holy Spirit, that you may know the hope that you have.” Family of Christ Lutheran, as we in a moment name and remember our beloveds who have died, our hope is in Jesus. And because of that, resurrection is real, even and especially in the face of death.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, All Saints' Day, Ephesians 1:11-23, Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus
  • Oct 30, 2022The Poetry and Promises of God
    Oct 30, 2022
    The Poetry and Promises of God
    Series: (All)
    October 30, 2022. Today is the perfect day to remember that Martin Luther composed “A Mighty Fortress” while he was in exile. We remember all the promises of God that show up throughout our scriptures. God is our refuge and strength, no matter what happens in our lives.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The passages we have today, and every year on Reformation Sunday, are some of my favorite scriptures. Part of it is the poetry of the words in these readings. But far beyond the beautiful images that these texts present, are the promises that they carry for us. It is so appropriate that we remember these promises today as we celebrate Confirmation for John, James, Harrison, and Marc, affirming the promises of our baptisms.
     
    In Jeremiah we hear, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and will shall be my people.” In a few minutes, our Confirmands will share a passage of scripture that has meaning to them, and tell us why they chose it. Although they will not be reciting it from memory today — that seemed like too much pressure in front of the whole congregation — they did share their passage from memory with me, and with each other, and with their adults as they prepared for today, and there is something profound about having a piece of scripture memorized, to bring it within us, so that we carry it with us wherever we go.
     
    Often when we hear about law, we think about something black and white, something that limits us or constrains us, that looks for where we've failed so that we can be judged. Our founder Martin Luther, whose seal rests on our altar today as we remember the Reformation he began, he wrestled with this throughout his life. He struggled to get it right, so that he would be worthy. And then, finally, Luther recognized the promise of God’s grace. As it says in Romans, we have all sinned. And we are all justified — made whole — by the God who created us.
     
    God’s word, on our hearts. God’s promise, to always be our God. That is the promise, the covenant, that our God made with Israel and Judah. And God is faithful to that covenant with us today, even when we fail. That is what you, and we along with you, are confirming today, Confirmands. We are sinner and saint, none of us perfect. And we are, each of us and all of us, God’s people, beloved forever. And nothing will ever change that.
     
    In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Continue — abide, remain, to be held. “In my word.” Jon Heerboth reminded Tuesday text study that in the Gospel of John, “word” means Jesus. Free, as Luther discovered, from the struggle, the stress, and the guilt of trying to earn your place and God’s love. Free to be the people God created you to be: honest, humble, and authentic. Free to embody the truth of God’s mercy, justice, and love, even if it is not popular, as Luther did when he challenged the corruption and injustice of the church, even the pope himself, in order to call the church he loved back to the truth. If you are held by the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ — and you are, Confirmands, and beloved people of Christ Lutheran — the truth of God’s promise will set you free.
     
    “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In a few minutes, we will be singing a song that echoes these words from Psalm 46 — “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Many may know that this hymn was composed by Martin Luther. But today is the perfect day to remember that Luther wrote this hymn while he was in exile, hiding away from those who wanted to kill him, in the literal fortress of Wartburg Castle. Trouble comes in so many forms in this world, and we have felt it in a particular way this week as we have grieved, and raged, and resisted, the tragedy at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School on Monday. Luther’s hymn echoes the song of the psalmist, who claimed that God will not forsake us. In the midst of pain, injustice, and suffering in our lives, the psalmist reminds us to take a moment to be still, and know that God is right there in the midst of it.
     
    Today, John, Marc, Harrison, and James, we stand with you as you affirm the promises of your baptism, and we remember our baptisms with you. We come together as a community to celebrate with you this step on your life-long journey of faith. We remember all the promises of God that show up throughout our scriptures. God is our refuge and strength, no matter what happens in our lives. The truth that we are beloved children of God frees us to be who God created us to be, and embody God’s love in the world. We hear God speaking the promise to us today: I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And nothing will ever change that.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36, Marc Horn, Harrison Ringkor, John Uy, James Gilliland, Jon Heerboth
  • Oct 23, 2022Confession is Good for the Soul
    Oct 23, 2022
    Confession is Good for the Soul
    Series: (All)
    October 23, 2022. As we reflect on our gospel text from Luke today, and the varying practices of Confession we each grew up with, we are invited to think about what it means for us as Christians and why Martin Luther saw it as an inherent part of the Good News that he wanted to proclaim.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22, Luke 18:9-14
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    A family member of mine tells a story from her childhood about the way her congregation, and many churches in some denominations at the time, practiced Confession. Everyone went to the pastor every week, and they were expected to share not only what they had done wrong, but how many times they had done it. Confession was required in order to receive Communion, and a proper Confession was believed to be essential in order to get into heaven. One week, she couldn’t think of anything to say, so she made it up. She confessed that she had stolen the neighbor boy’s purse 13 times. I think it would have been pretty appropriate if she had added on that she'd lied to the priest once!
     
    Confession, in other ways of practicing it, presents a little more like beating one’s breast, as the tax collector did in our gospel today, which can be misunderstood to mean that we need to beat ourselves up, constantly calling ourselves out, focusing on our wrongs to the point of humiliation.
     
    Yet, it is said that confession is good for the soul, and we hear this message clearly from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke today, as he tells his listeners that the tax collector, beating his breast and asking for God’s mercy, came away justified — brought into right relationship and wholeness by God — while the Jewish leader, who lifted himself up in comparison, did not.
     
    And Martin Luther, many centuries later, although he was highly critical of a practice that required a complete counted list of every sin, wrote “An Exhortation to Confession,” in which he said, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.”
     
    As we reflect on our gospel text today, and the varying practices of Confession we each grew up with, we are invited to think about what Confession means for us as Christians, why Jesus said the tax collector was made whole when he acknowledged his sinfulness, and why Luther, following Christ, saw Confession as an inherent part of the Good News that he wanted to proclaim.
     
    In “An Exhortation to Confession,” Luther laid out the reasons why he encouraged people to engage in Confession, saying that, “If I have brought you to the point of being a Christian, I have thereby also brought you to Confession. For those who really desire to be true Christians, to be rid of their sins, and to have a cheerful conscience already possess the true hunger and thirst.” Confession allows us know the forgiveness of God, frees us from the weight of guilt of harm we may have caused, and opens us to receive what we really hunger and thirst for: the mercy and love of God, which is the gospel that we know in Jesus. Luther says that if Christians understood that, we would run after it!
     
    Our gospel text today starts out by saying that Jesus is telling this parable to those who trust in themselves, and regard others with contempt, which can go a long ways toward understanding what Jesus is calling us to. Because we humans at times all trust in ourselves, and strive to make sure we’re doing better than those around us. Today, the person who lives a moral life, attending church and steering clear of sin, thanks God that they are not like those who steal, or use drugs, or sin in easily identifiable ways — just like the Pharisee in our gospel today. Tomorrow, it may be the one who makes an earnest confession and strives to seek justice in the world, thanking God that they are not like those who they see as contributing to injustice. We all at times trust in ourselves, and fall into the pattern of seeing ourselves as better than others. We all need Jesus’ invitation to come before God, seeking mercy and forgiveness.
     
    And every week, we come together as a community of faith, we enter into the gospel promise. We hear the good news, that we are all created and beloved of God, marked by the cross of Christ, and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, not because of who we are and what we do, or how we confess, but because of who God is. We are all, as Luther says, sinner and saint. We all need God.
     
    We are called to show up as we are, to be honest about the brokenness we have experienced at the hands of others, the brokenness of the world and in our lives that we've participated in, the grief, addiction, woundedness, the abuse we may have experienced, and know that God in Christ embraces all of us in all of that.
     
    We join in worship and community each week and are reminded of our place in relationship with God and creation — not in humiliation, but in humility, knowing our beloved humanness, that we need one another, and that all of us sin, and we all need God.
     
    We don’t do this perfectly, beloveds. As Jeremiah says, our iniquities, our sin and our brokenness, overcomes us all at times, and at times we all harm one another and our community, and we hope in God, who is always faithful to us. Each week, we come together before God in Confession and Forgiveness, acknowledging our sin and trusting God, who knows and loves us as we are, to forgive and guide us as we continue to grow together. We pray together the prayer Jesus taught us, which Luther points out invites us to confession in two ways: as we pray for forgiveness from God, and for help in forgiving those around us.
     
    In humility, and not humiliation, each week we are gathered in just as we are, we name our human weakness, and we remind ourselves and one another of the promise of God who calls us beloved, just as we are, and is always faithful even as we stumble. Confession is core to the gospel we celebrate, and it is good for the soul.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22, Psalm 84:1-7, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Luke 18:9-14, Martin Luther, An Exhortation to Confession
  • Oct 16, 2022Wrestling With God
    Oct 16, 2022
    Wrestling With God
    Series: (All)
    October 16, 2022. Our readings today address head-on a significant truth about what it’s like to be human in a world that's both beautiful and broken. Sometimes, like Jacob, we wrestle with God. But we come out of that wrestling more sure of who we are, as a child of God, more certain of what we're called to do.
     
    Readings: Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Have you ever felt like that persistent widow? Maybe you were wrestling with something and you just couldn't figure out what to do with it, and over and over and over you go and you ask. Maybe it wasn’t a judge you were approaching, but someone else who had authority either to help you or to stand in your way, holding your future in their hands either for good or for ill. How persistent did you feel could you be with this person who seemed to hold so much power? Did your persistence pay off in the end?
     
    Our readings today address head-on a significant truth about what it’s like to be human in a world that's both beautiful and broken. Like Miss Katie was saying, so often in this world we wrestle and we have to earn justice, or struggle to try to do the right thing, when it doesn't feel like what we want to do. Or we struggle with illness, or sadness, or grief. We struggle with so many things. And we know that despite our best efforts, sometimes we go before that judge, we give it everything we've got, and justice doesn’t prevail. Injustice, broken relationships, employment struggles, war, illness, death in our human experience here on this earth can make it seem as if the brokenness and the injustice have won, no matter how persistent we are.
     
    And when that happens, we can be left feeling like we've failed somehow, as if we weren’t persistent enough in our efforts and our requests. And if we've been praying for help, we can feel that we've been abandoned not only by the world, but even by God. Or perhaps, that we've failed God somehow, that our faith wasn’t strong enough.
     
    Our readings also reveal a profound and deep promise that God makes to us as people of faith. God, Jesus promises, is nothing like that unjust judge, who has no desire, he says, to do what is just. God, Jesus promises, will not delay. God does not wait for us to cry out long enough, or loudly enough, or the right way, or using the right words, before hearing our prayers.
     
    And for those of us who may have been taught not to ask for help — anyone else in the room have that experience: we don't ask for help, right? We've been taught not to expect anything from others. There's another piece of good news here in our readings today: God, unlike the unjust judge in our story, or some of the judges in our own lives, will not be annoyed if we continue to persist. In fact, Jesus encourages us to cry out to God, day and night.
     
    And in those times when we're facing the impossible — when the struggles and pain of this world seem like they're too much to bear, and God might as well be a million miles away for all the good praying seems to do — we can take courage from the story of Jacob. Jacob is in trouble. And he is not oppressed, as the widow was, but he is actually the oppressor in this story. Jacob, we're told in the chapters leading up to today’s reading, tricked his father, and stole his brother Esau’s birthright. Jacob hadn’t seen Esau since then, and now Esau is on his way — with 400 men. That doesn’t sound good, does it?
     
    And so, in the middle of the night, alone with his thoughts and his fear and his wondering what will happen when he and Esau meet, Jacob wrestles with God. Many of you may have had that experience. All night, Jacob wrestles with God, insisting that he will not stop, he will not give up, until he receives a blessing from God.
     
    And after a night of wrestling, of refusing to let go until he gets what he needs, Jacob is blessed. And this time, it's not a blessing stolen deceitfully from his brother, but a blessing given freely by the God who loves us so much, as Miss Katie said — along with a new name, Israel, and a unique place in the history of our faith.
     
    And Jacob goes from there on his journey, carrying his faith with him. (Miss Sandy made our flowers today, and she's got our faith packed, as you can see, in the suitcase on our altar.) He goes to face his brother, bringing his faith with him, and their complicated history, reminded that God goes with him because of a new disability, the limp he got from his night of wrestling. Think about that for a minute — Jacob’s limp is a sign of God’s blessing. He's been changed, and he knows now that God is with him, in a way he didn't before.
     
    Because the prayer, and the wrestling, are not so much about changing God, and getting what we hoped for, as it is about changing us. We come out of that wrestling more sure of who we are as a child of God, more certain of what we're called to do. And that, in the end, is the blessing that Jacob was striving for when he deceived his father in the first place.
     
    So when we're facing insurmountable challenges, we know what to do — we pray day and night, not because it's going to make God listen, but because God wants to hear us. God wants to hear our prayers. And when the injustices and pain of this world are overwhelming, and when the waiting is interminable, and when the journey is far too long and God seems to have forgotten us, don’t be afraid to wrestle with God. The youth minister at my childhood church used to tell us it's okay to be angry with God sometimes, to tell God exactly how frustrated and hurt and exhausted you are. God, and my home church pastor, and my spiritual director, could tell you that over the years I've done my share of wrestling with God along the way.
     
    And then, we can claim the blessing that God promises for us. God wants to walk with us, especially through the challenges life presents. This is the promise that we claim in our baptisms: God will be with us. God will not abandon us. We're given a new name: Child of God. And that changes everything about how we walk in this world.
     
    And then, every week along the journey, we come bringing our faith with us in our suitcases. And we come to the table, assured of Jesus’ presence in the bread and the wine, and in our bodies, and in our lives. We come to this table, as we talked about in class, as one way of many that we can pray. We connect with Jesus at the table each week, asking God to provide not just what is needed in our lives, but in the lives of all of God’s children, just like mana and quail were provided everyday for the Israelites as they traveled for 40 years in the desert. And then we thank God for all that we have.
     
    Claim this promise, Christ Lutheran family. Claim this promise as you face the challenges of your own lives, as you witness the brokenness of the world. God hears our prayers. God welcomes our wrestling. God feeds us, and all of our siblings. And we will be changed. We will be transformed. And there will be a blessing.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8, Katie Ciorba
  • Mar 20, 2022Dig the Soil and Add the Fertilizer
    Mar 20, 2022
    Dig the Soil and Add the Fertilizer
    Series: (All)
    March 20, 2022. Why? The need to know is a very human thing. We humans have been asking for centuries why bad things happen to good people. The sermon today is about our reading from Luke on Jesus' response to the suffering of the Galileans, and the parable of the barren fig tree.
     
    Reading: Luke 13:1-9
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Years ago, I was babysitting for my cousin’s three kids, the youngest of whom was about two or three at the time. Ben’s favorite word was “why.” “What’s this?” “These are my glasses.” “Why?” “So I can see with them.” “Why?” “Because my eyes need help. You can try them, but you need to be very gentle.” “Why?” “Because they’re breakable.” “They’re breakable… why?” At this point, I couldn’t help it anymore and I began to laugh. Then I promptly needed to apologize, and explain to an offended Ben that my glasses were breakable because they could break.
     
    It seems like most of us go through that phase of asking why about everything we encounter, in our quest to learn about the world that we live in. And for the most part we grow out of that, perhaps because we learn to search for answers to a lot of our questions ourselves. (Google is really helpful, isn't it?) Or perhaps because we begin to feel confident in our capacity to understand the world to our satisfaction, and even at times feel a certain level of control over our lives, illusory though that might be.
     
    The last few years have shattered that illusion of control in spades, hasn’t it? Two years ago, we celebrated my installation with Bishop Candea joining us. And two years ago, we were all entering into a world that at the time we could never have imagined. The pandemic, along with everything else that has been occupying our newsfeed, is enough to have us all scrambling to find ways to manage the chaos. And enough to have us all asking why as much as Ben, although about far weightier subjects than eyeglasses.
     
    Why a pandemic? Why so much upheaval, with so much people in so much pain? Why so much heartless attack on the dignity and lives of vulnerable people, like trans people and their families and allies, who aren’t hurting anyone? Why such a bloodthirsty lust for land and power that they, and we, don’t need, that leads to inhumane treatment of people at our borders, or terrifying war in Ukraine, and so many other places in the world that we have honestly forgotten about most of them? This? Now? Really, God? Why?
     
    The desire — the need — to know is a very human thing. We humans have been asking why bad things happen to good people for so many centuries that books have been written in an attempt to answer that question. (And it is interesting that we don’t necessarily ask why around good things — getting the new job, a clean bill of health, or a just resolution to conflict — but about things at their worst.) It's so much a part of human nature that when people tell Jesus about the death of the Galileans, they don’t have to actually ask the question. Jesus hears the question in the telling... Why did these people all die?
     
    And beyond that, Jesus hears the speculations and the suspicions they carry. The same speculations held by those who looked at the man born blind and asked Jesus, “Who sinned, to cause his blindness?” The same that has us ask today when someone is the victim of a crime, “Why were they there? What were they doing? Do they have a criminal record?” There must be a reason. They must have caused it, somehow.
     
    The first thing Jesus does in our gospel today is acknowledge the why, and name the assumed answers that he knows people carry. “Do you think they died because they were worse sinners than anyone else? Do you think this is punishment for their wrongdoing?” And Jesus’ answer is an emphatic, “No. This same thing could happen to you too,” taking away any safety they may have felt by thinking that the victims of these tragedies had done something to deserve what happened to them.
     
    As I felt the harshness of this, I realized how clearly this illustrates the truth that when we judge others, and try to figure out what they did wrong, in conscious or unconscious hope that we will not suffer the way that they did, we are inevitably judging ourselves, too. By judging others, we are in a sense guaranteeing that we will share their fate, that we too will find ourselves lost not only in the brokenness of this world, but in judgment — our own and others.
     
    Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop there. At first, the story of the fig tree seems oddly out of place in the context of the conversation Jesus is having, but as he shares this short parable, Jesus actually tells us what to do when the “whys” of life elude us. We hear first the judgment. “See that fig tree? It’s not good enough. Cut it down.” And then we hear the new way that Jesus is suggesting for us. “Let me nurture it, do the bit I can to give it a chance for life, and give it time. Let’s see what happens.” There is no promise here of the outcome. We never hear what happens to the fig tree in the end. It is not the responsibility of the gardener to make the tree bear fruit, after all. They simply do what they can, what they are moved to do, to embody love and grace in the place they are, in the time they have.
     
    The same is true for us. Like the gardener, we cannot on our own solve the problems of the world, accomplish all the things, make all trees bear fruit — not even ourselves. Like the gardener, we are invited in each moment to do the thing we're moved to do, to embody love and grace in the place we are, in the time we have. To dig soil and add fertilizer, if you will, and entrust the rest to God’s loving care.
     
    And through it all, in Christ we know that God is with us. The God who formed the world, shaped each of us and breathed life into us, has walked with us these last two years of ministry together in a pandemic, guiding and inspiring us as we creatively dug soil and added fertilizer to our community through parking lot food and school supply collections, Palm Sunday processions, park and churchyard cleanups wearing our masks, Saturday evening churchyard worship, and parking lot Advent children's program, trunk or treat, and so many other things.
     
    And God will be with us in the years to come, as we continue to follow the Spirit and discover how we are called in this place, and this time, to embody the love, justice, and grace of God in the world around us.
     
    Jesus ends the parable with an invitation to patience and trust, knowing that it takes time for fertilizer to work and fruit to grow. And so I end with the words from Archbishop Oscar Romero to encourage us on our journey.
     
    “It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that's the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
     
    So let us go and dig soil and add fertilizer, and wait to see what the Spirit will do.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 13:1-9, COVID-19, coronavirus, Prophets of Future Not Our Own, Archbishop Oscar Romero
  • Mar 13, 2022So That They May Live
    Mar 13, 2022
    So That They May Live
    Series: (All)
    March 13, 2022. Today's sermon by Pastor Meagan is a reminder of how Jesus gave himself for us, for all people, for creation, so that one day the kinds of sacrifices we saw on 9/11, and see in the wildfires, the struggles for justice on the streets of our country, and the courageous stand of the Ukrainian people, will no longer be necessary.
     
    Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Some of you may know how much I love Harry Potter. (For those who don’t, you are about to find out.) Harry Potter is a wizard whose parents died when he was just a year old. For those who don't know the story, he lives with his aunt and uncle, who are Muggles — not wizards — and they led Harry to believe his whole life that his parents, James and Lily, had died in a car accident. But the truth is that they were murdered by Lord Voldemort, an evil wizard. Eventually, Harry learns that when the evil wizard Lord Voldemort came after them, James told Lily to grab Harry and run while he tried to hold Voldemort off on his own.
     
    When Voldemort had killed James, Harry's father, he caught Harry and Lily, and he gave Lily a choice: stand aside, and you'll live. Harry’s mother Lily stood in front of Harry, shielding him from Voldemort’s curse in an effort to save his life. After killing Lily, Voldemort tries to kill Harry as well, but for the first time ever, he fails. Instead of killing Harry, Voldemort himself is hit by the curse, and Harry survives. No one seems to know why.
     
    Ultimately, Harry finds out that Voldemort’s curse failed because Lily had given up her life to save him. The protection of her love is so strong that it shields Harry not just that one time, but for his entire childhood, until he becomes an adult at the age of 17. Harry is alive because of his mother’s love.
     
    As we continue our Lenten journey in the wilderness of this beautiful and complicated world we live in, our gospel from Luke today tells us of Jesus grieving for Jerusalem. Jesus yearns, more than anything, to bring the beloved together — to gather them, not as a teacher gathers students or a general gathers soldiers or an employer gathers employees, but as a hen gathers her brood under her wing.
     
    This is not a conquering love, but a love that is vulnerable, unfailing, and embracing. It is a love that carries Jesus toward Jerusalem, a place that he says kills its prophets. Jesus doesn't shy away from evil, destruction, and death, but walks towards it, even knowing that he will die in the process, even knowing how often we humans turn away from this vulnerable love and seek guarantees where there are none.
     
    Jesus knows humanity has the capacity for incredible evil. Humans destroyed the Twin Towers and so many lives on 9/11. Humans wittingly and unwittingly lift up systemic evils like racism and economic oppression, act in disregard for creation. In the last few weeks, we have witnessed humans wreaking destruction and death on Ukraine, and pushing for laws that undermine the dignity and lives of trans people.
     
    And we humans have the capacity to follow the way of Christ. And at times we sacrifice our own safety, well-being, and even our lives to embody the love of God in profound ways. First responders ran into the burning towers on 9/11, many of them giving their lives that day and in the years since to save those trapped inside. Wildland firefighters in the West run toward the fires, to save people, animals, and the places they call home.
     
    President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and others with him, are staying and advocating and fighting in an effort to stand for justice and protect the most vulnerable in their communities who cannot leave, or don’t want to. We may never know how many lives are saved because of their love.
     
    Our human capacity for love like this is a reflection of the love of God revealed in Jesus: vulnerable, unfailing, embracing. It propels Jesus toward Jerusalem. And Jesus does not shy away from it but walks towards it, even knowing that he will die in the process. Jesus’ love for us and creation reveals the love of God that will not, and cannot, fail. God’s promise to us, echoed in the covenant made with Abram and Sarah, is life and abundance like the stars that can’t be counted. The psalmist today sings of the safety and goodness of God’s house, and Paul in his letter leans on that promise as he tells readers and us that we can stand firm in God. We, beloved, are alive because of the love of God that Jesus reveals.
     
    We witness the brokenness of the world around us, and we witness the love of God in Christ echoed in the world among us in the actions of those who move toward brokenness and stand in the face of death as Jesus did. And it may sound a little radical but we need to know, beloved, that this is not God’s dream for us. This is not God’s dream for us.
     
    Jesus goes to Jerusalem, people of Christ, not because God wanted Jesus to die, but because where there is brokenness, sin, violence, and death, God must be there. God is there. Jesus went to Jerusalem, toward the reality of death that awaited him, because there was no other way to embody the love of God for a people in pain.
     
    Lily stood in front of the evil Voldemort knowing she would die, so that Harry might live. Jesus goes to Jerusalem knowing he would die, to embody the vulnerable, unfailing, embracing love of God that gives us life. And because of the resurrection, we know that even when we must confront the evil and death of our day, God’s promise of life is sure.
     
    Jesus gave himself for us, for all people, for creation, so that one day the kinds of sacrifices we saw on 9/11, and see in the wildfires, the struggles for justice on the streets of our country, and the courageous stand of the Ukrainian people, will no longer be necessary. Jesus gave himself for us, all the way to death, so that one day, the covenant God made with Abram, the promises of God claimed by the psalmist, and the assurance of Paul that God is faithful, will be fulfilled. Jesus gave himself for all of creation so that one day, all the brokenness of this world will be healed.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35, Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling
  • Mar 6, 2022Real-Life Deserts
    Mar 6, 2022
    Real-Life Deserts
    Series: (All)
    March 6, 2022. On this first Sunday in Lent, Guest Pastor Tina Reyes preaches on the temptation of Jesus in the desert, and the real-life deserts in our lives that open up all those things that we try to push back: our vulnerability, our fears, and our anxieties.
     
    Reading: Luke 4:1-13
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In the name of Jesus. Amen.
     
    In the last few years I've been drawn to deserts. And I think one of the very first things that I truly realized was that they are not the wastelands of nothingness that sometimes we attribute them to be. Deserts, as places apart, are full of mystery and abundance and life. My trips to New Mexico and Southern Arizona amaze me every time, at the diversity that can be found in these places, and if you allow yourself to be still long enough, the promise of life that exists.
     
    And so as we approach this text this morning from the fourth chapter of Luke, it's a familiar text. If you said, "But I heard it last year on the first Sunday of Lent," I would say, "Yes, and you will hear it again next year on the first Sunday of Lent. That's how it works." This year it feels a little different though. Jesus isn't cast into the desert as a punishment or a test insomuch as the Spirit drives him there — for a time apart, for discernment, for retreat, for guidance as to what's next. This time apart comes directly after Jesus is baptized, and God announces for all to hear that Jesus is indeed God's son, the Beloved. It should really make us all think about our own baptisms — and that it's not just the water sprinkling, that baptism really changes our lives. And in discernment and in hunger, at the end of this long time apart, Jesus is confronted with choices: to lean into an economy of scarcity, for which the world can satisfy for a short amount of time, or to lean into an economy of abundance, knowing that he has all that he needs right now as he begins to live out the good news — which, if you kept reading in Luke, is the very next story. See how it all works together there?
     
    So we have these options this morning: trusting in God's abundance, that God will always be there and that God will always give you what you need for that moment, or to become your own God and to provide for yourself.
     
    I've been thinking a lot about how we ourselves interact with deserts, real and metaphorical, this past week, those places that seem lifeless and empty and daunting. You know, you've had some of those desert places in your lives: struggling to find enough, or really what the world deems is enough for you — even though, let's be honest, our basic needs are being met. Are you racing through these deserts just to get things done? Or do we allow ourselves grace to explore and to delight what is in this odd, and amazing place? Even in our text, we tend to zip through the desert that Jesus is in to get to that crux of the matter. If Lent is a desert, I often feel that we try to get through it as fast as we can. It's a necessary thing to get to Easter; we don't necessarily like to do it. I mean, it's not really in the Bible, is it? All of that is true.
     
    And the hope for Lent though, is to take that time to explore, to see what is out there, to join others. Lent (or deserts) in our lives open up all those things that we try to push back: our vulnerability, our fears, our anxieties... which is why I believe we try to get through Lent really fast and not have to think about it so much so we don't have to get stuck on those things, the end. Not really.
     
    Beloved, the desert calls us to stand with others in their own wilderness experiences. And that is hard. The desert calls us into the promise of abundant love and to cast aside the temptations of the world that is set aside, that they live for power, wealth, and invulnerability. Beloved, the desert calls us to live in the tension of desolation and to possibility. And through it all, in the desert, God is with us.
     
    As a campus pastor, I witness and walk with students who find themselves in all sorts of real-life deserts. The whole experience of being away from home, of having to rely on their own for things like getting up on time, having clean clothes, and advocating for oneself, are all journeys through a wilderness. And some students do it better than others. For others, this time is a journey into who or to what they are called to be: the abundant, extravagant person God created — and that person quite often is different from the one they had envisioned. And so they're stuck in that tension of desolation and a possibility, and it's rough for them. There is grief for what was and hope for what will be. Some students will wrestle and ask questions, and try to push it back and shove it down. And others will seek solidarity. They will look for people like them to accompany them. Others will just try to tough it out, and find that they are surprised to find that they had a support system all along.
     
    This past Wednesday, my ecumenical partners and I went to SLU and to WashU to impose ashes on students, faculty, and staff. We just set ourselves outside in spaces with our little plastic containers of palm ash and oil, in our black cassocks — three female pastors, and a non-binary pastor standing in a row, looking a little bit out of place, but welcoming and inviting folks to receive that ash cross on their forehead and answering any and all questions that students asked us. And we were blessed to have a beautiful, 80 degree day on Wednesday to do this. Standing at the edge of Mudd Field at WashU it did feel like a bit being in a desert. Students were reveling in the sun at a school known for its academic excellence and its very secular stance. Yes, there were looks. Who are those people in black, with crosses on their heads? And yet folks from all ways of life had different reasons that they came up to us asking for ashes.
     
    And I want to share my favorite story. I think this kind of reminds me of the abundance in the desert. The young man's name is Sayish. He came up and he said, "Are you giving out ashes?" "Yes." "Can I get ashes?" "Yes." "I went to a Catholic School in Dallas, Texas, and I'm not religious or anything. But I really like to get ashes. Is it okay if I get ashes?" "Yes." And so we started talking and having this conversation. I've never seen, honestly, anybody with such a big smile walking up to a group of strange pastors asking for ashes. A lot of times it's, "Ooh it's Ash Wednesday, I need to get my ashes." It's like a thing that you do, because it's Ash Wednesday — especially if you grew up in the tradition.
     
    Sayish grew up adjacent to a Christian tradition, because the Catholic schools were the better schools. And he remembers having to put his hands to cross his arms on his chest to receive his ashes, signifying that he was not Catholic in that place. And he was excited that he just got to receive ashes. And so I asked him, "Why? Is it just because it's what you remember from 12 years of school?" And he says, "No, it helps to ground me in the rest of the world and with creation." What a gift. What a gift that was to us.
     
    You probably, if I'm speaking for myself, felt kind of good about being in my black cassock, standing on the edge of Mudd Field, giving out ashes at WashU. And here is this Spirit moment of being reminded of why we do it. Not only because of our mortality, but we're connected back to God and God's creation.
     
    So what, beloved, if this Lent, this Lent as we're learning once again what it means to be community with one another after a long period of desolation, what if we leaned into those places, as much as we're trying, as fast as we can, to get back to something that we used to know, but maybe that we're being called to still, slow down there, buddy. Dig in a little deeper. Find our people. Acknowledge that even in this space, God is with us, and that's enough. What if, beloved, instead of searching and striving for more — more money, more power, more stuff — we acknowledge that we have enough, and that a full life is not what the world of scarcity claims is good, but our life is full because God's promises spill over, and God hasn't broken a promise yet. What if, beloved, in our abundance we live out our calling, our baptismal callings, to strive for peace and justice by joining others in the places that are their deserts, places where there are literally food deserts (and we don't have to go very far in St. Louis to find those), education deserts, equality deserts? So what if we join others in those places and proclaim God's love in word and deed, because God loves all of God's creation?
     
    Beloved, with the help of the Holy Spirit and by God's amazing grace, I pray that you know abundance and hope in whatever desert you journey this Lent.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Tina Reyes, Luke 4:1-13
  • Mar 2, 2022A Way in the Wilderness
    Mar 2, 2022
    A Way in the Wilderness
    Series: (All)
    March 2, 2022. On this Ash Wednesday, Pastor Meagan preaches on our reading from the prophet Joel: “The day of the Lord is coming, it is near.” Many passages in scripture about the wilderness can feel discomforting or uninviting, and the wildernesses of our time can feel vast, overwhelming, and unconquerable. But God is no stranger to the wilderness, and so we begin our journey into the wilderness these next 40 days knowing that God will be with us every step.
     
    Readings: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, Isaiah 43:19
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We start with these words from tonight's reading from the prophet Joel: “The day of the Lord is coming, it is near.” What are the first images you think of? The first images that come to my mind are justice. Life. Abundance. Healing. Reconciliation. Tears being wiped from our eyes, all hunger being satisfied. All the promises of God being fulfilled in the blink of an eye. All promises we hear throughout the scriptures.
     
    But the prophet Joel tonight describes the day of the Lord a little differently: “A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been seen from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.” Gloom, clouds, an army coming that covers the mountains? Especially today. Really, God, how am I supposed to look forward to that?
     
    Many of the passages in scripture about the wilderness can feel just as discomforting or uninviting. Jesus being driven into the desert for 40 days. The Israelites, wandering for 40 years. Hagar and her infant Ishmael, in the wilderness and at the point of death before returning to Sarah, who abused Hagar while Abraham looked the other way.
     
    I’m dating myself here, but I was in college when the United States and other allied nations attacked Iraq in the early '90s. Iraq had invaded Kuwait and annexed part of their land, and the allied nations moved in to support and free the annexed territories. It was the first time in my awareness that we had been able to watch a war unfold on live television. Every channel covered it (there were only about five) and I felt completely consumed, overwhelmed, and lost in the horror that was taking place on the other side of the ocean. And I wondered at the time, if that's how I feel just watching it on television, what is it like for the people of Iraq and Kuwait, hearing the bombs go off, fearing for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, with no safe refuge to turn to?
     
    As we worship tonight, some 30 years later, we humans still haven’t figured things out, and are still lost in seemingly the same old wilderness. Once again, the world watches as one nation — this time Russia — attacks and annexes another — this time Ukraine — and allied nations one more time try to figure a way out.
     
    The wildernesses of our time and our lives can feel vast, overwhelming, and unconquerable, filled with Joel’s gloom, as we face powers as imposing as Joel’s armies. In our own lives, the wildernesses of addiction, loss and grief, physical and mental illnesses. The wilderness of struggles in employment, in relationships, and unexpected crossroads. In our world, the wilderness of a third year of COVID, climate change, poverty, political upheaval, and injustices. The wilderness of the horrific injustice being done to the Ukrainian people as we watch.
     
    The wilderness of knowing that in the midst of it all, we ourselves have failed to be the people God created us to be. That like all of God’s people that have gone before us from the Israelites until now, we all have, as Luther said, sinned and fallen short, and we may at times feel as broken as the world around us. We're left wondering sometimes where God might be and what God might be up to, because we can’t see it. And here we are, this Ash Wednesday evening, hearing Joel’s description of the day of the Lord, and I think to myself how long, O God, will we be left in this wilderness that we are wandering in?
     
    When the Worship team met to reflect on where we felt God might be leading us this Lent, we were all feeling the vastness of the wilderness of this world that we're living in. Isaiah 43:19, which we'll hear in a few Sundays, began to resonate for each of us in profound ways. It also speaks to wilderness, but with a different perspective. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” New thing. Springing forth. Rivers in the dryness of the desert. God making a way in the wilderness.
     
    We find in the scriptures that God is no stranger to the wilderness. Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and Ishmael followed God through the wilderness to an unknown land that God showed them. Moses and the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness of the desert, as God led them out of captivity and to the Promised Land. Isaiah speaks those words of invitation and promise to people who have been living in the wilderness of exile for almost 50 years and are finding their way finally into community once again. In the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist calls himself “the voice of one crying out in the desert, preparing the way of the Lord.” And no sooner has John baptized Jesus than the Spirit leads Jesus himself into the wilderness of the desert for 40 days. God is no stranger to the wilderness.
     
    Lent is indeed a season of reflection on wilderness — the places of brokenness and sin, lostness in our lives and in our world, and the profound need for God’s love and mercy. We mark ourselves with ashes tonight to remind ourselves of this. This Lent especially, it is also a time to remember that the God who formed and shaped us out of dust, and breathed life into us, never abandons us, no matter how lost and broken we may be.
     
    God is no stranger to the wilderness. And so together, we journey into the wilderness these 40 days, knowing that God is with us every step. We name the brokenness, and we perceive the new things that God is bringing to life, springing forth where it seemed that there was only death. We follow the rivers of the Spirit in the dry places in our lives, knowing that God is making a way in our wilderness, where we least expect it.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, Isaiah 43:19, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus
  • Feb 27, 2022Trusting a Changing God in a Changing World
    Feb 27, 2022
    Trusting a Changing God in a Changing World
    Series: (All)
    February 27, 2022. In today's gospel reading we witness Jesus being transfigured, and hear that Peter suggested trying to capture what had happened, so he could understand it, recreate it, and make sure it wouldn't be lost. We humans like the familiar, the predictable, the understandable. But the truth is that life is always changing, and we are always changing with it.
     
    Reading: Luke 9:28-43a
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I was in a workshop on anti-racism this week that was provided by the Synod, and one of the facilitators said something — not once, but several times — that really got me thinking. They said, “In this world that seems to be changing faster and faster, and calling on us to keep up with those changes, we can be comforted by the fact that God never changes. God was, and is, and ever shall be, the same.” God never changes.
     
    And then, on this final Sunday before Lent begins, in the gospel, we witness Jesus being transfigured — experiencing a complete change of form or appearance — in front of our eyes. I reflected on all the ways God reveals themselves throughout scriptures — a burning bush, parting waters, a nursing mother, a pillar of cloud, a voice from heaven, a whisper, just to name a few. And I wonder, if it is true that God never changes, what does that mean? And if God does change, how can we trust God, if we don’t know how they will show up, if we can’t even understand her?
     
    We humans like the familiar, the predictable, the understandable, don’t we? I certainly do. I learned long ago that my favorite way to control things, to feel safe, to cope with things that felt beyond me, is to understand them, categorize them, put them safely in a box that I can analyze from a distance. I will admit to spending a fair amount of time doing this since we entered into a world of pandemic two years ago. Does anyone else relate to that?
     
    The disciples, after witnessing the amazing mountaintop scene, seem to want to do this too. As soon as it is over and Peter has recovered his speech Peter says, “It is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Let’s try to capture what happened, so we can understand it, recreate it, and make sure it won’t be lost. Theologian Debie Thomas writes in her blog Journey With Jesus this week:
     

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

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

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

     
    Today we celebrate, in the midst of all else that is going on, just a few of the leaders in our own community who have ministered among us as council members for the last year, and those who we have chosen to minister among us for the next year. Family of Christ Lutheran, we experience in many ways the moments of clarity, beauty, safety, and joy of the mountaintops, and we and our council walk together in those transfiguration moments.
     
    And, as Peter and the disciples discovered, we are called down from the mountaintops, with newly opened hearts and spirits, to follow Jesus, witness God present, active, engaged, and glorious, and embody love and mercy in the ordinary, sometimes broken world of sacred, everyday life in our neighborhoods and communities. We as people of faith are called to stand against evil and injustice wherever it manifests, whether in our own backyard or in Ukraine. We are called to continually seek the peace that can only come when God’s justice prevails for all people.
     
    We are, council members, staff, every one of us followers of Christ, called to journey through the many transfigurations and transformations of our lives, as we live in a world that continually changes around us.
     
    It may not be true that God never changes. The good news of the transfiguration is this: in a world that just won’t stop changing, as we ourselves change day by day, we can trust God not in spite of, but because God is moving and changing right along with it. Peter and the disciples witnessed it on the mountaintop, and we can see it in our own lives. In the midst of all the seeming chaos, what will never change is God’s unfailing presence and unbounded love.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 9:28-43a, Debie Thomas, Journey With Jesus