Sermons

           

Apr 4, 2021
Who Will We Tell?
Series: (All)
April 4, 2021. Pastor Meagan's sermon for this Easter Sunday is on the fear felt by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John when they went to the tomb and found that Jesus wasn't there. What would we have thought had we been there?
 
Readings: Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Last Sunday, when we gathered for Palm Sunday Worship, we had a parade to celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem — and some of us took that parade down Lockwood, too. And Easter is another opportunity to celebrate with a procession. Many of you have probably heard the Judy Garland & Fred Astaire song, "In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it / You'll be the grandest fella in the Easter Parade.” So on Palm Sunday, we kept in mind as we walked where we were headed — into the city, where Jesus would be arrested, tortured, and die on the cross. And this Easter Sunday, this morning as we gather with joy to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, it's important to remember where we've come from.
 
Our Easter story, as joyful as it is as Mr. Jesse pointed out, doesn't begin with hope. It begins with an acknowledgement of death and profound loss. The women — Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and John — who went to the tomb that morning bearing spices, were there when Jesus died. They knew he was gone, and they didn’t have the slightest expectation that he had survived everything that had happened. They were drawn to the tomb that morning not by the thought that Jesus might be alive, but by the call of their faith to honor one that they had loved and followed by anointing the body that was left. They were there because they were not afraid to face the grief and reality of the tomb.
 
Pastor Luisa Cabello Hanse of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis shared her experience of Holy Week and Easter during her childhood in Chile and Mexico at a Lenten Wednesday service a few years ago, and she told of the parade that they always had every year through town — on Good Friday, not Easter Sunday. Pastor Luisa said that Jesus’ resurrection meant so much more when she first took time to acknowledge the reality of his death.
 
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John faced the grief, they approached the tomb, and there in the place of death they saw evidence of the miracle. The stone, as large as it was, had been rolled away. A young man, sitting in the otherwise empty tomb, was waiting to tell them the good news: Jesus is alive. What would you have thought, had you been there? Each of the gospels tells the story a little differently, as Dr Neidner pointed out in our forum a couple of weeks ago. In Mark’s telling, the women do not instantly believe, and in fact the women who had courageously faced the tomb are so frightened by the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection that they leave with the intent of not telling anyone what had happened.
 
All of us who have been through wounded-ness, death, and grief know resurrection does not erase the tomb. We all grieve loved ones who have died, losses brought to us by the pandemic, all of those things about church that we miss, the damage wrought by the sins of racism, poverty, and violence. Death is real, and the process of grief lasts a lifetime. Hope, new life, and joy grow slowly as healing continues.
 
So it's not so surprising to think that the women were not ready to embrace the hope and joy of the good news and go out to tell everyone what’s happened the first minute they're told that Jesus is alive.
 
And yet we know that eventually they did tell the story of the resurrection, if only because today we are still telling of the miracle that they found when they went to the tomb that first Easter morning. This Easter morning, we are gathered to tell again of how God brought life out of death, and Jesus who has died is now alive again among us.
 
And today, most appropriately, we celebrate the baptism of Mae Lenhart. From the story of creation when God spoke earth and water into being, to the story of Noah and his family traveling through the flood in an ark and finding dry land to start a new life, to the Israelites crossing through the raging water of the Red Sea to find freedom on the other side, to Jesus’ baptism in water by John when God claimed him as beloved, water has always been a part of our story as people of faith. Baptism with water and the words of God’s promise reminds us that nothing can separate us from God. In baptism, we claim the promise of who we are — children of God, beloved, called and sent, to embody and proclaim the love and mercy of God for the world.
 
As we celebrate Mae’s baptism on this Easter Sunday of the resurrection, we remember that we too have been through death and grief, and we too have been baptized, and that God’s promises prevail even in the face of death. We are all chosen, all called, all sent, to share the good news that in Christ, death will never be the final word. The women were afraid, and we may be too, but Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that Christ is with us even in our fear, and however unworthy we may feel, we are beloved and called to share the good news. On the other side of horror, loss, and grief, Jesus has come, and we have discovered hope and joy.
 
How would you have told the story to the others who were waiting back in that Upper Room to hear about the visit to the tomb? What would you have thought, if you were one of Jesus’ other followers, hearing the story of Christ’s resurrection? What are you afraid of today? And who are you called to tell of this miraculous, radical hope? Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8, Easter Parade, Irving Berlin, Jesse Helton, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus
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  • Apr 4, 2021Who Will We Tell?
    Apr 4, 2021
    Who Will We Tell?
    Series: (All)
    April 4, 2021. Pastor Meagan's sermon for this Easter Sunday is on the fear felt by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John when they went to the tomb and found that Jesus wasn't there. What would we have thought had we been there?
     
    Readings: Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Last Sunday, when we gathered for Palm Sunday Worship, we had a parade to celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem — and some of us took that parade down Lockwood, too. And Easter is another opportunity to celebrate with a procession. Many of you have probably heard the Judy Garland & Fred Astaire song, "In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it / You'll be the grandest fella in the Easter Parade.” So on Palm Sunday, we kept in mind as we walked where we were headed — into the city, where Jesus would be arrested, tortured, and die on the cross. And this Easter Sunday, this morning as we gather with joy to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, it's important to remember where we've come from.
     
    Our Easter story, as joyful as it is as Mr. Jesse pointed out, doesn't begin with hope. It begins with an acknowledgement of death and profound loss. The women — Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and John — who went to the tomb that morning bearing spices, were there when Jesus died. They knew he was gone, and they didn’t have the slightest expectation that he had survived everything that had happened. They were drawn to the tomb that morning not by the thought that Jesus might be alive, but by the call of their faith to honor one that they had loved and followed by anointing the body that was left. They were there because they were not afraid to face the grief and reality of the tomb.
     
    Pastor Luisa Cabello Hanse of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis shared her experience of Holy Week and Easter during her childhood in Chile and Mexico at a Lenten Wednesday service a few years ago, and she told of the parade that they always had every year through town — on Good Friday, not Easter Sunday. Pastor Luisa said that Jesus’ resurrection meant so much more when she first took time to acknowledge the reality of his death.
     
    Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John faced the grief, they approached the tomb, and there in the place of death they saw evidence of the miracle. The stone, as large as it was, had been rolled away. A young man, sitting in the otherwise empty tomb, was waiting to tell them the good news: Jesus is alive. What would you have thought, had you been there? Each of the gospels tells the story a little differently, as Dr Neidner pointed out in our forum a couple of weeks ago. In Mark’s telling, the women do not instantly believe, and in fact the women who had courageously faced the tomb are so frightened by the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection that they leave with the intent of not telling anyone what had happened.
     
    All of us who have been through wounded-ness, death, and grief know resurrection does not erase the tomb. We all grieve loved ones who have died, losses brought to us by the pandemic, all of those things about church that we miss, the damage wrought by the sins of racism, poverty, and violence. Death is real, and the process of grief lasts a lifetime. Hope, new life, and joy grow slowly as healing continues.
     
    So it's not so surprising to think that the women were not ready to embrace the hope and joy of the good news and go out to tell everyone what’s happened the first minute they're told that Jesus is alive.
     
    And yet we know that eventually they did tell the story of the resurrection, if only because today we are still telling of the miracle that they found when they went to the tomb that first Easter morning. This Easter morning, we are gathered to tell again of how God brought life out of death, and Jesus who has died is now alive again among us.
     
    And today, most appropriately, we celebrate the baptism of Mae Lenhart. From the story of creation when God spoke earth and water into being, to the story of Noah and his family traveling through the flood in an ark and finding dry land to start a new life, to the Israelites crossing through the raging water of the Red Sea to find freedom on the other side, to Jesus’ baptism in water by John when God claimed him as beloved, water has always been a part of our story as people of faith. Baptism with water and the words of God’s promise reminds us that nothing can separate us from God. In baptism, we claim the promise of who we are — children of God, beloved, called and sent, to embody and proclaim the love and mercy of God for the world.
     
    As we celebrate Mae’s baptism on this Easter Sunday of the resurrection, we remember that we too have been through death and grief, and we too have been baptized, and that God’s promises prevail even in the face of death. We are all chosen, all called, all sent, to share the good news that in Christ, death will never be the final word. The women were afraid, and we may be too, but Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that Christ is with us even in our fear, and however unworthy we may feel, we are beloved and called to share the good news. On the other side of horror, loss, and grief, Jesus has come, and we have discovered hope and joy.
     
    How would you have told the story to the others who were waiting back in that Upper Room to hear about the visit to the tomb? What would you have thought, if you were one of Jesus’ other followers, hearing the story of Christ’s resurrection? What are you afraid of today? And who are you called to tell of this miraculous, radical hope? Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8, Easter Parade, Irving Berlin, Jesse Helton, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus
  • Apr 1, 2021What Has Been Handed Down
    Apr 1, 2021
    What Has Been Handed Down
    Series: (All)
    April 1, 2021. Today as we celebrate Maundy Thursday, we come together to carry on the sacred traditions that have been handed down to us.
     
    Readings: Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31-35b
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    What traditions or wisdom have been handed on to you? I learned how to make popcorn from my grandmother. Use a big pan — the kind with two handles on it — and put in just enough oil to cover the bottom. Add exactly three kernels of popcorn, put it on medium heat on the stove, and when the third kernel pops add the rest of the popcorn. Shake occasionally. And when the popping slows, remove from the heat. And when all the popping has stopped — not before — pour the popcorn into the bowl. Add real melted butter and salt. Don’t skimp.
     
    Over the years, I have tried many ways of making popcorn, from air poppers to oil poppers to kettle corn makers and even microwave, and none have ever measured up. A big part of it is the taste, of course. But more important than that is the connection that I feel to my grandmother. Sure, I use olive oil instead of Wesson oil, and Kosher salt instead of regular table salt. But in all essentials, each time I make popcorn on the stove, I'm participating in what my grandmother handed on to me. What has been handed on to you?
     
    Jesus knew the hour had come for him to depart from this world, that this was the last time he would sit with his disciples and share a meal. It was his last opportunity to hand on his most sacred thoughts before he died — to show them, and us, what is really important.
     
    Today we celebrate Maundy Thursday, and so we begin the most sacred days of the Christian church year. This is a time set aside for us as a community to remember. We have come before our God, acknowledged our sin, and received God’s love and forgiveness. And now we begin this journey. Over these days, we remember the extravagant, redemptive, love of God for us and for all of creation revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And today, we remember what our dear friend, Jesus, handed on to us in the hours before he died.
     
    Jesus and his friends were preparing to celebrate Passover, to remember how God had saved them and guided them in the desert. They were following an ancient command that had been handed on to them to tell and retell the story of how God brought them out of slavery and led them through the unknown, to freedom.
     
    Jesus wants us to remember, too. In this last year we have been on a journey into the unknown together, far more than we anticipated when John Hoffmann and I distributed ashes in my first worship service with you all. It has been a sort of exile, our own time in the desert in many ways. And it has been an invitation to explore what is means to be church, and how God is calling us to minister together from here. What traditions and ways of being are serving God well, and what we need to let go of, so we can better contribute to the Kin-dom of God.
     
    As we approach the end of the voluntary physical exile from our buildings and one another’s physical presence, these questions are all the more important. Tonight, for one of the few times in over a year, I have three of you with me seated in the pews of the sanctuary. And this is just the start our return to being together in person. We have learned a lot, this last year, about what is possible when we put our minds together. We've committed ourselves to being accessible to one another and our community through technology we never considered before — some of you had never heard of Zoom before March 22, 2020! We’ve discovered in new ways that we, the followers of Christ, are the church. We're renewing our commitment to welcome and to serve, and we're exploring what that looks like for all of our ministries. And in truth, that is what Christ was doing: welcoming his friends by serving them a meal — we love doing that don’t we, and we will do it again — and serving, kneeling to wash his friends’ feet. How will we live into Christ’s call to welcome and serve, as we journey on into 2021?
     
    Times of transition call us to these questions, and Jesus wants us to remember that we are not alone. God freed the Israelites, and guided them every step of their way. God frees us from all that enslaves us, and guides us on our way. The command to remember has been handed on for centuries, and it is ours now.
     
    Jesus wanted us to know this. Our journey in COVID that is finally beginning to evolve into something of a new normal, like the journey in the desert, can feel dry and long and lonely sometimes. Jesus wanted his friends to know that in spite of what would happen later tonight — later that night — and tomorrow, the next day — no matter how much grief and despair they would feel, Jesus’s death would not be the final word. In times like this, with so much division, hatred, and fear in our world, including a pandemic that has gone on far longer than we would have guessed last March, we need to know that God can bring life out of death. We need to know that God is with us — even, and perhaps especially, when things are at their darkest. Jesus tells us to share the Eucharist as a remembrance of his death and the promise of resurrection. And every time we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus shares his very life with us. We are nourished, body and soul, as our bodies are fed and our spirits are filled again with the promise of life and forgiveness. This promise has been handed on to us.
     
    After Jesus and his disciples had finished eating, Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples. It was, of course, an act of humility and service. But more than that, washing another person’s feet is incredibly vulnerable, intimate, and full of love. Jesus was telling his friends, “I know you. I know those parts of you that you keep hidden. I know your dirt, your sweat, your warts, your pain, your exhaustion. And I love you.” There is no part of you that God does not know, intimately. And there is no part of you that God does not love.
     
    And here is the most remarkable thing about Jesus’ act of intimate love: Jesus washed the feet of not only John — who will stay at Jesus’ side, holding Jesus’ mother while he dies — but all of the disciples. The ones who will abandon him. Peter, who will deny he even knew Jesus. Even Judas, who will betray him, turn him over to be tortured and killed. God knows us intimately, and loves us fully, even when we abandon and deny and betray God, and one another.
     
    And then Jesus says, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” We are called to know and love one another that way, actively, humbly, intimately. We are called to see one another’s warts, and love them. We're called to allow God, and others, to see our warts, and love us. We are reminded of the waters of our baptisms, and the promise of God’s radical, unconditional love and forgiveness. Be vulnerable to one another. Love one another, no matter what. This vulnerability is terrifying... and it is precisely how God heals and frees us to be the people we were created to be. And how God works through us to heal and free others. This kind of love cannot be contained. It must be handed on, and on, and on.
     
    Today we come together to carry on sacred traditions handed on to us, and as happens each time I make my grandmother’s popcorn, we are carried beyond ourselves, beyond this moment in time. This is about us, but it's not just about us. As we share the Eucharist, and tell the stories, we are profoundly connected to God, and to our whole Christian family going back generations. We remember who we are, who we're called to be, as children of God. This is what has been handed on to you. How will you hand that on to those coming after us?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Maundy Thursday, Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31-35b, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus
  • Mar 28, 2021Hosanna! Save Us Now!
    Mar 28, 2021
    Hosanna! Save Us Now!
    Series: (All)
    March 28, 2021. Today we celebrate Palm Sunday and commemorate Jesus' triumphant parade into Jerusalem. But why does it cause such turmoil? What was so earth-shaking about it? And most of all, who is this Jesus who has us all crying out to be saved?
     
    Readings: Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Our 40 Days of Lent is drawing to a close, and once again this year we take time this Palm Sunday to mark the transition from the days of reflection and seeking, to walking with Jesus into Jerusalem as Holy Week begins. And as always, we tell the story of how Jesus, the son of a carpenter turned itinerant preacher, entered Jerusalem with a parade.
     
    A crowd gathered to meet Jesus as he approached the city, perhaps because they had heard him preach when he had been there before, perhaps because they had been among those healed over Jesus’ time of ministry, perhaps because they had heard that Jesus had actually raised a dead man — Lazarus — to life again. Whatever their motives, their cries as they walked revealed the hopes they had as they welcomed Jesus on the road — “Hosanna!” Save us now! The people, whatever their specific longings and desires, believed that Jesus could save them. They had very specific ideas as to what that might look like, and greeted him as they would greet a king: shouts of joy and praise and recognition, leading and following in procession, waving palm branches and laying them along the road in front of him.
     
    Hosanna! Save us now! We have spent our 40 days of Lent seeking God’s truth in our scriptures, and in our lives — the truth of God’s love and mercy and our identities as children of God, and the truth of our sin and brokenness, and the sin and brokenness of the world. Over two thousand years have passed since Jesus walked the road to Jerusalem, but the brokenness of the world and our deep need for God have not changed.
     
    We, like those crying out hosanna on the road into the city, need to be saved. Our communities face the evils of gun violence, which resulted in the deaths of ten people in yet another mass shooting this week, this time in Boulder. And it feels like we hear of more every day. The challenges and even trauma of the pandemic, which is just beginning to wane after a year. The sin of white supremacy and racism which continues to wound and divide, even as the trial for the man who murdered George Floyd moves forward this week. Poverty, which holds so many trapped in situations they cannot escape from.
     
    We think of all the pain in this world that can seem insurmountable, and we know, if we didn’t before, that we need help. We know, as we hear the stories of God’s promise to us and how God has brought freedom, healing, and love to people since the beginning, that there is only one place to turn. And we join our voices with the crowd walking that road with Jesus crying out, “Hosanna! Save us now!”
     
    There is something else about this event that we don’t often think about because it isn’t mentioned in our scriptures, but historically the procession, greeting, and leading the way for Jesus as he enters Jerusalem is not the only parade taking place in the city. Pilate, the Roman ruler who would in a few short days give the order for Jesus’ brutal execution, was also entering Jerusalem — and in a much grander procession: trumpeters, banners, royal guards, strong horses. As the Jewish people celebrated Passover to remember their freedom from slavery in Egypt, Pilate wanted the Jewish people to know without question that no matter what triumphs they may have experienced in the past, Roman rule was absolute. And so, as he did every year, Pilate processed in glory from the east, and Jesus came surrounded by the least of these from the west. Compared to Pilate’s demonstration of a royal glory fit for a king, Jesus’ humble parade hardly seems worthy of mention.
     
    So why does Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem cause, as Matthew puts it, turmoil? This is no mild, eyebrow-raising event that leaves people scratching their heads, but a significant disruption, leaving people as shocked as if an earthquake had moved the ground under their feet. Why would a gathering of people carrying palm branches lead to turmoil? What was so earth-shaking about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? And most of all, who is this Jesus who has us all crying out to be saved?
     
    As we've heard so many times, one thing we know about Jesus is that whatever our expectations, he seems to fail them, and exceed them, all at the same time. Many expected that when the Messiah came, he would come with military might, overthrowing Roman occupation and restoring the kingdom of Israel. Religious leaders expected those who deigned to teach and minister to follow Mosaic law, and show deference to the traditions of the temple above all else. We might expect Jesus to erase all the evil of this world instantly, removing all pain in a magical sort of way, and show us what we are to do in, perhaps in a great billboard in the sky. (How many times have I asked God for that?) But Jesus doesn’t do any of that.
     
    Instead, Jesus tells the story of a man attacked by robbers, and how the religious leaders pass him by — and the Samaritan, of all people, cares for him. Jesus eats with those with power, certainly, but over and over chooses to spend his time with tax collectors, sinners, and outcasts. Of all the conversations Jesus had that are recorded in our gospels, the longest conversation takes place by a well, in the middle of the day, with a Samaritan woman. He heals on the Sabbath, proclaims forgiveness of sins, and in so many other ways, Jesus is constantly pushing the boundaries, stepping outside of accepted norms, and challenging the powers that be with the expansive force of God’s love.
     
    And now he has raised a person from the dead, and has people believing that he can save them too. And he enters the city, a crowd leading the way for him, in a procession that is far less ornate than Pilate’s, but patterned after it so closely that it almost seems to mock with its simplicity and inclusion of the very people Pilate would like to control. It's also interesting to know that palms were meant to be waved only for national heroes, not for “ordinary people,” adding insult to injury for Pilate. Not military might, not conforming to norms, but showing up in a way one would not expect of God incarnate — and making a farce of the emperor while he’s at it. No wonder the city was in turmoil!
     
    Our second reading today gives us one explanation of what Jesus was up to as he walked and talked and ministered among God’s people on this earth, and perhaps what God is still up to in our world today. Jesus, Paul writes, “Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.”
     
    Jesus came to be a king, absolutely, but not the kind of king who rules with military might and force and controls through fear and intimidation, but a king who empties himself out of obedience. We might think of Jesus as one who so embodied God’s love for all of us that he couldn’t help but enter into the very depths of our pain and brokenness and empty himself, pouring out his love on all of creation, all of us, even if it meant suffering and dying on the cross.
     
    And this is where God in Jesus exceeds our expectations, over and over and over again. No matter what we do, or what happens to us, Jesus does not turn away. No matter what the mistakes we make, God is always there to forgive, and guide us closer to God’s kin-dom. And however unworthy we may feel, Jesus constantly calls us to be part of the procession, leading the way and proclaiming that Jesus will, in ways we may never expect, save us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-11
  • Mar 21, 2021A Place to Belong
    Mar 21, 2021
    A Place to Belong
    Series: (All)
    March 21, 2021. The truth of our identity as children of God is in our very DNA. We humans struggle. But ultimately we don’t have to struggle to see Jesus, because he draws us to him.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12:20-33
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    From the time we're born, we human beings long to know who we are and where we belong. When we're infants, those who love and care for us watch and listen for each little gurgle and smile and coo, and they delight as they see our unique personalities emerging. And as we grow, we figure out how we fit in our family, adjusting as younger siblings are born, grandparents or others move in or out, or as family members die. Our families are generally our first place of belonging, and our first place of discovering who we are.
     
    As we grow older, that process continues. We go to school, we make our first friends, maybe find a best friend, another person with whom we fit. We go to college, leaving our families behind, and after a time find our “people.” And along with what we learn in the classroom, we learn about ourselves in ways we would never have expected. We begin to find out who we are as adults, and dream of what our lives might be like when we are on our own — where we'll live, what our purpose will be, who we'll spend our time with, who we will be, and where and with whom we'll belong.
     
    We find out at some point along the way that we will never be completely done with this. Divorce, death, loss in abilities or illness, employment transition, even perhaps a pandemic, could lead to a change in our circumstances we didn’t anticipate. And we may once again find ourselves wondering who we are and where we belong, long after we thought we had figured that out.
     
    There can be joy and excitement along the way. And the process can also bring loneliness, isolation, confusion, grief, frustration, and a host of other very real human emotions. The truth is, becoming the person God created us to be, and finding our purpose and place of belonging, are not easy — not for us, or for those close to us.
     
    If we have ever struggled with this, or are struggling with it now, we can find a lot of hope in our readings for today. Because one thing that becomes clear as we listen is that God understands our need for belonging, and how easy it is to forget who we are. Jeremiah is bringing God’s word to a people who have been exiled, cut off from the place they belonged and from many of those they belonged with. It even felt to them that they had been cut off from God, as they had been driven away from the temple in Jerusalem where they had celebrated all of their holy days, the place they went to be with God.
     
    Perhaps we can understand that better now than ever, when it is almost exactly a year since we celebrated our first Zoom worship. We have, in a very real sense, been living through a time of exile, from our church building and for many of us also from our schools and workplaces, and we've been physically separated from one another in ways we have never experienced before. We have had to do so much rethinking about who we spend our time with, and how. We as a community have had to reimagine what it means to be church, and how to minister together.
     
    I find it really encouraging to know that none of this is new. God knew how hard it was for the Israelites, and through Jeremiah’s words, he reminded them of who they were: ones with God’s promise written on their hearts. And the same is true for us. Think about that for a moment. God has written God’s promise on our hearts. Your council reflected on this at our monthly meeting this last week, and shared what this means for them: forgiveness, as we know God is with us when we make mistakes, guiding us back to the right path, knowing that no matter how hard or confusing things are, God will show us what we need to know. Comfort, in trusting God's presence, even in chaotic or frightening times. And the freedom to be the people God has created us to be. Our identity as beloved of God is coded in our DNA. Nothing can change that. In spite of recent declarations that LGBTQ people are not acceptable as they are, the constant denial of basic human rights and dignity of People of Color, the shootings targeting Asian people in Atlanta that took eight lives this week, the brutal assault on life and freedom of people in Myanmar who are calling for justice, the trauma and exile of pandemic. Despite all of that, God is faithful, and the promise holds. We don’t have to struggle and work and study and strive to belong to God. We just belong.
     
    In our gospel from John today, Jesus tells everyone listening just how faithful God is to this promise. John tells us that two Greek people showed up wanting to see Jesus, and in response, Jesus says not only that all people are welcome, but that this is exactly why he came — to draw us all to himself, and to God. Jesus doesn’t shy away from the pain and the struggle of that call. He says that his death will lead to the life that is promised, and that it is through being raised on the cross that we will be drawn together. Jesus, in John, knows who he is and what he is here to do, and it is all part of that plan to bring us home.
     
    This world carries so much beauty and promise, and we know this year more than most that there is pain and suffering in this life too. As Mr. Jesse is saying, there are things that are positive and strong and happy and hopeful, and there is struggle and mistakes and pain in this world too. And through all of it, the truth of the cross is clear. As much as we humans may wonder and question and seek, God’s promise is coded in our very DNA, so nothing can erase it. No matter what else happens or what changes may come, no matter what challenges or pain we face, through the cross, Jesus calls us all to him. It's what he came to do, and it is where we belong.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jesse Helton, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12:20-33, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Mar 17, 2021The Truth of Being Beloved
    Mar 17, 2021
    The Truth of Being Beloved
    Series: (All)
    March 17, 2021. Tonight's testimonial comes from Rachel Helton, who shares with us the idea that finding the truth can be complicated. Some things that are not true can sound and almost feel true. And some things are so absurd that they sound like lies, but are actually true.
     
    Reading: John 8:12-20, John 3:16
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Have any of you ever played the game Two Truths and a Lie? So I’ve played this game both as a kid in the middle of the night at slumber parties, and as an adult as an icebreaker activity. And so if you haven’t played it, here’s how it works: you tell the group of people that you're with two true statements (usually about yourself) and one that's a lie, and then the group has to try and figure out which of the things you're saying is the lie. So if it were my turn, it might go something like this: as a kid I used to ride my bike to my grandma’s house almost every day; I once had a pet goat; I learned to drive a tractor before I learned to drive a car. Okay, those are my three things. And depending on how well you know me, and how much you know about my life as a kid growing up on our family’s farm in rural Illinois, you may or may not be able to pick out which one of those is the lie.
     
    So interestingly when you're playing this game, the more absurd your truths are, the more complicated it is to tease out which one of your statements is the lie — because they all sound suspiciously untrue, right? So if I were to say: I once rode an elephant through the streets of a city in India; I once came within 20 feet of a leopard shark while snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef; and I once walked on a suspension bridge made of rope above the rainforest canopy in west Africa. Now which one of those is the lie? It gets a little bit trickier, right? Because they all sound somewhat far-fetched and untrue, right?
     
    And on the flip side, if your lie is really close to the truth, it makes it hard to spot. So this is my last example, I promise — and if you want to play this game on your own later, you are welcome to do that. So, here are my last three statements: today is the birthday of a kid who's pretty special to me; on my next birthday I’ll be 45; next Sunday is the baptismal birthday of one of my own kids. It might be hard to find the lie, because those three statements probably all sound like they probably could be true.
     
    So all that to say: finding the truth can be complicated. And that’s maybe why I’ve struggled to put down into words the reflection that I wanted to share tonight. The more we know about the subject or the person, the easier it is. But sometimes, it requires us to trust that something that sounds completely absurd, just might actually be true. And sometimes it requires us to question whether something that sounds “mostly true” might in fact be a lie.
     
    So when our son Isaac was a baby, Easter fell on the same date as it does this year. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Lent from the year 2010. The first time we ever took Isaac out in public, we took him to the Ash Wednesday service at our church — and he wasn’t even a month old yet then. When I went forward to be marked with ashes, our pastor reached out and marked the cross on my forehead with ashes, and then without even a moment's hesitation he reached down and traced the cross on the forehead of the baby who was sleeping in my arms.
     
    I remember thinking wow, this kid hasn’t even been baptized yet. He hasn't even received a blessing at communion. For goodness sakes, his belly button hasn’t even healed. He had just arrived to the world, and here we were marking that he would one day return to dust — that his life on earth, just like mine and yours, would someday end. And the truth of that felt so very heavy to me. And it wouldn’t be hard for me to get stuck in the weight of that truth — the truth that we are sinful and mortal.
     
    A good friend recently reminded me though that the ashes that mark our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are mixed with the oil that anoints us at our baptisms, so that that mark of our mortality is also the promise of life, the promise of being chosen and beloved — not because of anything we do or don’t do, but because of who God is.
     
    The truth of being beloved, no matter who I am or what I do or don't do, is almost too absurd to sound true. The lie that I sometimes hear myself saying to myself is that I can earn God’s love, maybe even that I should somehow earn God’s love — because that almost sounds true by the standards of the world.
     
    But there’s another lie that sometimes sneaks in — that because I am freed by grace, because I am given it without having to earn it, that I am also freed from any responsibility. And that part is simply not true.
     
    In tonight’s reading, Jesus says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world… the light of life.” And in Sunday’s reading from John chapter 3 we heard that God so loved the world that God sent his only Son into it, not for the sake of wagging an accusing finger at us, but to bring about justice and to put the world right again. And I really think that we have a responsibility to be a part of that ongoing work of bringing about God’s justice and love in the world.
     
    So in a world of uncertainty, of indistinction where sometimes it's hard to tell the truth from the lies, in a world where we do not need to look hard to be reminded that we will one day die, the truth that I’m holding onto right now, no matter how hard it is sometimes to believe, is that I am beloved — beloved by a God who is life. And being loved by the God of life frees me from trying to earn God’s love. It frees me to focus on loving others, and to participate in bringing about God’s justice. That is my responsibility.
     
    And just for the record: I’ve never driven a tractor, and I’ll be 44 (not 45) on my next birthday, and I’ve never snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef. And as far as those truths go? Well, if you're watching, happy birthday Xavier!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Rachel Helton, John 8:12-20, John 3:16
  • Mar 14, 2021The Power of the Cross
    Mar 14, 2021
    The Power of the Cross
    Series: (All)
    March 14, 2021. Challenges are part of human experience, and our life is meant to be lived in their midst. God doesn't always remove our challenges, but God does show us mercy. God promises he will always be with us no matter what happens, that suffering and death will not be the final word. And as Pastor Meagan preaches today, the cross is evidence for that.
     
    Readings: Numbers 21:4-9
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    On March 7, 1965 black people and allies, led by 25-year-old John Lewis, marched toward the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama as part of a long, hard journey for freedom — and in particular the right for black people to vote. They planned to cross the bridge that day and continue on to Montgomery, but instead they were met by one of the more brutal assaults in the history of civil rights. So much blood was shed, and so many people died as the result of dogs, chains, hoses, and clubs, that it became known as Bloody Sunday. After that attack, many wondered if they should just give up. Martin Luther King himself, it is said, wondered about the wisdom of trying again after what had happened.
     
    And in spite of the progress that has been made since then, the struggle against racism continues. And this week the Minneapolis community is praying its way through the beginning of the trial for the person who murdered George Floyd last May 25th. The same pain, wondering, exhaustion, and woundedness the freedom fighters felt after Bloody Sunday is very real among those still working for justice today in George Floyd Square.
     
    The Israelites' journey from Egypt to the Promised Land had been really long, and like the march to Montgomery and the struggle for justice today, it was not exactly easy. They had been walking in the desert for literally years, nearly starved before God provided manna for them. And when some of them were taken captive by the Canaanites, they had to fight to defeat them. And they still weren’t there yet.
     
    And as our journey in COVID continues — one year ago tomorrow we made the decision to close our buildings for a while — we may be feeling this too. We are so tired, but we still haven’t arrived yet. The Israelites’ walk continued, and after all that time they were getting really sick of eating only manna. And, we are told, they complained not once, but continually. They whined, as Mr. Jesse talked about. “Are we there yet?!”
     
    So often, we move along in our routines until we find ourselves expecting that this is how life should be. Work gets done, bills paid, vacations taken, decisions made, perhaps with some bumps along the way, but more or less predictable. And when things happen to make life difficult, our first response is typically to complain, as the Israelites did. The food is not good or hot or fast enough. The internet keeps cutting out on us, right in the middle of that email we’re sending — or worse yet, in the middle of a Zoom meeting with our boss or our teacher. We have to wait too long in traffic, or the doctor’s office, or the grocery store.
     
    The Israelites were sick of manna, and they complained. It's so human, isn't it? And they soon found themselves facing something much bigger than boring food. Poisonous snakes, perhaps symbolic of the toxic atmosphere they had created in their community, came into the camp, and many of them died. Suddenly the food didn’t matter, and they realized how foolish they had been, having forgotten that God freed them, fed them, and given them water to drink when they were thirsty — having forgotten that they still had each other, that God was still with them. They realized their sin and told Moses to ask God to have mercy on them. And in the mind of the Israelites, mercy meant removing the snakes that were biting them.
     
    God didn’t remove the snakes, but God did show mercy. Interestingly enough, the proof of God’s mercy looked just like the thing the Israelites feared the most: the snakes. God told Moses to raise a bronze serpent in the middle of the camp, a reminder of both the sin of the people, and the faithfulness of God. Like Mr. Jesse said, God is big enough for all this, isn't he? By looking at the bronze serpent raised in their camp, the Israelites saw that their God was bigger than a few poisonous reptiles, and even their own sin and brokenness. God assured them that God was with them, even in the midst of this. The snakes remained, but the people lived. A source of pain and fear and death was transformed into a symbol of God’s faithfulness and triumph over death. And I am struck that as we read these passages this year, in the middle of George Floyd Square in Minneapolis another bronze statue has been raised — an image of a black hand, a reminder of both the pain and damage of the sin of racism that still exists, and the resilience and hope of redemption to come for all of us.
     
    Often, the big challenges in our lives — unemployment, illness, death — are not removed either. These things are not interruptions to the life we are supposed to live, although they can certainly feel that way. Nor are they, as the Israelites believed, punishment from God for sin — although at times, if we're honest, it can feel like that too. The truth is, the challenges of life are all a part of human experience, and our life is meant to be lived in their midst. Sometimes these challenges are of our own making, or someone else’s, and they truly are the result of choices made, natural consequences of our sin. And sometimes, difficult things just happen. Life is not always easy, and it is certainly not what we might think of as fair. But either way, the struggles and pain we experience does not mean that God has abandoned us.
     
    God never promised that life would be easy, or go according to our plans, but God did promise that God would be faithful to the covenant and always be with us, no matter what happens. God did promise that suffering and death will not be the final word. And the proof of that for us as Christians is revealed in another symbol of pain and humiliation and death — the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. As we make our way through Lent, we look to the cross, and remember not only the reality of Jesus’ death, but the truth that because of the resurrection, the cross, like the bronze snake, is transformed into evidence that God has power over everything, even death.
     
    Our encounter with the cross of Jesus does not take away the challenges of our lives, but it transforms them — it transforms us. When we are finished with our complaining, our questioning, our blaming, God is still right there with us, and the cross of Jesus is proof of that promise. The cross reminds us that the little things in life — long lines, spotty internet service, cold food — are not really that important. And the big things, the real sin and pain and struggles of life, are not too much for God to handle.
     
    God created us to bring good and beauty into this world, and we can trust God to make it possible for us to do that, even when we don’t see how we can possibly make a difference. The Israelites, and centuries later the marchers in Selma, and today those who continue to seek healing and justice in Minneapolis and across the country, lived out that truth in every step they took. We too are called to march on, carrying the truth of faith in that struggle.
     
    When we in our humanity fail, as we are bound to, the cross reminds us that God is still there, giving us the courage and the strength to face the ways we have caused or contributed to the struggles of this world. We have seen in the last year how economic injustice and inequities in access to health care and other resources that continue to exist have resulted in a stark disparity in how the pandemic has impacted marginalized communities, and how reluctance to change allows these and other wounds in the world to continue.
     
    Debie Thomas says in her blog this week, “In other words, he unveiled the poison, he showed us the snake, he revealed what our human kingdoms, left to themselves, will  always become unless God in God’s mercy delivers us. In the cross, we are forced to see what our refusal to love . . . , our hatred of difference, our addiction to judgment, and our fear of the Other must wreak. When the Son of Man is lifted up, we see with chilling and desperate clarity our need for a God who will take our most horrific instruments of death, and transform them, at great cost, for the purposes of resurrection.” We look to the cross, acknowledge our sin, and ask God for forgiveness and help. And we're renewed for the journey.
     
    When we're in pain, the cross is a symbol of the promise that even death is not the final word. We have a God who answers prayer, if not in the ways we might expect. God has promised to be with us, to lead us to truth and redemption when we can’t see the way.
     
    God will not break the covenant, no matter how we stumble. From the Israelites in the desert, to the marchers in Selma in 1965, to each of us today, God loves, forgives, and strengthens us. Nothing is too much for God to handle — even our whining. And every time we see the cross, we are reminded of the lengths God will go to keep that promise.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Numbers 21:4-9, Jesse Helton, pandemic, COVID-19, coronavirus, Debie Thomas
  • Mar 10, 2021Telling the Truth When it Matters
    Mar 10, 2021
    Telling the Truth When it Matters
    Series: (All)
    March 10, 2021. In tonight's testimonial, Jon Heerboth reflects on telling the truth. He relates the story of a young student who confessed the truth of his actions after 60 years of carrying the guilt around with him, and contrasts it with the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, telling the truth as he saw it and facing the consequences immediately.
     
    Readings: Mark 11:15-19, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Aren't we lucky to hear this same, wonderful story about Jesus cleansing the temple twice in one week? We had the lesson from John on Sunday, and my favorite version of this story from Mark tonight. So crisp, and Mark always leaves you wanting a little more.
     
    But tonight I want to talk to you about Frieda Peck. Frieda Peck was a legend in the school district I served for the last ten years prior to my retirement. She was a high school teacher for many years, and then became the high school principal in our small town, when the high school was the center of community life. Ms. Peck, according to her former students — all of whom were in their 70s and 80s — was an intimidating woman. They knew when she spoke, she meant business.
     
    In 1956 Ms. Peck disciplined a boy, who came back that night and threw a brick through the principal’s window. (It was one of those that was reinforced with metal wire. We used to see that back then.) He was angry about some discipline action and took it out on the school. He was too scared of the consequences to ever bring himself to fess up.
     
    In 2015 I received a letter from him in my office, and a $50 check. The young man — who was now an old man — was dying, and he wanted to confess and make good on the damage he did almost sixty years before. He carried that guilt around with him all his life. This sort of thing happened to me several times in my career as a school administrator. As people neared the end, they wanted to make something that had been wrong in the past into something that was right for them.
     
    So at the point of death, the man felt compelled to tell the truth and somehow to make this right. I guess he felt better about himself, but that truth didn’t matter anymore. I asked around. No one had seen him in the decades after high school. In 1956 he was angry, and then he was afraid when he realized what he had done. He couldn’t face up to the truth, and it affected his life to the point of his death. But according to his obituary he was a good and faithful family man, who regularly volunteered to visit and minister his faith to people who were in prison. The lapse in behavior from his school days did not keep him from having a good life.
     
    Jesus, on the other hand, faced the truth immediately when he walked through the temple grounds in the gospel for today. At that time people believed that goods and wealth were finite, so that one person’s gain was another person’s loss. Calling the temple square a "den of robbers," where thieves stored their stolen goods that others might have had, was a harsh condemnation. Jesus called it like he saw it. I can imagine the disciples with him at the time. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Wait a minute,” they might say. “Lighten up, man. You’re going to get us all killed.” But Jesus was willing to face the immediate consequences of telling the truth as he saw it.
     
    The business of the temple was to enrich the traders, the priests, the Romans — at the expense of the poorer people. “Don’t you know,” Jesus said, “This is supposed to be a house of prayer for all the nations?” A place of prayer for all nations. That’s the truth he was willing to risk death to pronounce. Jesus calls our church to confront the truth of our own mission, to proclaim the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Christ.
     
    You’ll recall, I'm sure, the lesson from last Sunday from 1 Corinthians: For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
     
    Who was scared of Jesus’ truth? It was the people he spoke against — the temple bigwigs. Jesus had his listeners spellbound, the text said. He paid the price for it later when they crucified him. But his teaching and truth-telling left the people spellbound, and the leaders were terrified of that.
     
    One of Ms. Peck’s former students told me that he spent four years terrified of the woman. And then, on their senior class trip to Chicago, she took them all dancing and they had the time of their lives. Sometimes the truth is tough to discern when we don’t have the wisdom to separate our fears from truth. Let’s grasp our truth: that Jesus suffered, died, and rose so that together we are free to confess our sins, embrace our forgiveness, and be people of prayer and service to all the nations.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jonathan (Jon) Heerboth, Mark 11:15-19, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
  • Mar 7, 2021The Commandments and Holy Anger
    Mar 7, 2021
    The Commandments and Holy Anger
    Series: (All)
    March 7, 2021. Today's sermon is on how the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, paired with the Ten Commandments as a guide for our lives, gives us a lot to think about.
     
    Readings: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, John 2:13-22
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When I was kid I was really strange: I actually loved the rules! I knew them all and followed them, well, religiously. And not only did I follow them, but I made it my job to be sure you did too. I remember being in third grade and getting into an argument with a friend in the classroom, because she wanted to break a rule and I was trying to stop her. I can still tell you to this day what the rule was, why she thought it was okay to break, and why she was wrong. And I remember coming home from school on more than one occasion to report to my mom that my brother hadn’t worn his hat and mittens on recess. I had a really good whine to it, too. As my brothers can attest, I was lots of fun at parties! I'm guessing I'm not alone in this.
     
    Some of you, on the other hand, likely follow or followed my brothers’ perspective on the rules — that it only counts as breaking rules if you get caught. And someone from a text study this week shared that they have always been inclined not to break the rules exactly, but to push the edge just a bit, just to see how far they could go.
     
    Whatever your perspective, it certainly is a fact, like Mr. Jesse pointed out, that rules are a part of life. Traffic laws, classroom rules, rules against things that harm others, rules that help keep order. And these days, rules for public health: mask mandates, capacity limitations, and distancing — all for the purpose of lessening our risk of catching or passing on the virus that is still circulating. And our motives for following them can range from wanting to protect ourselves and others, to fear of the consequences if we are caught not following them.
     
    For those of us who do like the rules, the first reading today is a real treasure, the ultimate in rule books: the 10 Commandments. Some of us may still be able to recite them by heart: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Here we have a set of rules that has been handed down to us for millennia, from God!
     
    We as Christians often, I think, overlook the 10 Commandments, perhaps relegating it to a thing we had to learn and study in Confirmation class — perhaps thinking, mistakenly, that since Jesus came the law just isn’t important anymore. We may even have heard it said that Jesus came to overturn the law. As we hear our gospel story about Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers and making a ruckus in the synagogue, which could be interpreted to be a story of Jesus tearing down Judaism, it's really important to remember that Jesus was Jewish. As a faithful Jewish teacher, Jesus probably felt about the law and the commandments the way the psalmist describes today — reviving, rejoicing, enduring, true, desirable, sweeter, clear, enlightening. Wow. All of that, for a list of rules, like honor your father and mother, you shall not murder, you shall not steal?
     
    Luther shared a great appreciation for the Commandments, and had actually a lot to say about them — not just as a list of do's and don’ts, but as a guide for our lives. Because ultimately Jesus tells us in Matthew, like Mr. Jesse pointed out today, the greatest commandment is love of God and love of neighbor. As we humans wrestle with how to live out the law, how to be in relationship with one another, the answer is simply to love.
     
    Simple but not easy. We humans often need specifics to help us get it — specifics like don’t covet our neighbor’s goods, and don’t bear false witness against one another. And still, we fall and get up, and fall and get up, and fall again... Luther makes it clear, as he describes the law, that we will never be able to live this out perfectly. Part of what we learn from understanding the law is that we on our own can’t do it. We humans will always and forever need God to help and guide us along the way.
     
    We need to be reminded, often, that the whole purpose of the law to begin with is to guide our life in community, and guide our relationship with God. As Fred Buechner writes, “The difficulty is increased when you realize that by loving God and your neighbors, Jesus doesn't mean loving as primarily a feeling. Instead, he seems to mean that whether or not any feeling is involved, loving God means honoring and obeying and staying in constant touch with God, and loving your neighbors means acting in their best interests no matter what, even if personally you can't stand them.”
     
    As Luther says in his explanation of the eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” not only are we not to tell lies or slander, but we are to “come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” Even, to echo Buechner again, if you personally can’t stand them.
     
    Simple, but certainly not easy. We will never be able to do this on our own, and we are greatly mistaken if we think we can, or if we think that doing so is required to earn God’s approval — that we can simply check the boxes and know that we have made it, somehow. Jesus understands this, I think.
     
    And Jesus, in his zeal in the courtyard of the temple, is reminding all of us of two other very important things about the law. One is that faith is not just about what we do in the sanctuary. Our faith is meant to be lived out in every aspect of our lives, in all of our relationships. As Jesus turns the tables, he is telling the money changers in no uncertain terms that they don’t get to profit off of their neighbors in the courtyard, and then enter the sanctuary and feel good about themselves. The 10 Commandments offer us not a way to earn our righteousness badge or as a measure by which to judge others, but a guide for embodying the love of God and neighbor in everything we do — especially with those we don’t like. All of this leads us to realize once again that sacred space and our lives of faith are not limited to what happens in the sanctuary, that sacred space is not defined by walls, but by how we live. How do we live sacred space? The barriers are down, and our whole lives become sacred!
     
    The other thing Jesus is telling the money changers and us is that the path of faith, the way we live with God and our neighbors, is not transactional — it's relational. Jesus’ burning zeal and passion came from holy anger at the barriers of wealth and privilege that prevented some from having access to the temple. In turning over the tables in the courtyard, Jesus is removing artificial barriers that had been placed between the people and God, ensuring that everyone could enter the temple without going through the money changers.
     
    This is one of the more interesting stories of Jesus we have in our gospels. We don’t often see Jesus get angry, but we see today that he did. If you are like me, this can be a really uncomfortable truth. I like the rules, after all, and isn’t one of the rules to not show anger like that? And yet, sometimes faithful love calls us to holy anger. And I will admit too, as one who has experienced barriers to the sanctuary in my own life, that in spite of my discomfort with passionate anger, there is something very satisfying about seeing Jesus let loose today.
     
    This story of Jesus turning over the tables, paired with the 10 Commandments as a guide for our lives, gives us a lot to think about. So I will leave you with just a few questions to reflect on. What about our faith brings out our passion? What are we willing to turn tables to proclaim or to defend? What walls and barriers are we willing to tear down, to ensure that someone who is excluded can come in? And whose wrath are we willing to risk?
     
    As our gospel ends today, there is one other thing to note as we continue our journey with Jesus of Nazareth in these 40 days of Lent. Jesus foreshadows his death, telling them that the temple of his body will be destroyed, and then says that it will be raised again in three days. The disciples, we're told, don’t get it then, or in the few days following Jesus’s death. It is only after Jesus has risen from the dead that they understand what he was trying to tell them — that he would die, but that would not be the end of the story. Sometimes the old has to die before the new can emerge. Love and life would prevail, even after the horror of Good Friday. And this is the promise of God revealed in all our scriptures: life springs forth in the most unexpected places, and death will never be the final word.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, YouTube, video, Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, Martin Luther, Fred Buechner
  • Mar 3, 2021BOOST-ing Christ
    Mar 3, 2021
    BOOST-ing Christ
    Series: (All)
    March 3, 2021. What would people think if they knew you were a Christian? This evening, Katie Ciorba shares how simply putting a Christian music radio station bumper sticker on a car can trigger the fear of being excluded — but can also serve to bring people together in surprising ways.
     
    Readings: John 12:36-43
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We stumbled upon 95.5 BOOST FM, with the catchy tagline "Pop, Hip Hop & Hope," as we were searching for a mutually agreed-upon song in the car. The positive voice of the DJs urged us to make a 30-day commitment to listen to BOOST FM and see if it changed our attitude or made us feel closer to God. I sarcastically said, “Let’s do it,” and Luther was immediately in — and not in a sarcastic way at all. He loves the beats of hip hop and the rhythms of rap, and gets frustrated by my constant policing of the often violent and anti-woman messages in this music. Listening to BOOST, Luther was instantly drawn into the DJs' messages, their feel good contests, and the music. In fact, he would vociferously remind me of our 30-day commitment anytime I tried to change the radio dial.
     
    At first, I worried his love of BOOST was an example of performative Christianity. He loves sports and adores the way athletes cross themselves, point up to God when they score, and kiss their crucifix necklaces. His only birthday wish this year was a cross necklace. I instantly rolled my eyes, chalking this up to a worship not of Christ, but specifically of masculinity. But we granted his wishes and he wears his cross proudly, everyday.
     
    Surprisingly, the DJs were right. After 30 days we became big-time BOOST fans — and not just in a sarcastic way. In the month of February, BOOST hosted “Give the Love” events around STL, where they gave away free treats and t-shirts. We attended these events, meeting the DJs and seeing other BOOST fans. Luther even called in the radio station one night to answer a question in a contest, winning a pair of tickets to a local trampoline park. We have learned most of the popular songs, and we've connected around the lyrics. We blast BOOST each night as we stretch and do gymnastics together in the basement. Some songs are fun and silly. Others are blatantly Christian. And still others delve into heavy, human topics in meaningful ways.
     
    Some of the music, frankly, isn’t that good. But I’ve developed a true appreciation for this shared language that gives Luther and me the opportunity to have real conversations about what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be human. It’s given us a chance to talk about race in explicit ways. He noticed that lots of the fans of BOOST at the first “BOOST the Love” event in University City were black, but when we went to a West County event most of the fans were white. It opened up conversations about segregation and race in St. Louis, and in February the BOOST DJs shared a daily Black History Month fact. And it was shared in a way that perked Luther's ears up every time. He listened intently.
     
    So, frankly I was surprised by my reaction to Luther’s request that we get a BOOST bumper sticker to put on my car. “What will people think?” I wondered. Did I want other drivers to know that I was a Christian? I’ve heard the jokes about watching out for the drivers with the Joy FM bumper stickers. What would my liberal friends think? What would my students think if they knew I was a Christian? I felt like those leaders in our text today who believed in Christ, but were afraid that by confessing their faith, the Pharisees would put them out of the synagogue.
     
    I’m currently in a class trying to learn new strategy to gain greater self-regulation. It's called HeartMath, and the goal is to try to balance your mind and body responses to stress and try to stay in a coherent state, not going into our “fight or flight” response. My teacher the other day said that for most of us, our biggest triggers are a fear of one of three things: 1) fear for our safety, 2) fears that something might block our success, or 3) the fear of not belonging. And I know for me, that fear of being out of the community, or out of the synagogue, is my biggest fear. My fear of embracing, announcing, and advertising my support of BOOST made me afraid that by telling the Truth — that I am a Christian — that I would be kicked out of the proverbial synagogue, that people would make further assumptions about my politics or way of living, that I wouldn’t belong.
     
    But Christ challenges us to shine his light, speak the gospel, tell the truth. As bravery goes, putting a bumper sticker on a car doesn’t rank up high. But I’m hoping it's a first, courageous step to embrace my love of Christ, and to share it more exuberantly, and my willingness to share it more lovingly with folks who need it. And I’m thankful for the loving push that Luther gave me, and I now see that his outward symbols of Christianity truly do come from a space of love and truth. Like him, I will outwardly BOOST the love of Christ.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Katie Ciorba, John 12:36-43
  • Feb 28, 2021The Cost of Discipleship
    Feb 28, 2021
    The Cost of Discipleship
    Series: (All)
    February 28, 2021. As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, there is a cost to discipleship of Jesus of Nazareth. What does this mean for us? Today's sermon is on truths that are not easy.
     
    Readings: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When I was in third grade at Our Lady of Grace Catholic school in Edina, Minnesota, I remember a specific time when I was introduced to the concept of doing hard things, of sacrificing myself for God perhaps. We were lining up in the hallway to go to the gym, and I asked to get a drink of water from the nearby water fountain. My teacher, who was eager to keep us in line and not start a flood of “I’m thirsty toos!” from the kids surrounding me, said, “No, give up your thirst for the holy souls in purgatory.” It was, in all my Catholic years, just about the only time anyone ever suggested anything like this, and my third grade self was taken a bit aback. In my mind I can still hear my very faithful Catholic grandmothers chuckling at the idea that giving up a drink of water might allow someone who had died to get into heaven.
     
    But another part of my mind truly took a step back in that moment from my own desire for a drink of water, and thought about the importance of setting aside my own needs and wants — at least for a moment — to consider something bigger than myself.
     
    It seems that my teacher’s statement, in a way perhaps both a little silly and profound, aligns with what Jesus is telling his disciples today. Jesus’ language is daunting and strong. But he, like my teacher, is trying to let us know that there are things much more important than our own desires and comfort — things worth actually sacrificing ourselves for.
     
    On this Sunday, the second Sunday in Lent, as we continue to explore our call to truth, I think this may be a truth our scriptures have for us in this season. We are followers of Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms that there is a cost to that. Like Miss Katie said, sometimes stepping out of the boxes that the world has for us can be really hard. As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, there is a cost to discipleship.
     
    Jesus’s statement that following him means “taking up the cross” was no off-the-cuff remark. In that time and place, everyone listening would immediately have envisioned Calvary, where not just once on Good Friday but many times people who stood against empire and challenged the status quo stepped outside of those boxes, were brutally punished by the Roman Empire for not falling in line. The cross was not a punishment for simple law-breaking. It was not the fate of those who stole, or attacked, or even murdered a fellow citizen. Death on the cross was reserved for those who rioted, or protested unfair Roman taxes, or in other ways challenged the authority of Roman rule. In other words, taking up the cross was the dramatic and brutal warning intentionally designed to silence those who had the courage to stand against the empire.
     
    Jesus knew that the empire would not take kindly to his radical proclamation of love, justice, and mercy. He knew that Pilate would be eager to quash beliefs that all people had value, and that those who were marginalized and cast out might actually be considered before those who held power. Jesus knew well how violent the response would be, eventually. And he refused to back away from that. Jesus of Nazareth, rather than softening his message to avoid the cross, rather than trying to stay inside the boxes they wanted him in, began with his message to his disciples to embrace the cross and invite them to do the same.
     
    We can imagine how the disciples must have felt about this. They expected the Messiah to come with military power, prepared to overthrow Roman rule in the end. And then Jesus tells them that not only would he suffer and die, if they were to follow him they also must be ready to accept the most painful and shameful death imaginable at that time. It must have been quite a shock to hear the one they expected to free Israel from occupation suggest that the way of liberation led not to glorious military victory, but shameful death. In fact, more than one of Jesus’s disciples eventually were crucified as well.
     
    If we too are Jesus’s disciples, we too are called to take up the cross as we follow him. We too are called to embrace the truth that there is a cost to discipleship of Jesus of Nazareth. So what does this mean for us today? Because although I got a glimpse of the call of our faith to sacrifice ourselves in that moment in the hallway, there is much more to understand than that.
     
    Denying ourselves a drink of water, or finding other ways to fast, can become a token action, something we can feel good about that doesn’t go below the surface. It can become something that is so rigid and restrictive that the joy of the good news, the message of God’s love and our identity as God’s kids, is lost. Or, at its best, fasting in the spirit of the gospel can be a spiritual practice that leads us into deeper relationship with the God who formed us, and prepares us to follow Christ all the way to the cross.
     
    Debie Thomas, theologian and blogger, wrote this week, “To take up a cross as Jesus did is to stand in the center of the world’s pain. Taking up the cross means recognizing Christ crucified in every suffering soul and body that surrounds us, and pouring our energies and our lives into alleviating that pain — no matter what it costs.” You may remember from last week that Jesus began his ministry by leaving the desert and walking straight into the grief and horror of John the Baptist’s death. And we hear today that Christ was willing to challenge the empire and face the cross to stay true to the gospel he was called to preach. The cross we are invited to take up as followers of Jesus is to stand with all who suffer, to step outside of our comfortable boxes and lean into the pain of the world with the promise of God’s faithfulness, and to commit ourselves to challenging the systems that bring death even if it means that we ourselves suffer.
     
    This is, I think, one of the hardest truths of the gospel. We, like the disciples, would much rather Jesus just move and in and destroy in victorious battle all of the ills of this world — illness, violence, oppression, and death. The way of the cross, as Luther explains it, means that we do not avoid the suffering and pain of life, but call it what it is. We face head on the evils of this world and call it evil, and we proclaim the gospel, no matter what the cost.
     
    Along with this hard truth today, we have the knowledge and promise of the covenant between God and Abraham and Sarah. The covenant they make today is profoundly important to us who follow Jesus of Nazareth on the way to the cross. The covenant is only one of many in just a few chapters of Genesis. God seemed to know that as Abraham and Sarah traveled along the road to the unknown, facing countless threats and challenges along the way, they would need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness.
     
    And in the first of those covenants, as they began this long journey, God promised that God would bless them so that they would be a blessing. Because it was not all about them after all, any more that it is all about us. That’s the thing about the way of the cross — it draws us out of our selfishness and greed and into our true selves, in profound relationship with God and all that God created, so that we can participate in the creation, recreation, healing, and redemption of the world around us. We too are blessed to be a blessing, and we too are named and claimed by the God who made us, as Abraham and Sarah received their new names in today’s story.
     
    We continue our Lenten journey on the way of the cross, guided by the truth Jesus shares that this road will not be easy. We follow Jesus of Nazareth, who calls us to take up our cross: to step out of our boxes, to walk into the world’s pain, and stand against the empire, naming and challenging the evils of racism and all forms of oppression, and claiming the promise of the gospel. No matter the consequences, we know we are not alone, because Christ has gone before us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38, Katie Ciorba, Debie Thomas