Sermons

           

Jan 16, 2022
Even Mirabel Has a Gift
Series: (All)
January 16, 2022. Today's sermon is about gifts. Just as everyone in the Madrigal family in the new Disney movie “Encanto” has a special gift to contribute to the community, so Paul writes in our scriptures for today that there are many gifts among the Corinthians, and all are important.
 
Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
 
*** Transcript ***
 
The new Disney movie “Encanto” — we just talked about just a little bit — is in one sense a fanciful tale about a magical family where everyone has a gift that makes them stand out from the others. In another sense, it's a story of a community’s trauma, and survival, and resilience. The Columbian people have been through a lot, and the fact that they are alive at all is a miracle in itself. They survived because of the family Madrigal, led by Abuela, who brought them to a place of safety and created a beautiful house and community protected by magic.
 
Everyone in the family Madrigal has a special gift to contribute to keep that community going, and when each child reaches a certain age, they are given a magical doorknob that opens the door to their own unique gift: strength, beauty, creativity, healing, transformation. All of the Madrigals have a gift — except, it seems, for Mirabel. When she tries to use her doorknob, the magic appears to fail for the very first time. Mirabel, everyone says, does not have a gift. And while Mirabel’s parents support and encourage her, Abuela and some of her siblings continually remind her that she really doesn't have anything to share, and her best contribution to the family is to stay out of the way.
 
In our second reading today, Paul is writing to the people of the way, followers of Jesus, who are trying to figure out who belongs, how to live together, and most of all, what it means to be a follower of Christ. They are, Paul sees, discussing these things among themselves, and as often happens in this new community, they have begun to argue about who is worthy to belong and who has the most value. In the process, some among them attempt to rank the gifts of those in community, lifting up those who have more valuable gifts. It's tempting to see the showier gifts as more important, and the Madrigals struggle with this too. In “Encanto” Mirabel’s sister Isabela prides herself in her ability to make perfect flowers and spectacular beauty, and she seems to delight in holding herself above Mirabel in particular, and the Corinthians are no different. Like the Madrigals, the Corinthians have invested a lot of energy in determining whose gifts are the most important.
 
As Paul watches the growing community in Corinth, he realizes that they have missed the point, and he seeks to help them understand who they are. In today’s reading, Paul writes that there are many gifts among the Corinthians, and all are important. All of the gifts the Corinthians have, that we have, come from God. There are no right or wrong or better or worse gifts, Paul tells us, because they all have unique value. In “Encanto” no two Madrigals have the same gift, and everyone is overjoyed to watch as young Antonio Madrigal opens his door to discover that he can talk to animals! It's interesting to note that there are several lists of spiritual gifts in Paul’s letters and other places in the scriptures, and each list is different.
 
Paul also makes it clear that the gifts God has given are not intended for our own status and benefit, but for the good of creation. He writes, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Abuela reminds the Madrigals often that the gifts they have are essential for the community’s very survival. Mirabel’s sister Luisa has unbelievable strength, and Mirabel realizes that she is beginning to crack under the pressure of literally carrying the weight of the world (or at least a couple of pianos and a few donkeys) on her shoulders. This feeling that it all depends on you can cause a lot of pressure, and certainly the Corinthian leaders feel this as their community grows and faces challenges and oppression.
 
That is why it's so important to remember that the gifts God gives us, unique as they are, are not meant to make us stand out, but to bring us into faithful, just, loving community. No one gift — no one of us — can stand on our own. And we aren’t meant to. This week we remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the message of justice and community that he shared. He had profound gifts for preaching, encouraging, speaking truth to power, calling for God’s justice in this world. And with him, behind him, before him, were so many others whose gifts were equally essential to the change that the Spirit was bringing through those days of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. And the Spirit continues to work through the gifts of those seeking God’s mercy, justice, and healing in our still-broken world.
 
We often think of Reverend Dr. King as a hero whose words inspired thousands across the country, and that is certainly true. But not everyone saw it that way at the time. He wrote some of his most profound words from a jail cell after being arrested, and called in those around him who wished that the truths he spoke about racism, classism, and economic injustices were not so hard to swallow. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s gifts were actually seen as threats to those in power, to the point that he had an FBI file and was ultimately assassinated. Truth be told, we generally still prefer the easier truths, spoken in soft, gentle words and tones, to the clearer prophetic voices that reveal the broken places and pain we would rather not face.
 
Paul in his letter makes it clear that all gifts, not just those that feel convenient or easy, are given by God for the good of the community. Like those challenged by Reverend Dr. King’s truths, the Madrigals have their struggle with this too. Mirabel and her family notice that there are cracks in their house, the magic seems to be faltering, and it gets so bad they can’t ignore it any longer — although Abuela certainly tries. As Mirabel figures out what is causing the problem and finds a solution, she uncovers secrets about her Uncle Bruno, discovering that he hid away after his gift for prophecy seemed to predict the very destruction they are now facing. Bruno’s inconvenient gift, perceived as a threat, was locked away for years.
 
Mirabel is not daunted, and convinces Bruno to delve into the truth instead of hiding from it. In so doing, she finds that she does have a gift after all. Mirabel has a capacity to face fear and doubt with courage, and call people together in ways that no one knew were possible. And in the end, not just the Madrigals, but all of those they had been protecting, join together in the process of rebuilding their community on a stronger foundation. In a new way, because of Mirabel, Abuela learns that everyone’s gifts have value, and all of the Madrigals learn just how important community is.
 
All gifts, not just those that feel convenient or easy, are given by God for the good of the community. Just because we don’t recognize or understand a gift doesn’t mean that it’s not essential. And it is only in community that we can truly discover and live into the gifts God has given us. Paul says over and over that the gifts of the whole community are necessary for its well-being. And in our gospel today, when the wine runs out at the wedding of Cana, Mary helps Jesus see that his time has come after all, and as frivolous as it seems, all of the guests benefit as the celebration of joy and love continues with the best wine. Our community can help us see the gifts we have when we may not yet see them for ourselves.
 
There are many gifts, but the same Spirit, given by God for the common good. And everyone has gifts to share, even Mirabel.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
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  • Jan 16, 2022Even Mirabel Has a Gift
    Jan 16, 2022
    Even Mirabel Has a Gift
    Series: (All)
    January 16, 2022. Today's sermon is about gifts. Just as everyone in the Madrigal family in the new Disney movie “Encanto” has a special gift to contribute to the community, so Paul writes in our scriptures for today that there are many gifts among the Corinthians, and all are important.
     
    Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The new Disney movie “Encanto” — we just talked about just a little bit — is in one sense a fanciful tale about a magical family where everyone has a gift that makes them stand out from the others. In another sense, it's a story of a community’s trauma, and survival, and resilience. The Columbian people have been through a lot, and the fact that they are alive at all is a miracle in itself. They survived because of the family Madrigal, led by Abuela, who brought them to a place of safety and created a beautiful house and community protected by magic.
     
    Everyone in the family Madrigal has a special gift to contribute to keep that community going, and when each child reaches a certain age, they are given a magical doorknob that opens the door to their own unique gift: strength, beauty, creativity, healing, transformation. All of the Madrigals have a gift — except, it seems, for Mirabel. When she tries to use her doorknob, the magic appears to fail for the very first time. Mirabel, everyone says, does not have a gift. And while Mirabel’s parents support and encourage her, Abuela and some of her siblings continually remind her that she really doesn't have anything to share, and her best contribution to the family is to stay out of the way.
     
    In our second reading today, Paul is writing to the people of the way, followers of Jesus, who are trying to figure out who belongs, how to live together, and most of all, what it means to be a follower of Christ. They are, Paul sees, discussing these things among themselves, and as often happens in this new community, they have begun to argue about who is worthy to belong and who has the most value. In the process, some among them attempt to rank the gifts of those in community, lifting up those who have more valuable gifts. It's tempting to see the showier gifts as more important, and the Madrigals struggle with this too. In “Encanto” Mirabel’s sister Isabela prides herself in her ability to make perfect flowers and spectacular beauty, and she seems to delight in holding herself above Mirabel in particular, and the Corinthians are no different. Like the Madrigals, the Corinthians have invested a lot of energy in determining whose gifts are the most important.
     
    As Paul watches the growing community in Corinth, he realizes that they have missed the point, and he seeks to help them understand who they are. In today’s reading, Paul writes that there are many gifts among the Corinthians, and all are important. All of the gifts the Corinthians have, that we have, come from God. There are no right or wrong or better or worse gifts, Paul tells us, because they all have unique value. In “Encanto” no two Madrigals have the same gift, and everyone is overjoyed to watch as young Antonio Madrigal opens his door to discover that he can talk to animals! It's interesting to note that there are several lists of spiritual gifts in Paul’s letters and other places in the scriptures, and each list is different.
     
    Paul also makes it clear that the gifts God has given are not intended for our own status and benefit, but for the good of creation. He writes, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Abuela reminds the Madrigals often that the gifts they have are essential for the community’s very survival. Mirabel’s sister Luisa has unbelievable strength, and Mirabel realizes that she is beginning to crack under the pressure of literally carrying the weight of the world (or at least a couple of pianos and a few donkeys) on her shoulders. This feeling that it all depends on you can cause a lot of pressure, and certainly the Corinthian leaders feel this as their community grows and faces challenges and oppression.
     
    That is why it's so important to remember that the gifts God gives us, unique as they are, are not meant to make us stand out, but to bring us into faithful, just, loving community. No one gift — no one of us — can stand on our own. And we aren’t meant to. This week we remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the message of justice and community that he shared. He had profound gifts for preaching, encouraging, speaking truth to power, calling for God’s justice in this world. And with him, behind him, before him, were so many others whose gifts were equally essential to the change that the Spirit was bringing through those days of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. And the Spirit continues to work through the gifts of those seeking God’s mercy, justice, and healing in our still-broken world.
     
    We often think of Reverend Dr. King as a hero whose words inspired thousands across the country, and that is certainly true. But not everyone saw it that way at the time. He wrote some of his most profound words from a jail cell after being arrested, and called in those around him who wished that the truths he spoke about racism, classism, and economic injustices were not so hard to swallow. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s gifts were actually seen as threats to those in power, to the point that he had an FBI file and was ultimately assassinated. Truth be told, we generally still prefer the easier truths, spoken in soft, gentle words and tones, to the clearer prophetic voices that reveal the broken places and pain we would rather not face.
     
    Paul in his letter makes it clear that all gifts, not just those that feel convenient or easy, are given by God for the good of the community. Like those challenged by Reverend Dr. King’s truths, the Madrigals have their struggle with this too. Mirabel and her family notice that there are cracks in their house, the magic seems to be faltering, and it gets so bad they can’t ignore it any longer — although Abuela certainly tries. As Mirabel figures out what is causing the problem and finds a solution, she uncovers secrets about her Uncle Bruno, discovering that he hid away after his gift for prophecy seemed to predict the very destruction they are now facing. Bruno’s inconvenient gift, perceived as a threat, was locked away for years.
     
    Mirabel is not daunted, and convinces Bruno to delve into the truth instead of hiding from it. In so doing, she finds that she does have a gift after all. Mirabel has a capacity to face fear and doubt with courage, and call people together in ways that no one knew were possible. And in the end, not just the Madrigals, but all of those they had been protecting, join together in the process of rebuilding their community on a stronger foundation. In a new way, because of Mirabel, Abuela learns that everyone’s gifts have value, and all of the Madrigals learn just how important community is.
     
    All gifts, not just those that feel convenient or easy, are given by God for the good of the community. Just because we don’t recognize or understand a gift doesn’t mean that it’s not essential. And it is only in community that we can truly discover and live into the gifts God has given us. Paul says over and over that the gifts of the whole community are necessary for its well-being. And in our gospel today, when the wine runs out at the wedding of Cana, Mary helps Jesus see that his time has come after all, and as frivolous as it seems, all of the guests benefit as the celebration of joy and love continues with the best wine. Our community can help us see the gifts we have when we may not yet see them for ourselves.
     
    There are many gifts, but the same Spirit, given by God for the common good. And everyone has gifts to share, even Mirabel.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
  • Jan 9, 2022Following the Star
    Jan 9, 2022
    Following the Star
    Series: (All)
    January 22, 2022. When was the last time you set out on a journey with only a single star for your guide? Today's sermon is about the journey of the magi and the truth revealed in Epiphany.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Matthew 2:1-12
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When was the last time you set out on a journey with only a single star for your guide? When I'm going somewhere I typically want to know where I'm going, how to get there, and what I should do and expect once I arrive. The idea of following a star sounds a little crazy, even terrifying. If the wise people had invited me to join them, they might have had a hard time getting me out the door. They, however, seem to have taken their mysterious journey in stride. They were likely astrologers, so it was probably not such a strange thing for them to follow the guidance of a star. When the star disappears, they stop to ask directions, and continue onward. The wise ones follow all of this, seemingly without question. Nothing else seemed to matter.
     
    From the start, logically, nothing about this journey makes any sense. A mysterious star that shines and disappears. A king with ego issues and ulterior motives. The words of scribes and chief priests who serve the king, not the greater good. The star again. And finally, a dream. No GPS, no map, and truth be told, when they set out the wise ones didn’t even know where they were going.
     
    The wise ones were seeking the one who would be, as Isaiah describes, a light for all nations, a light that will guide exiles home. The psalmist tells us that this baby who will be king will bring justice for all who are poor. He will deliver those who are oppressed, have pity on the weak, redeem those caught in violence. Given this promise, nothing mattered but following the star, no matter where it led them.
     
    January 6, 2021, as I was preparing my Epiphany sermon for last year, I watched as many of you did with a mix of shock and horror as thousands of armed people climbed walls, broke windows, and entered and interrupted congressional session in what was by definition a coup. I was sickened as I heard the pain of colleagues and friends of color who know just how differently this would have turned out had the coup been led by black folks or other people of color. Epiphany tells us a story about three kings, following a star, traveling from far parts of the earth to see the radical truth of what God is up to. And once again, this year, on this first anniversary, I am hearing the story of Epiphany teaching us about truth, empire, and God’s persistent and faithful guidance and work in this world.
     
    Epiphany literally means, in one definition, a sudden revelation or insight. An awareness of a truth that wasn’t apparent before. I think about when I realized that I was not, and never would be, perfect — leaving me at once horrified and giddy with relief. Or when I saw my parents as actual human beings for the first time. (Yes kids, this might happen to you, too!) I think about those major national events of my lifetime that have changed forever how I see the world: the explosion of the Challenger, the attempted assassination of President Reagan, the attack on the World Trade Center, the two full years of pandemic life, and of course, the events of January 6, 2021.
     
    In her blog Journey With Jesus, Debie Thomas writes, “During this brief liturgical season between Christmas and Lent, we’re invited to leave miraculous births and angel choirs behind, and seek the love, majesty, and power of God in seemingly mundane things. Rivers. Voices. Doves. Clouds. Holy hands covering ours, lowering us into the water of repentance and new life. In the gospel stories we read during this season, God parts the curtain for brief, shimmering moments, allowing us to look beneath the ordinary surfaces of our lives, and catch glimpses of the extraordinary.”
     
    Epiphany is about truth revealed, and that's not always comfortable or welcome. Because often God’s truth challenges us to see things differently, to change our minds on things we thought we were certain of. And often, God's truth reveals threats to the empire, the powers and privileges that shape our world, and truth be told, make us feel safe. The three kings brought news to Herod of what they saw God doing in the world — bringing a new king — and that threatened everything Herod had. When the wise people, who Herod tried to make allies to his empire, failed to return to tell him where they could find Jesus, Herod sent his soldiers to kill all the babies to prevent this “new king” from taking power. And in our country, we have witnessed empire threatened, willing to use any means to hold onto power — even if it means, figuratively speaking, burning everything.
     
    The good news is, Herod, the empire of Jesus’ time, didn’t succeed in taking power. And neither, Christ Lutheran family, will the empire of today. The journey will not be easy, and we're a long ways from the end of it. But still, God is here, among us. The good news of God in Jesus Christ is that God’s work in this world cannot be subverted, or prevented, or even delayed. Empire notwithstanding, God continues to guide us, sometimes in the most surprising of ways.
     
    Following the star is no simple task. For one thing, a star is not exactly a neon sign. It's so easy to get distracted from the journey. But if we take a moment to think about what the star means, we know, just as the wise ones did, that nothing else matters. We live in a broken world that is in desperate need of mercy, justice, and redemption. We need the God who came to us in Jesus, who will bring us home, and show us what's really important. We need the God who stands with those who are most impacted by poverty, oppression, and violence, and who calls us to make that a priority, above anything else. We need the God who reminds us that if one person suffers, we all suffer. Nothing else matters. We need to follow the star.
     
    God is with us on this journey, and gives us the courage and faith to take it. But God does not follow the star for us. That's our job. There's a time for waiting and watching and wondering, but this is not it. Epiphany is a time to focus, and to follow the star that leads us to Christ.
     
    Each time we take an action to bring truth and justice to our world, we're claiming the promise of the one who set that star in the sky to guide us. When we walk the road with someone who is in pain, we open our hearts to the God who promises healing and forgiveness. When we share the abundance of this world with a neighbor, we are following the star to Jesus, whose mercy will bring a day when no one will be without. When we stand against oppression, and are willing to change so that oppressive systems fall even if it’s not convenient for us, we are proclaiming that there is room on the road for everyone. The wise people knew, and we know, that the star leads to hope not just for some, but for all.
     
    I still don’t know for sure if I would have gone with the wise ones, if they had invited me to follow the star with them, but I hope I would have. Because the star, as hard as it may be for us as human beings to keep track of, and as scary as the unknown journey might be, reminds us that God has always been faithful, and always will be faithful, to God’s promises. On our own, we would never find the way. We are not in charge of this journey. We're followers, ones who trust in God, who has never failed us. We know the mercy, justice, healing, and love of God, and we respond by taking a step in the direction the star is leading us, not knowing where we will end up. And today, some 2000 years later, the journey of the magi continues. We too follow that star. And at the end of worship today, we will ask God’s blessings on the journey as this new year begins. Nothing else matters, as long as we follow the star.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Matthew 2:1-12, Journey With Jesus, Debie Thomas
  • Jan 2, 2022God Delights in You
    Jan 2, 2022
    God Delights in You
    Series: (All)
    January 2, 2022. In today's sermon, written by Pastor Meagan and read by Mark Roock, we hear about how God knows every detail of our backstories, and delights in each one of us.
     
    Readings: Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:1-18
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    This sermon was prepared by Pastor Meagan, so I want you to imagine that you're receiving it as a letter. So I would begin with: dear friends. Greetings to you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
     
    When I graduated from college and moved back home, it didn’t take long before I joined the church choir at my childhood church. After all, I had always loved singing, and had been in one choir or another since I was in third grade. A fellow choir member, Barbara Lynch, had been part of that church since before I was born, and she began to tell me stories of things she remembered from when I was a kid, running around the halls of Our Lady of Grace Church and School.
     
    One of the stories she told me had been shared with her by my grade school music teacher, George Carthage. On his last day with us before retirement, Mr. Carthage asked what we wanted to sing, and we chose our favorite, The Holy City. Although I hadn’t thought about it in years, I instantly remembered the day — and the song — she was talking about. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing, hosanna, in the highest, hosanna to your king!” Over, and over, and over we sang it, until we were tired of it — which I imagine probably took us much longer than it took Mr. Carthage. As I recalled it, I realized that that day was one among many that fed my love of singing over the years.
     
    A few years after Mrs. Lynch reminded me of that day with Mr. Carthage, one of my cousins had a child who was the first baby in the family in many years, and my Aunt Kate said to all of us, “You see how excited we all are about this baby, how everyone wants to hold and love and talk to him? I want you to know that we did that exact same thing with every one of you. We love you all that way!”
     
    I had taken it for granted, up until then, the profound gift of having people in your life who know your backstory. People who can remind you of events and experiences that you had forgotten, who in some ways know you better than you know yourself. How important it is to have, or have had, people who knew you and looked on you with love, even before you were born.
     
    Each Christmas, we tell the story of Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh, remembering that God came to us in Jesus into the middle of human history to reveal the radical unfailing love God has for us. And today, on this second Sunday of Christmas, in the Gospel of John, we hear those ethereal words that remind us that Jesus, the Word, was present and moving in the world long before that night in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago.
     
    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . . All things came into being through him.” We don’t often think about it, but this is so profound, isn’t it? Christ was there, in and with and through God, from the very beginning of time. There isn’t a single thing that has happened since creation that Jesus was not intimately a part of. All life came into being through Christ, who then came to us in Jesus. He was formed in Mary’s womb, and she labored and gave birth to him in a stable in the tiny little town of Bethlehem.
     
    In Jesus, we know that there is nothing that has ever happened in our world or our lives that God does not know and care passionately about. Mrs. Lynch, among others, was able to share a slice of my childhood with me, but God knows our entire backstories, and us, better than we or anyone else ever will. Jesus came to show us that, just as my parents, aunts, and uncles poured love over each and every one of us in turn, so God delights in each and every one of us. Think about that for a moment. God delights in you!
     
    The story of God coming in Jesus is a story of a love so abundant that it surrounds and fills all of creation. Remember the Ghost of Christmas Present from A Christmas Carol? He brings Mr. Scrooge to all corners of the earth: a ship deployed on the ocean, a remote lighthouse, suburban streets, a deep mine, and a hospital. If we were to follow the Spirit today, we might find ourselves with people fleeing violence, poverty, and death in a refugee camp on our southern border; visiting people sick with COVID in a remote African village or in India’s Maharashtra; or with those who are unhoused on the streets of St. Louis. The Spirit would likely bring us to those in prison in our own city. When the ghost and Scrooge arrive at Bob Cratchit’s home in a poor, forgotten neighborhood, Scrooge asks why they are there, and the ghost replies, “It’s Christmas here too, you know!”
     
    God came in Jesus to an unmarried young woman in a stable in a tiny little town to show us that they are present everywhere, perhaps especially the most forgotten places. No one is invisible to Christ, who intimately knows and sees and loves all people, and all of creation. There is no one God does not see and delight in.
     
    This is the gift and the call of Christmas. God knows every detail of our backstories, and delights in each one of us, and every one of us. And we are created us to embody that love in the world the way Jesus did, to see and love the forgotten ones, wherever they may be. God delights in you! What greater gift could there be to share?
     
    Amen.
     
    So writes our pastor, Meagan McLaughlin, and we too say amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Mark Roock, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:1-18, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Dec 27, 2021Saint Stephen, the First Martyr
    Dec 27, 2021
    Saint Stephen, the First Martyr
    Series: (All)
    December 26, 2021. Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen, and guest preacher Jon Heerboth's sermon is about following Stephen's example and being about the Father's business in feeding the poor, treating the sick, and supporting the marginalized.
     
    Readings: Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 2:41-52
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even." Well, that legend was that the king braved bad weather to take alms to a poor man on the second day of Christmas, the festival of Stephen, deacon and martyr. More on Saint Stephen in a bit. But I want to recognize this day on which we remember the first known martyr of the Christian church.
     
    In the Gospel of Luke that we heard today, it's been 12 years or so since Mary sang the Magnificat, her song of praise at the time of her impending motherhood. We at Christ Lutheran Church sang it the last four Wednesday nights — and said it responsively as the psalm last Sunday — so we've heard it a lot. Mary sang about God, who had scattered the proud, brought down the powerful from thrones, lifted the lowly, fed the hungry, and sent away the rich. All of this was to fulfill God's covenant with the ancestors.
     
    In this story, the reality of parenthood turned out to be different from the joy of the Magnificat. After several days of parental anxiety and panic, the twelve-year-old Jesus was unmoved when they found him. "Don't you know," he asked them — or "Wist ye not," the King James version asked — "that I must be about my Father's business?" That I have to be in my Father's house? That I am involved with my father's stuff? Don't you know that it is necessary for me to do this? The text says they did not understand what he was talking about.
     
    We don't always understand either. We confess that Jesus was truly God and truly human. Here we see what our confession actually looked like in the person and divinity of Jesus at age 12.
     
    After Passover, the great Jewish celebration of liberation, Jesus separated from his earthly family to tend to his real Father's business. Jesus sat in the temple, asked questions, learned from scholars, who were experts in the Jewish scriptures. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers, according to the text. So the temple scholars were amazed, and Mary and Joseph were astonished, as Jesus let them know that he knew who his real Father was and what God's business was with God's creation.
     
    Imagine what it would have been like for his parents to have to raise the Savior of the world. Imagine how they felt when they lost him. God didn't choose a wealthy or powerful family to raise God's son. Jesus was a small town boy from a relatively poor family. I'm sure Mary and Joseph were astonished. What in their lives, or in ours either for that matter, would have been preparation for Jesus?
     
    After this, an obedient Jesus went back to Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him, according to Luke. It's fascinating to hear how Jesus, who was fully God, could also be fully human, ask questions, learn from others, and develop wisdom.
     
    "Why were you searching for me? Don't, you know..." These were Jesus' first words in the Gospel of Luke. Perhaps Jesus was reminding his mother of the outline of Jesus' mission that she had sung so long before in the Magnificat. At any rate, this is all Luke shares about Jesus' childhood. We don't hear from Jesus again, really, until his first sermon in Nazareth in chapter 4. In that story, Jesus went to his hometown synagogue on the Sabbath and read from Isaiah. Listen to what he said. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon him. And then he said to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." That's what we're doing. The people were amazed again. By the time he finished his entire sermon, the people were so enraged that they tried to kill him by hurling him off a cliff. But he escaped. Jesus is no manger baby anymore. His goals of helping the poor and marginalized, of overthrowing the wealthy and powerful, and offering eternal life to all, eventually led to his death — and then to the resurrection. Mary and Joseph managed to lose Jesus and found him again at his Father's house, doing God's business.
     
    We find ourselves here in God's house too, confessing our sins, accepting forgiveness and absolution, receiving Word and Sacrament, and praying for God to use us as tools to accomplish God's will for all creation. Every year, we hear how we lose Jesus in the hubbub of Christmas. But here we are back in God's house on the day after Christmas, worshipping under the open arms of Jesus. We find Jesus when we serve his mission to work for the oppressed and marginalized, and to work for the peace of Christ in our lives, in our congregation, and in our society as a whole. We know that our mission will not be popular among the rich and powerful. We go into the world with a set of values that are in opposition to prevailing views.
     
    In Colossians' reading today, Paul tells us how to dress for our job. "Above all," he said, "clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." Today's reading tells us how to live. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful." That is our mission. We usually think of the word "peace" as a noun. The peace of Christ is really a verb. It's something that we must commit to live and demonstrate and practice every day, the goal toward which we work as people of faith.
     
    How are we doing? Several weeks ago in the Sunday Forum, the Horns demonstrated that the countries in which Christianity were doing well were those in which people saw benefits from the work of the church. In other countries in which people look to governments for their social safety nets and care, the church was becoming irrelevant as the years passed. Are we relevant in our own country? Are the poor being fed? Are the sick treated? The marginalized supported? How about God's creation as a whole?
     
    When we reach out, we take risks. In our society, many want to believe that anyone can get ahead if they work hard. Are people suffering? "They should clean up their act." Poor? "Get a job, or a better job." Need childcare? "Quit having babies." "I don't want my tax dollars supporting someone who ought to be working as hard as I had to work." Those are all comments I copied out of the Post Dispatch in the past week, on a variety of social issues. And I think those are prevailing views among some people. A lot of people. Not here. "Don't you know?" we might respond. "We must be about our heavenly Father's business." Are we making a difference? Saint Stephen found out the hard way what can happen when Christians make a difference and upset the status quo. When Stephen's work and his wisdom upset the powerful, they trumped up some charges of blasphemy against him, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him to death in front of Saul — or St. Paul, as we call him now. St. Paul, the writer of the book of Colossians, who said that we should clothe ourselves in love. That St. Paul. In Acts 8:1 Luke wrote, "And Saul approved of their killing him."
     
    This is the day we think about Jesus, both fully divine and fully human, about Mary, who had to raise this child, about our Father's business that turns the status quo upside down, about the potential dangers we may face when we attempt to become relevant to all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray together that Christ Lutheran Church, through our worship in Word and Sacrament and through our outreach to community and Creation, may always be part of doing our Father's business.
     
    Let's pray the prayer appointed for today. We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of Stephen, the first martyr, who looked to heaven and prayed for his persecutors. Grant that we also may pray for our enemies and seek forgiveness for those who hurt us. Through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jon Heerboth,  Colossians 3:12-17,  Luke 2:41-52
  • Dec 24, 2021God Hasn’t Given Up on Us Yet
    Dec 24, 2021
    God Hasn’t Given Up on Us Yet
    Series: (All)
    December 24, 2021. On this Christmas Eve, Pastor Meagan's message is on how Jesus in all his humanity comes to us, so that we might begin to let God love us when loving ourselves feels impossible.
     
    Readings: Luke 2:1-20
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    All Advent, we have been waiting and watching for Christmas to come. We've been listening to the messages of hope that have come to us through so many voices this season, letting us know of God’s promises to all people and all creation. And now, Christmas Eve has finally arrived, and we celebrate one more time the coming of God into the world in Jesus.
     
    Throughout all of humanity’s story, our story, as revealed in our scriptures, we hear over and over how we've been in relationship with God. God has come to us and spoken with us, made promises to us, and we've made promises to God. And over and over, humanity has fallen short. We have not loved and trusted the God who formed and loves us so well, we've not shown each other God’s love the way God created us to do. And we humans haven’t always lived up to God’s call for us, and we've revealed ourselves to be, as Luther says, not fully saint, not perfect, but both saint and sinner.
     
    There are those moments in scripture — like Noah and the ark, and the Israelites in the desert, and Lot and his family — where it seems God has given up on us. And at the last minute, always, something or someone changes God’s mind, convinces God to give us another chance.
     
    Often, we might think of Jesus’s coming as God’s final, last-ditch effort to save humanity, redeeming that which sometimes seems irredeemable... somehow emphasizing the brokenness of our humanity as compared with the divinity of God. This evening, as we come together to celebrate the coming of God in Christ, recognize the dawn of hope into our world in Jesus, there is another message that we can see in this most important story of our faith, and humanity’s place among God’s beloved creation.
     
    There are so many ways God could have come to us. Look at all the ways God showed up before this. A voice in a burning bush. A whisper in wind. Angels, over and over. A pillar of fire, and cloud. In the psalms, God moves mountains and shakes the earth. I could go on. And certainly the God who has come to us in so many ways could have come to us like this again, showing up in a way that illustrates a distinction between God and humans.
     
    But God didn’t do that when they came in Jesus. Of all the ways that God could have chosen to come into our world and reveal the love they have for us, in Jesus they chose to become one of us. A human being, flesh and blood. God embodied all of the love, mercy, and joy they have for creation and for us in this tiny little human baby.
     
    The most amazing thing about Christ’s coming is that it shows us that God has not given up on us, after all. The promises of God are not beyond us. In Christ, God has shown us that human beings, along with the earth and sky and trees and water and the fellow creatures with whom we live on this planet, are God’s beloved creation so much so that God chose to become human to reveal God's self to us.
     
    God has not given up on us. God came to us in Jesus, and because of that, we know God’s love for us endures no matter how much we might stumble. We know that, in all of our struggles, joys, pains, hopes, grief, and love, we have never been alone, and never will be. In Christ, God understands our human experience, claims us as part of God's beloved creation, and walks alongside us every step we take. Human and divine are not so separate as we might think. God is intimately connected to all of creation, and because Jesus came to us, we know that includes us humans, too.
     
    And just in case we might think that God came for some and not for all, look at our gospel today tells a different story. As so often happens, when it came time to let people know that Jesus was born, the angels first brought the joyous news to the shepherds, not the emperor. It was those caring for their sheep in the fields, unseen by most, uncounted by the emperor’s census, who were among the first to hear the incredible news of just how much God loves us.
     
    Jesus came to embody God’s love for all of us human creatures. And in the birth, life, and death and resurrection of Christ, we know that we are called to do the same. We can’t love and serve perfectly on our own — we are saint and sinner after all — but we followers of Christ are called to be transformed by the Spirit, to let God love others through us when we can’t do it ourselves. Jesus, in all his humanity, comes to us in this moment, so that we might begin to let God love us when loving ourselves feels impossible.
     
    Fellow beloved human children of God, this is the promise of Jesus. Just when we feel the most alone, the most unworthy, the most irredeemable, just when the world around us seems to have crossed over that tipping point and is as hopeless as the world before the flood, God breaks in. Right into the beauty and the brokenness, God shows up in Jesus to make sure we know the truth, and everything changes as we enter into this promise. Hope dawns. God’s love persists. God hasn’t given up with us yet, and never will. And that is truly good news.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 2:1-20
  • Dec 5, 2021Unlikely Messenger, Unexpected Message of Hope
    Dec 5, 2021
    Unlikely Messenger, Unexpected Message of Hope
    Series: (All)
    December 5, 2021. God seems to delight in seeking out the most unlikely of messengers to carry the unexpected message of hope. This Advent season, we continue the journey of transformative hope together, listening to God’s messengers and watching for signs of the Spirit.
     
    Readings: Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I remember so well, when we had just bought a house and I was tending a yard of perennials, and that feeling that came when the snow first melted and revealed… death. Brown grass. Dry branches. Barren earth. The mucky, thick residue of the final onslaught of leaves that we didn’t quite have time to pick up before the snow buried them in December. I was convinced that nothing had survived, that everything had died and would never come back. It seemed like a hopeless mess. But I was advised to wait, and watch to see what would happen, before digging everything up and starting over.
     
    There are many things that we wait for. We wait in line at the grocery store. We wait for COVID to be over. We wait for our friends or family to arrive. We wait for test results. We wait for the rain to stop. So many feelings can go along with the waiting. Fear. Joy. Anxiety. Curiosity. Impatience. Hope.
     
    This Advent season, as we await the coming of Christ, we reflect on those who waited, 2,000 years ago, for Jesus to come. Each of them longed for the mysterious Spirit of God that would reveal itself in the world in a whole new way in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Simeon and Anna prophetically proclaimed the coming of the creator of the universe in this tiny, vulnerable, little baby. They knew, and sang for all of creation, the promise that Christ’s presence on earth would transform this world.
     
    In our gospel today, we are told of John the Baptist, one of the most well-known messengers of hope, who heralded Jesus’ birth. Luke goes to a great deal of effort to set the scene for John the Baptist’s arrival. Our evangelist names not just where John lives and who his father is, but no fewer than seven leaders who held significant power at the time, from the emperor to the high priests. The way Luke describes it, one can envision the Spirit moving among the people, traveling in and around palaces and temples, looking for the just right person to bear the great message of hope, and ultimately choosing not Tiberius, or Pontius Pilate, or Herod, or Phillip, or Lysanias, or Annas, or Caiaphas, in their seats of power, but John the Baptist, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.
     
    The Spirit of God, we are told clearly in Luke, and throughout all of scriptures, does not seek empire and power, as humans often to do, but blows where she will, often finding her home in the margins. As God so often does, God seems to delight in seeking out the most unlikely of messengers to carry that message of hope. God chose David — the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons — to be king. Moses, a murderer living in exile from his people who described himself as unable to speak, was called to speak to Pharoah and help the Israelites follow God’s lead to freedom in a new land. The angel came to Mary, an unknown, unmarried, poor, teenage girl, to bring her news that she was to be the mother of Jesus, God’s son. And when it was time for the word to be spread that God’s promise was coming true right in the middle of all of this history, the Spirit chose John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who was living in the wilderness, wearing skins, and eating locusts and honey, to be the messenger.
     
    God seems to delight in seeking out the most unlikely of messengers to carry a message of hope that is, in its own right, quite unexpected. Hope does not promise the power of empire, government, wealth, and fame, but the power of the Spirit that continually calls us to justice, freedom, and transformative love that reaches to every corner of creation. Malachi describes God’s coming as a refiner’s fire that prepares us to offer all that we are to the God of creation. Paul writes to the Philippians of his prayer that God will lead them to overflow with love in Christ. God will, Paul declares, finish the work in them that has only begun. John cries out in the desert a message not of quick and easy prosperity, but of the faithfulness of the God who calls us to repent, to turn, to grow ever closer to them.
     
    God seems to delight in seeking out the most unlikely of messengers to carry the unexpected message of hope. This Advent season, we continue the journey of transformative hope together, listening to God’s messengers and watching for signs of the Spirit, as the Israelites and early followers of Christ and the generations of people of faith have done since the beginning of time.
     
    We followers of Christ are called not because we are perfect, powerful, strong, brilliant in speech, popular or famous, but because we are beloved children of the God who formed us in the womb and knows us better than we know ourselves. We are invited, as Malachi says, to enter as a people of hope into the refiner’s fire; as John the Baptist says, to turn again and again to the God of all mercy and love; as Paul says, to let God’s love overflow in us as God faithfully completes the work in us that has only just begun.
     
    Today, we claim this hope as we remember the promises of God revealed in our own baptisms, and celebrate today the love and promises of God who formed Hank Borden in the womb and gave him life. God is alive and at work among us, and today we baptize Hank to proclaim out loud in community that God’s faithfulness endures and God’s love is boundless.
     
    Our scriptures tell us that, just as new, green growth finally and faithfully emerges from cold earth every spring, even in my dead yard, God’s Spirit will not fail to carry the promise even to the wilderness places in our lives. Today and every day, we are called to turn to God, overflow with love, and join the prophets of our history as messengers of hope in our world today.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6, COVID-19, coronavirus, Hank Borden, baptism
  • Nov 21, 2021Hope for Thanksgiving
    Nov 21, 2021
    Hope for Thanksgiving
    Series: (All)
    November 21, 2021. As Thanksgiving is upon us, guest preacher Rachel Helton asks us to be thankful for all the blessings in our lives, and open to receiving the things that we need, and generous with our possessions, our bread, our time, our commitment to justice, our willingness to extend mercy and compassion, and our desire to be Christ in the world to one another, in order to experience the fullness of the reign of God.
     
    Reading: John 18:33-37
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Won't you pray with me? Holy God, may the words that I speak and the ponderings of our hearts be full of grace and be pleasing to you. Amen.
     
    Some of you may know that I’m currently interning as a chaplain at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. And this week is Heritage Week for all of the SSM hospitals and ministries, where we are encouraged to remember and reflect upon the legacy and mission of the Sisters of St. Mary. A group of five German nuns, led by Sister Odilia, arrived in St. Louis in 1872 with the mission of revealing the healing presence of God through service to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of others.
     
    So Thursday morning as I entered the hospital I was greeted with a loaf of bread. And I thought that's interesting, but I'll take it. And it was accompanied with this card, which I will read to you:
     
    The Legend of the Loaf of Bread: One day a man came to the convent door asking for food. The sister in charge of the kitchen went to Mother Odilia for help. So picture this, back in the 1870s, this man is coming, asking for help. There was but one loaf of bread in the house. Was she to refuse the appeal of the man, or deprive the sisters? Without hesitation, Mother Odilia said, “Give the man what he asks, sister. The Lord will provide for us.” Only half-convinced, the sister obeyed and gave away the loaf of bread.
     
    Some hours later, a child was sent by her mother to deliver a pan of freshly baked rolls to the sisters. When the child arrived at the convent she was greeted with, “The Lord has come. You are the Lord today, little one!” Greatly surprised, the child was told the meaning of the spontaneous exclamation. And so is the legend of the loaf of bread.
     
    This Sunday we come to the close of our church year and we find ourselves at a crux between the season after Pentecost and the season of Advent. In that space between the seasons of celebrating the work of the Spirit in the world and the season of expectation for Emanuel, God with us, and we find ourselves at Christ the King Sunday, pondering what it means to call Jesus “king” and what it means to participate in the kingdom or the reign of God.
     
    Our gospel reading for today takes us not to Jesus transfigured and shining in glory or Jesus ascending into the clouds, but to Jesus on trial before Pilate. On Christ the King Sunday, we take a good hard look at what it means to have a king who is on trial, a king who will be mocked and crucified. And those around him are mocked too, for putting their hope in something beyond the Roman Empire.
     
    When Pilate asks Jesus the first time, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.” It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “We’re not even talking about the same thing here.” Last week, we heard about the disciples and Jesus who were both looking at the temple, but seeing different things. And the destruction of the temple was the revealing, or the uncovering, of the truth about God’s presence and God's love. So too, the kingdom of God is completely unrecognizable to Pilate’s understanding of kingship as power and privilege. It's the dismantling of earthly kingdoms and hierarchies that uncovers the full experience of the kingdom of God. Jesus, who cannot be defined and confined by time and space, represents a kingdom that cannot be defined by these measures either.
     
    When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world,” he is not saying that he doesn’t belong here or that his kingdom is somewhere off in the clouds or out in the future. Rather, he is completely redefining the whole idea of kingship. This kingdom, which is both now and not yet, is witnessed in the sharing of a loaf of bread now, and in the not yet reality that there are still those who are hungry.
     
    Jesus is saying that unlike earthly kingdoms which find their security in the power they are able to hold over others, the kingdom of God is grounded in the promise of hope and peace and justice and belonging, promises that are rooted in relationship with a God who was, and is, and is to come, the alpha and omega, the all-encompassing, the ever-present. And we are invited into that relationship, we are invited to participate in the work of the kingdom right now, not out of obligation or subjugation, not because we are forced to by a dictator king, but because it is through reliance on one another, and ultimately reliance on God, that we experience God’s reign and have hope for the full restoration of creation.
     
    When Jesus is asked a second time by Pilate, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Earlier in the Gospel of John, chapter 14, Jesus says, “I am the way, the life, and the truth.” And in John 8, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Being in relationship with Christ brings us into relationship with the truth; we belong to the truth — the truth that we are beloved and set free to do justice, to love kindness, to share our bread, knowing that God has already provided enough for all, if only we are willing to share it.
     
    Jesus in his full humanity invites us to embrace our full humanity as we bear witness to the truth of the kingdom where all are fed, where all get what they need rather than what they deserve, where all are welcome, where peace and justice are established, and where love is always the final word.
     
    In closing, I want to share with you the words of a hymn from the new “All Creation Sings” hymnal. It's hymn 1062 and the tune is a French carol that you might recognize from “Now the Green Blade Riseth.” I won't sing but I'll hum it at least so you can think of how this would sound. People are nodding. They're recognizing that tune. So the words really speak to me about the vision of God’s kingdom.
     
    1. Build a longer table, not a higher wall, feeding those who hunger, making room for all. Feasting together, stranger turns to friend, Christ breaks walls to pieces; false divisions end.
     
    2. Build a safer refuge, not a larger jail; where the weak find shelter, mercy will not fail. For any place where justice is denied, Christ will breach the jail wall, freeing all inside.
     
    3. Build a broader doorway, not a longer fence. Love protects all people, sparing no expense. When we embrace compassion more than fear, Christ tears down our fences: all are welcome here.
     
    4. When we lived as exiles, refugees abroad, Christ became our doorway to the reign of God. So must our tables welcome those who roam. None can be excluded; all must find a home.
     
    As Thanksgiving is upon us, I hope that we can be thankful for all the blessings in our lives, and open to receiving the things that we need, and generous with our possessions, our bread, our time, our commitment to justice, our willingness to extend mercy and compassion, and our desire to be Christ in the world to one another, in order to experience the fullness of the reign of God.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Rachel Helton, John 18:33-37, Build a Longer Table, David Bjorlin, ACS supplement
  • Nov 14, 2021A Better Source
    Nov 14, 2021
    A Better Source
    Series: (All)
    November 14, 2021. Christ reminds his disciples in their day and us in ours that whatever news may come, important truths about ourselves and the faithfulness of God are being unveiled, and there is always a better source.
     
    Readings: Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The news can be overwhelming sometimes, can’t it? In our communities, and around the world, there is so much that is painful, violent, and destructive. All you have to do is look at the news each day to see it: political upheaval, hunger, challenges in employment (both for employers and workers), illness and death from COVID, the impact of climate change, the list goes on and on. Sometimes it feels like there's no reason for hope.
     
    And more than ever before, it seems, what we hear about the events of our world depends greatly on the source. Just think about the difference in how the Minnesota and Missouri news presented the results of the 1987 World Series when the Twins beat the Cardinals!
     
    And in the last few years, with so much misinformation and even intentional disinformation flooding our media, it has gotten more and more difficult to see things clearly, hasn’t it? I would almost not be surprised to see stories, with pictures included, describing the beauty of the grass coming back in the spring in glorious shades of pink, with comments back and forth arguing “all sides of the issue.” And yet there is so much happening that is far more serious, and profound, than colored grass, clamoring for our attention, and as many perspectives on them as there are people in this world.
     
    This is a very human thing, and in our gospel today the disciples and Jesus are seeing the same thing with very different eyes, as theologian and author Debie Thomas points out in her 2018 reflection on this text in her blog Journey with Jesus. She writes:
     
    "Dazzled by the architectural majesty surrounding them, one of the disciples asks Jesus to notice something in return: 'Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!' . . . . But Jesus isn’t dazzled. Instead, he responds to the disciple’s remark with a question: 'Do you see these great buildings?' Why does Jesus ask the disciple if he can see what the disciple has just asked Jesus to see? Aren’t the two of them seeing the same thing? Well, no. They’re not. They are not seeing the same thing at all.
     
    "What the disciple sees is a large architectural marvel, yes, but it’s also the biggest, boldest, and most unshakeable symbol of God’s presence that he can imagine. . . . But what does Jesus see? He sees ruins. Rubble. Destruction. Fragility, not permanence. Loss, not glory. Change, not stasis. 'Not one stone will be left upon another,' Jesus tells the stunned disciple. 'All will be thrown down.' ” — Debie Thomas
     
    This gospel today, and our other readings as well, contain a lot of apocalyptic imagery. It feels depressing, full of destruction, hopelessness, even despair. And the same can be said of the events of our world sometimes, as what has been falls away, and we can’t yet see what is coming. It’s hard to find our way to hope when things that seemed as solid as stone walls are bound to come down. There are moments these days, sometimes more than moments if we're honest about it, when we feel we are living through an apocalypse of sorts.
     
    Thomas goes on to reflect on apocalypse, bringing a different perspective to this conversation, and our scripture. Debie Thomas writes:
     
    "But in fact, 'apocalypse' means something quite different. An apocalypse is an unveiling. [Or, to use American author and social activist Adrienne Maree Brown’s words, an uncovering.] In 2016, in the midst of racial unrest, she wrote, 'Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.'  
     
    "In this sense, what Jesus offers his disciples is an apocalyptic vision. He invites them to look beyond the grandeur of the temple, and recognize that God will not suffer domestication. The temple is not the epicenter of his salvific work; God is not bound by mortar and stone. God exceeds every edifice, every institution, every mission statement, every strategic plan, and every symbol human beings create in God's name. Moreover, God is not enslaved to superlatives; we’re the ones easily seduced by the newest, the biggest, the shiniest. 'Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!' " — Debie Thomas
     
    So how are we called to think and live, about the times we are in right now? The “fallings apart” and the “lettings go” that are part of this and every age are endings, and the grief is real. And, the life and the new thing that is being uncovered, the movement of the Spirit in our world right here and right now, is also very real.
     
    Hebrews was written in about 63 AD, just a few years before the temple in Jerusalem literally came down, stone off of stone, at the hands of the Roman occupiers who sought to quell the movement of the Spirit among the people. Perhaps even more interestingly, the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus tells his disciples that the buildings they are admiring will come down was written in about 70 AD, as the dust of that unthinkable destruction was settling.
     
    So Jesus’ words today in the gospel about stone coming down from stone is not theoretical. The author of Hebrews and their readers were living in the days leading up to the greatest apocalypse they could imagine. Mark’s audience was surrounded by the rubble.
     
    The good news is that nothing happening in our day comes as a surprise to God, and we have the inspired words of people of faith who came before us to guide us in our time. The author of Hebrews counsels the people to not neglect meeting with one another, encouraging one another. It has been hard to do this for the last two years, hasn’t it? In many ways we have failed in the midst of the challenges of COVID, and in many ways we have done that fabulously. In these times that can still feel somewhat apocalyptic as we journey between what has been and what will be, we are invited to recommit ourselves to being the church to one another and the community in which we live in new ways.
     
    The news may tell us something of what is happening, but if we are looking for a Spirit-led perspective on our world and our call in it, our source for truth and hope of the events of our day, Jesus is always the better source. It is Christ who raises Lazarus from the tomb to show us that death is not the final word. It is the one who proclaims that no stone will be left on another who points us to the work of the Spirit that won’t be contained by walls and buildings.
     
    If we take to heart the words of Christ and Hebrews, and seek the better source, we remember that Jesus promised that truth would set us free, not bind us. We will notice, amidst the illness and death and selfishness and fear of COVID, the Spirit alive in how we have cared for one another, witnessed people investing all that they have to develop treatments and preventions that didn’t seem possible. The reality of climate change shows some of the worst that humans can do, and reveals humanity at its best choosing to live well in God’s creation. The visibility of racism and other oppression demonstrates the ugliness of our human condition, and unveils the movement of the Spirit toward honesty, healing, and justice for all people.
     
    Apocalypse, we learn from our scriptures today, is about destruction and endings, but is much more so about the Spirit of God all around us that cannot be destroyed. Christ reminds his disciples in their day and us in ours that whatever news may come, important truths about ourselves and the faithfulness of God are being unveiled, and there is always a better source.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus, Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus
  • Nov 7, 2021The Promises of God Prevail
    Nov 7, 2021
    The Promises of God Prevail
    Series: (All)
    November 7, 2021. On this All Saints Day, in this sacred space, grief and hope intertwine as we acknowledge death and new life together in this community.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Death and grief is something that we often don’t want to talk about. At times, in fact, we will go to lengths to avoid talking about it. But on All Saint’s Day, we come together intentionally to remember those who have gone before us. We name the losses we have experienced, especially remembering those who have died whose lives have impacted our own. Today is a day for remembering those we have lost, and celebrating again the promises of our baptisms — the radical love of God who formed us in the womb, forgives our sins, and gives us life that endures beyond death. And so, we opened worship today by blessing water with the word of God — the waters of baptism with which we celebrate and recognize these promises.
     
    Our readings today tell us that we don’t need to be afraid to acknowledge the realities of death that are an integral part of our human existence. Isaiah tells the people who are facing the grief and pain of exile and death that, in the midst of the very real tears, God is present, and God will wipe away the tears and remove the shrouds. Revelation speaks of the new heaven and earth that are promised — on the other side of death.
     
    And in our gospel from John, Jesus has the courage to face the harsh realities of death. He arrives at the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to find that Lazarus has been dead for four days. Jesus goes to the place where Lazarus was buried, in a cave sealed with a stone.
     
    John tells us that Jesus was greatly disturbed and moved, and Jesus weeps, sharing the grief that is felt by Lazarus’ sisters and the rest who loved him. And then, he asks to have the stone rolled away from the tomb. The others protest, saying that the body will smell horribly, now that he has been dead for four days. But Jesus is not afraid to face even the most unpleasant and final details of death. Even the stench of death does not deter him, John tells us.
     
    Today, we face the mortality of our human existence. We remember those we love who have died. We acknowledge our grief and our loss. We celebrate the love and joy of the time we shared with those we loved who have died. And we claim once again the promises of God that were celebrated on the days of their baptisms, and trust that Isaiah, and Revelation, and the Gospel of John in their claims are true: death will never be the final word. We remember the enduring promises of God for each and every one of those who have died, especially those we will name today.
     
    And then we will turn, as all the prophets and Jesus did, to new life. We will wait on God, who wipes away tears and removes shrouds. We wait on God, who will make all things new. We stand at the tomb with Jesus as Lazarus wakes from death and comes out, alive once more. We join with the community around Lazarus, as Jesus invites us to remove the shrouds binding his arms and legs. We experience with all of our senses the truth that death will never be the final word. Our life on this earth is finite and our bodies will pass away, but in Christ this is not the end of the story. God does not abandon God’s people. Though death will come, God’s promises of life will always prevail.
     
    Life will always prevail, and new life is coming. It is so appropriate that on this All Saint’s Day, we celebrate again the promises of God with the baptism of Jack Jordan. One more time, the water and the Word of God come together as we witness the grace of God’s love and forgiveness for each and every one of us, and especially today for Jack.
     
    This morning, in this sacred space, grief and hope intertwine, as we acknowledge death and new life together in this community. God is present, and always has been, from the beginning of time, from the first breath of our lives to the last, to the end of time when all will be transformed and made new. The promises of our baptisms hold true, even to death.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44, Jackson Jordan, baptism
  • Oct 31, 2021Always Reforming: God Hasn’t Given Up Yet!
    Oct 31, 2021
    Always Reforming: God Hasn’t Given Up Yet!
    Series: (All)
    October 31, 2021. Today's sermon is about how we can be bound up, trapped in familiar ways of doing things, and convinced that the way we see things is the only perspective. We forget that it's not just about us, but about God, our fellow children of God, and the world God created that we are called to care for.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 8:31-36
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Just a few weeks ago, we heard again the story of creation from Genesis. We were reminded that we are created by God, like a potter who molds and shapes the clay with their hands to get just the right unique shape, like a painter who mixes color to get just the right unique shade, who then breathes Spirit into us, giving us life with their very breath. Creator God then invites us into her creative work, to name our fellow creatures, to care for the earth on which all of us are born and live and breathe and work and rest and are fed with food and beauty.
     
    We all know what happens next. We humans forgot we were God’s beloved creation, tried to be something else, tried to be God. And God came to find us, reminded us of what we’d forgotten, and for the first time and not the last. With divine compassion, God gave us clothes to cover our shame. God sent us out with work to do, and a promise that the story was not over yet. God had not yet given up on us.
     
    In today’s reading from Jeremiah, the relationship between us and the creator continues. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that the God who shapes us and breathes life into us and invites us into creation promises to write the law of love on our hearts. The greatest commandment to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, has been etched into the heart that pumps lifeblood to every cell of our body. God’s promise of love for all of us, God’s people, and our call to love God and our neighbor, has been coded in our very DNA. God has not yet given up on us.
     
    And we know what happened next. Again, God’s people forgot who they were. They forgot that they were intimately connected with the God who created them. They forgot that they were intimately connected with their fellow humans, and the created world around them. They forgot their call to care for creation, to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable among them. And so it goes, for generations.
     
    Some 2000 years ago, we hear in our gospel from John today, Jesus tells his disciples that God has still not given up on us. We will know the truth, Jesus tells his disciples and us, and the truth will set us free. Jesus’ disciples protest, claiming they are already free and always have been. Jesus’ followers are confused, in that moment not realizing they aren’t free yet.
     
    Jesus’ reply to his disciples is for us, too: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” On this Reformation Sunday, it is appropriate to remember that, as our founder Martin Luther taught, we are all both sinners and saints. All of us are God’s beloved people, created by God. And at times we, like Adam and Eve and the Israelites, and the disciples, forget that we need God. We get comfortable, and forget what our true relationship with God is. We forget that God has written love, and grace, and trust on our hearts. We forget we're part of God’s larger creation. We are all trapped, Jesus tells us, in our own sin and brokenness.
     
    Fish who have lived in a bowl or an aquarium, when set free in expansive waters, will often stay in a space the size of their former habitat, not realizing that they're free to swim further — perhaps afraid to go beyond the limits they have been accustomed to. At times, we do the same thing, don’t we? Just like the fish, we often hold ourselves in captivity.
     
    We are free in one sense, but at a much deeper level, we are all slaves to our own brokenness. We can be bound up, trapped in familiar ways of doing things, convinced that the way we see things is the only perspective. We forget that it's not just about us, but about God, our fellow children of God, and the world God created that we are called to care for. We are trapped by the ways we trust ourselves and forget about God. Like the disciples, we may not even realize it.
     
    Jesus promised the disciples that the truth would set them free. God has not yet given up on us. And 1500 years later, some 500 years ago, Martin Luther spent many years of his life struggling to earn the love of God, prove himself worthy of being called a child of God. Luther found himself trapped, and he could never get there. He finally hit a point of exhaustion, and realized the truth that Jesus was trying to share with his disciples. He was already free, not by his own efforts, but by the grace of God who had formed him out of clay.
     
    The freedom Luther discovered led him to take a stand that had significant consequences, and led to earth-shaking changes in the church over the centuries since. Luther came to know the truth of who he was as a child of God, and sought to bring this freedom to the church he loved.
     
    Luther claimed the freedom of God and called the church to change in the 95 Theses he posted on the doors of the Wittenberg Church, over half a millennium ago. The message he brought was so radical that leaders of his day eventually excommunicated him from the church, and even sought to kill him. We are freed from the legalistic following of the rules for the sake of the rules — we will never be perfect. We are freed to be transformed — reformed — by the Spirit of God within us, the law of love that has been written on our hearts. We are freed not to run riot, or sin without consequence, but freed to serve God and neighbor. We are freed to stand on God’s promises because we know we can trust God.
     
    500 years later, we are still trapped in our own sin. And that isn’t a surprise, really. Even Luther, as he would freely admit, was sinner as well as saint. Alongside the many wonderful things that Luther wrote and taught, we are challenged still today to counter the blatant and unapologetic anti-Semitism that still echoes.
     
    We are still trapped in our own sin. We like things we can depend on, things we can put our hands on, things we can count on, things that endure in a temporal sort of way that we can be comfortable with. We have lost so much of that in the last two years, haven’t we? We easily forget the truth of who we are as children of God, and our connectedness and responsibility to God and the rest of creation.
     
    And 500 years later, we are still called to the freedom of God that Jesus proclaimed, and that Luther claimed in the 95 Theses. When we trust God, we can be freed to follow the Spirit to new places, and try new things, like our Holy Experiment with Saturday night Worship, the potential sale of the Mead Center and the renovation of our church building, the exploration of new community partnerships our Christian Service Committee is leading. We welcome old friends and new neighbors, in all the ways we can. We celebrate the Spirit at work through each one of us, as we follow the Spirit’s call to welcome and to serve — and today we especially celebrate the Spirit at work in Jon Heerboth, who this summer completed the Parish Ministry Associate program.
     
    We still don’t know where we’re going in so many ways, which can be scary sometimes. But we know from our scriptures today that the God who molded, shaped, and breathed life into us is still with us today, writing the law of love on our hearts over and over. No matter how many times we mess up, God provide us with clothes, and food, frees us to be our better selves, and sends us out into creation with work to do and love to share. God still hasn't given up on us yet, and never will.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 8: 31-36