Sep 13, 2020
Forgiving 77 Times
Series: (All)
September 13, 2020. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. This morning, Pastor Meagan preaches on the challenges of forgiving.
 
Readings: Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
 
*** Transcript ***
 
In the 12-step community, step 9 is the process of making amends — going to those that we've harmed and doing what we can to make things right. As we do this, we often discover that the people we have harmed may also have harmed us, leading us to hold those resentments close. This can make acknowledging our own part in what happened in our relationships very hard to do. After all, who wants to admit that we did something that hurt someone, when what they did seems so much worse?
 
The process of sweeping our side of the street, so to speak, is often long, sometimes taking years. As we think about letting go of our own resentments and making amends for what we have done, often sponsors will suggest that we divide our list of people to whom we owe amends into three parts: those to whom we're ready to make amends, those to whom we're willing to consider making amends, and those to whom we are convinced we will never, ever, ever make amends. The harm they have done to us feels insurmountable.
 
Once the lists are made and the process of making amends begins, we set aside that third list. We start with the first one, and we slowly work our way toward healing and strengthening our relationships, asking God to guide that process. Over time, we find ourselves dipping into the second list, those to whom we were willing to consider making amends. We have experiences of asking for forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves, and we begin to trust this process of letting go of past wrongs.
 
And often, sometimes when we least expect it, we realize to our surprise that one of those people who was on our third list has moved over to the second. We find ourselves willing to consider forgiving, and acknowledging our own part, to someone we never thought we could possibly forgive. This 12-step wisdom teaches us that forgiveness is not a quick and easy thing. Like Jesse said, there are so many things that can make this a challenging and complicated process. Letting go of what someone else has done, and acknowledging our own mistakes, and taking care of ourselves, and holding good boundaries takes a lot of time. This is not something we expected, or decided, or chose necessarily, but often it becomes something that happened to us, when God stepped in.
 
And this, I believe, is the main gospel we receive from our readings today. We know from these scriptures that this wisdom is far from new. Joseph was attacked by his brothers. They considered leaving him for dead, and then sold him into slavery, where he lived for years. When they stand in front of him in today’s reading from Genesis, we are told that when his brothers ask his forgiveness, and he gives it, Joseph cries. He claims God’s work in the healing that's happened in his life, and is happening in his brothers' lives. Yes, they intended harm, and they did it, Joseph tells them. And God transformed it. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over years, as Joseph faithfully followed the path God laid out for him.
 
Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. In Jewish tradition, seven is the number of completion, of wholeness. Seventy is the number of wholeness times ten, the number of commandments — and we know from our own Lutheran teaching that none of us are capable on our own of keeping those commandments. We try, and we fail. And grace enters in.
 
I like to say that the reason Jesus tells his disciples to forgive seventy-seven times, not just seven, is that he knew that’s what it would take. Over and over, asking for help, taking the step, falling, and starting over again, until we are complete. Whole. And through it all, as Paul tells the Romans, we belong to God. Whether we live, or whether we die, we belong to God.
 
Last week, love — not love that comes easily, but love that takes time and commitment and work, and ultimately is impossible without God. This week, forgiveness. In the end, it’s all about relationships, with ourselves, with others, and with God. Jesus embodies and teaches God’s wisdom for our life in community, and it’s so core to who God is that it even shows up in the way Jesus taught us to pray! “Forgive us, as we forgive others.” And as beloveds who belong to God, we learn that God forgives us, we come to forgive ourselves, too, and understand how connected we are with all of our fellow humans.
 
When I have struggled to forgive, one of the most powerful ways I've learned to invite God in is to pray the Prayer of St. Francis. You might be familiar with it — “Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith.”
 
At a time when I had to frequently encounter people by whom I felt wounded, I would take the time to pray this prayer, for them, and for myself, by name. Asking God to love me and love through me, because I was empty. Asking God to bring healing for my woundedness, and in the process, seeing their woundedness as well. Claiming the faith of God, for them and for myself. I had long drives at that time, and sometimes I would find that it had taken me the entire drive — nearly two hours — just to get through the prayer.
 
So this morning, I invite you to call to mind someone for whom you would like to pray, someone for whom you feel ready to pray. If you think of someone who you realize is on your third list, that list of people who you will never be ready to forgive, it's okay to set them aside for today. Pick someone else. So having in mind this person that you're ready to pray for today, we will pray the St. Francis Prayer together for them, for ourselves, and for each other. So, take a breath and let us get ready to pray.
 
 
Lord, make me a channel of Your peace, not mine, with my sibling
 
Where there is hatred in me and around me, fill me with your love, and let it overflow so that it surrounds my sibling
 
Where there is injury in me and around me, fill me with your healing and forgiveness, and let it overflow so that your healing and forgiveness surrounds my sibling
 
Where there is doubt in me and around me, fill me with your faith, and let it overflow so that your faith surrounds my sibling
 
Where there is despair in me and around me, fill me with your hope, and let it overflow so that your hope surrounds my sibling
 
Where there is darkness in me and around me, fill me with your light, and let it overflow so that your light surrounds my sibling
 
And where there is sadness in me and around me, fill me with your joy, and let it overflow so that your joy surrounds my sibling
 
God, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled by my sibling as to console them
 
To be understood by my sibling, as to understand them;
 
To be loved by my sibling, as to love them;
 
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
 
 
Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35, Jesse Helton
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  • Sep 13, 2020Forgiving 77 Times
    Sep 13, 2020
    Forgiving 77 Times
    Series: (All)
    September 13, 2020. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. This morning, Pastor Meagan preaches on the challenges of forgiving.
     
    Readings: Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In the 12-step community, step 9 is the process of making amends — going to those that we've harmed and doing what we can to make things right. As we do this, we often discover that the people we have harmed may also have harmed us, leading us to hold those resentments close. This can make acknowledging our own part in what happened in our relationships very hard to do. After all, who wants to admit that we did something that hurt someone, when what they did seems so much worse?
     
    The process of sweeping our side of the street, so to speak, is often long, sometimes taking years. As we think about letting go of our own resentments and making amends for what we have done, often sponsors will suggest that we divide our list of people to whom we owe amends into three parts: those to whom we're ready to make amends, those to whom we're willing to consider making amends, and those to whom we are convinced we will never, ever, ever make amends. The harm they have done to us feels insurmountable.
     
    Once the lists are made and the process of making amends begins, we set aside that third list. We start with the first one, and we slowly work our way toward healing and strengthening our relationships, asking God to guide that process. Over time, we find ourselves dipping into the second list, those to whom we were willing to consider making amends. We have experiences of asking for forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves, and we begin to trust this process of letting go of past wrongs.
     
    And often, sometimes when we least expect it, we realize to our surprise that one of those people who was on our third list has moved over to the second. We find ourselves willing to consider forgiving, and acknowledging our own part, to someone we never thought we could possibly forgive. This 12-step wisdom teaches us that forgiveness is not a quick and easy thing. Like Jesse said, there are so many things that can make this a challenging and complicated process. Letting go of what someone else has done, and acknowledging our own mistakes, and taking care of ourselves, and holding good boundaries takes a lot of time. This is not something we expected, or decided, or chose necessarily, but often it becomes something that happened to us, when God stepped in.
     
    And this, I believe, is the main gospel we receive from our readings today. We know from these scriptures that this wisdom is far from new. Joseph was attacked by his brothers. They considered leaving him for dead, and then sold him into slavery, where he lived for years. When they stand in front of him in today’s reading from Genesis, we are told that when his brothers ask his forgiveness, and he gives it, Joseph cries. He claims God’s work in the healing that's happened in his life, and is happening in his brothers' lives. Yes, they intended harm, and they did it, Joseph tells them. And God transformed it. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over years, as Joseph faithfully followed the path God laid out for him.
     
    Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. In Jewish tradition, seven is the number of completion, of wholeness. Seventy is the number of wholeness times ten, the number of commandments — and we know from our own Lutheran teaching that none of us are capable on our own of keeping those commandments. We try, and we fail. And grace enters in.
     
    I like to say that the reason Jesus tells his disciples to forgive seventy-seven times, not just seven, is that he knew that’s what it would take. Over and over, asking for help, taking the step, falling, and starting over again, until we are complete. Whole. And through it all, as Paul tells the Romans, we belong to God. Whether we live, or whether we die, we belong to God.
     
    Last week, love — not love that comes easily, but love that takes time and commitment and work, and ultimately is impossible without God. This week, forgiveness. In the end, it’s all about relationships, with ourselves, with others, and with God. Jesus embodies and teaches God’s wisdom for our life in community, and it’s so core to who God is that it even shows up in the way Jesus taught us to pray! “Forgive us, as we forgive others.” And as beloveds who belong to God, we learn that God forgives us, we come to forgive ourselves, too, and understand how connected we are with all of our fellow humans.
     
    When I have struggled to forgive, one of the most powerful ways I've learned to invite God in is to pray the Prayer of St. Francis. You might be familiar with it — “Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith.”
     
    At a time when I had to frequently encounter people by whom I felt wounded, I would take the time to pray this prayer, for them, and for myself, by name. Asking God to love me and love through me, because I was empty. Asking God to bring healing for my woundedness, and in the process, seeing their woundedness as well. Claiming the faith of God, for them and for myself. I had long drives at that time, and sometimes I would find that it had taken me the entire drive — nearly two hours — just to get through the prayer.
     
    So this morning, I invite you to call to mind someone for whom you would like to pray, someone for whom you feel ready to pray. If you think of someone who you realize is on your third list, that list of people who you will never be ready to forgive, it's okay to set them aside for today. Pick someone else. So having in mind this person that you're ready to pray for today, we will pray the St. Francis Prayer together for them, for ourselves, and for each other. So, take a breath and let us get ready to pray.
     
     
    Lord, make me a channel of Your peace, not mine, with my sibling
     
    Where there is hatred in me and around me, fill me with your love, and let it overflow so that it surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is injury in me and around me, fill me with your healing and forgiveness, and let it overflow so that your healing and forgiveness surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is doubt in me and around me, fill me with your faith, and let it overflow so that your faith surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is despair in me and around me, fill me with your hope, and let it overflow so that your hope surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is darkness in me and around me, fill me with your light, and let it overflow so that your light surrounds my sibling
     
    And where there is sadness in me and around me, fill me with your joy, and let it overflow so that your joy surrounds my sibling
     
    God, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled by my sibling as to console them
     
    To be understood by my sibling, as to understand them;
     
    To be loved by my sibling, as to love them;
     
    For it is in giving that we receive, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
     
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35, Jesse Helton
  • Sep 6, 2020We Are All In Debt
    Sep 6, 2020
    We Are All In Debt
    Series: (All)
    September 6, 2020. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The sermon today is on God's call to fulfill the law by embodying God’s love.
     
    Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Did you catch what Paul said in the letter to the Romans today? Like we were just saying, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” That's an amazing statement! Take all of the law encompassed in the Old Testament, and it can be fulfilled by simply loving one another. Rather than attending to what can seem to be an endless list of rules, we can trust that if we love our neighbor, we're doing God’s will. For those of us who can get bogged down in details, this is really liberating. The only thing we need to do is love one another.
     
    It's not always as simple as it seems, however. In the time of Jesus, faithful Jewish leaders debated long and hard about the statement “Love your neighbor,” particularly asking who their neighbor was. Jesus was part of these faithful discussions, and as we've seen time and time again, Jesus often presents us with a challenge to view things from a different perspective. During one such conversation, Jesus shared the parable of the Good Samaritan, which forced his listeners to see the Samaritan, a hated enemy of mainline Jewish people, as the neighbor who saved them from the ditch. Jesus calls us not only to love, but to love without distinction.
     
    Even in small things, this is not easy. It can be hard to love the person who cuts us off in traffic, the person who gets too close to us without a mask in the grocery store, the neighbor who turns their music up at 10pm, the fellow church member with whom we've never gotten along, the frequent dog walker who doesn’t clean up when their puppy visits our lawn.
     
    The question of who we should consider to be our neighbor, who is worthy of love, is still debated today. And the truth is we are, often without realizing it, tempted to draw a line defining who is and who isn't our neighbor. Many in the United States wrestle with how to respond to our neighbors from the South who come to this country out of desperation. Police officers and community leaders here in St. Louis, and in Detroit, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle — so many cities around the country — are separated by thick walls of hate and fear. We struggle to get along with the family member whose political beliefs around these issues and others seem to go against our very core.
     
    Divisions along racial lines are more volatile than ever as the realities of racism, and the evil of white supremacy, are visible in all their ugliness. Just this week, in Webster Groves, white supremacist tagging was left in several places around our neighboring churches, making it clear that even in Webster, hatred and oppression are present. These things happen, and it's heartbreaking and appalling. At the same time, those of us who don’t live with this experience daily might find it hard to see as neighbor the person whose pain and anger at ongoing systemic oppression and violence is expressed in ways we don’t understand.
     
    Loving one another in fulfillment of the law doesn’t sound so simple when we understand that Paul was talking about loving those we find it difficult to love. In Matthew, Jesus says that if a neighbor who has sinned against us will not listen even to the church, we are to consider them to be a tax collector or a Gentile. This text has often been used to justify shunning or excommunicating someone who doesn’t measure up. But if we're to understand what Jesus is really saying here, we need to remember that, far from separating himself from tax collectors and Gentiles, Jesus often found himself the center of attention for doing precisely the opposite. Jesus talked with them, listened to them, ate with them. Jesus loved them as they were, and called them, especially, to the fullness of life.
     
    We're called to love not only when it's convenient for us, not only when our neighbor is someone we like and approve of, but to love everyone we meet, without condition. Even more unthinkable, perhaps, we're called to love those who have hurt us — those by whom we feel betrayed, or misunderstood, or abused. Sometimes we're called to love by doing the incredibly difficult work of maintaining boundaries and distance to prevent additional physical and emotional harm, for the safety and health of ourselves and our families.
     
    And love is meant to be active. We're called to practice it, in our community of faith, our families, and our neighborhoods. In Ezekiel today, the prophet says God does not want anyone to be lost. We're called to embody God’s relentless love, using the scriptures as our guide. We're called, as Moses was, to go toward the injustice, the pain, the woundedness, and proclaim God’s redemptive justice and mercy. Love one another. What does that look like? Is it even possible?
     
    The truth is, if our one primary directive, the fulfillment of all the law and the commands of God, is to love one another, to owe no one anything but love, we all fall short. None of us can love another to the fulfillment of the law. And yet, there it is. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” We owe our neighbors love. And we are all in debt.
     
    We see evidence in the readings from Ezekiel and the Gospel of Matthew that God understands our plight, knows our indebtedness. In the verses immediately following this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that we are to forgive “seventy times seven times” when our neighbor asks forgiveness. When — not if — we fail to love, Ezekiel tells us we're to invite each other back to God, and remind ourselves of who we are called to be. We're all in debt. And the God of love knows this, and promises forgiveness, and life, no matter how far we fall.
     
    And it is precisely where we fall that God steps in. When I have struggled most to love, because I feel overwhelmed by my own pain, anger, judgment, the wisdom of my mentors and companions on the road has led me straight to the cross, in two steps. One, often to my chagrin, is to remember and embrace my own humanity, my own capacity to make mistakes and harm others. If the person I struggle to love is imperfect, so am I. And Christ who travelled this human road to suffering and death understands the pain I bear — the pain that we bear — and our struggle to embody love. Two, is to pray for those I don’t want to love. Not that they will see the light and come crawling to us on their knees, although that's tempting sometimes, but to pray that they have the very things we hope for ourselves. Healing. Justice. Mercy. Joy. Give them to the love of God, who can love them when I can’t.
     
    It is precisely where we fall that God steps in. For us as humans, on our own, loving to the fulfillment of the law is not possible. But with God miracles of love and healing are possible, and they happen every day. It is the love of God revealed in Jesus that redeems us from our debt. The love of God in Jesus enables us to love our neighbors, even when it's difficult. God’s love in Jesus empowers us to speak words of promise and truth, to embody God’s unbounded love and justice for all people.
     
    Edmund Burke said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” We are called to act, to claim, out loud and clear, that God’s love extends to the very margins, and that racism, and hatred, and oppression are evils that cannot stand in the light of that love. We humans do this so imperfectly, but still, the call persists. We are all in debt. But through the grace of God we are forgiven, and we are deeply loved and capable of loving. Where can God's love work in and through you to heal brokenness in your life, your family, and especially today, in your community?
     
    “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” God calls us to fulfill the law by embodying God’s love today, for we are redeemed by God’s love for each of us, today and every day.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
  • Aug 30, 2020Barefoot on Holy Ground
    Aug 30, 2020
    Barefoot on Holy Ground
    Series: (All)
    August 30, 2020. When Moses sees the burning bush and hears the voice of God, he is told to remove the sandals from his feet, for the place on which he is standing is holy ground. Today, God is calling us too. And Pastor Meagan reminds us that, like Moses, we too are standing on holy ground.
     
    Readings: Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28, Exodus 3:1-15
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In case you haven't already figured it out from the children's sermon, I love going barefoot. The first thing I do when I enter my house is I take off my shoes and socks, so I can free my feet to feel the hardwood floor as I walk. And when we bring the cats out in the backyard, I go barefoot unless the wood and stone are hot enough to burn my feet. I love feeling all the different textures — the smooth wood of the deck and stairs, the knobbly cement and stone of the patio, the tickly grass between my toes, and the air and sun playing on them as we sit. There's something really grounding for me about going barefoot. It helps me to feel connected somehow, to the world around me and to the god who created it all. And being grounded, I can be ready to start a new thing: ready to learn, ready for things like Sunday School and Confirmation and Adult Forums to begin for the year. Ready perhaps to hear God, like Moses did.
     
    We all know Moses’ story. He was a Hebrew, and he should have been murdered by the midwives, because Pharaoh had ordered them to murder all the Egyptian boys. But they saved him. Because those midwives, Shifra and Puah, they didn’t follow the law of Pharaoh. They followed the law of God. So Moses lived, and was taken in to be raised in Pharaoh’s house, as an Egyptian. For some years he doesn’t realize who he is, and when he does, he can’t take the pain of his people. In a moment of anger and grief, as he witnesses yet another injustice, he murders an overseer and then runs for his life.
     
    In one sense, Moses creates a great life for himself. He finds community, he marries, he tends his father-in-law’s animals. But in another sense, Moses has lost a great deal. He is cut off from his people, and his history. Even God. Then Moses sees the flame in the bush and he hears the voice, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground!” He takes off his shoes, and he walks closer to the bush, and he is grounded again. God reminds Moses of who he is, and who his people are. God tells Moses who God is: I am. The one who has always been, the God of all Moses’ ancestors, the one who created all things, the one who is in that moment alive and present in the flame in the bush in front of Moses. Not just I was, or I will be, but I am.
     
    And God tells Moses that he hears the cries of the Hebrew people, of Moses’ people, and that he always has. Moses couldn’t bear the pain, but God can, and does. And he calls Moses to return, promising to be with him, to give him the words he needs to speak, to claim God’s justice for his people. In spite of his fear, his uncertainty about his abilities to take on this task, perhaps his shame about how he'd failed before, Moses goes.
     
    Not just I was, or I will be, but I am. Throughout history, God has always heard God’s people. God heard the Hebrew people. God heard the cries of Rizpah: the sons she had with King Saul had been murdered, and she stood watch mourning and wailing for months until they were buried. Mary, Jesus’ mother, claims that God has heard her, and not only her, but the cries of all who suffer.
     
    Not just I was, or I will be, but I am. In Stand Your Ground, the book about the history and pain of white exceptionalism and faith that a group of us at Christ Lutheran are reading together, author Kelly Brown Douglas writes, “In telling his poignant story of life in a concentration camp during the Jewish Holocaust, Eli Wiesel recalls ‘a most horrible day, even among all of those other bad days,’ when he witnessed the hanging of a child . . . . Wiesel heard a man cry out, ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ To that question, Wiesel said a voice inside him answered, ‘Hanging from this gallows.’ ”
     
    And this, as Moses learns, is where God always is, when people are in pain. God hears the cries of all of those wounded by the systemic racism in our communities. God heard the cries of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and just this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake, who was severely injured in a shooting. God heard the cries of several others who were shot by a white supremacist while calling for justice in Kenosha.
     
    God heard the cries of the more than 180,000 who have died from COVID-19 now, and he hears the grief of those who loved them, and those who are still struggling to recover from being ill. God hears the cries of those who have lost loved ones, and homes, and jobs, to the devastating wildfires in California. God hears the pain of those recovering from the destruction of the storms in Iowa, and the catastrophic hurricanes that have borne down on communities in the Gulf. God hears the cries of all the officers in the police and military, who face daily the pain and struggle of our community. God hears the cries of those who are unemployed, or not paid adequately, who can't feed and clothe and house themselves and their children. God hears the anguish of those living with mental illness and addiction, isolation and loneliness, and the despair of their families.
     
    And then, family of faith, God sends us. But not without preparing us for the work ahead. God teaches us who God is — the god who is always present, the god who hears people's cry. God teaches us how to live in community. Moses is sent with Aaron, and we are sent with one another. Paul, in the letter to the Romans today, talks about persevering in faith when our life together is hard, and loving our enemies in concrete ways, making room for God to be God in our lives and in the world.
     
    And as we see with Peter today in our gospel from Matthew, knowing that we will make mistakes, God continues to teach us. God reminds us that no matter what, above any nation, state, or flag, it is God who made and sustains us, our faith in God that guides us, and Christ whom we follow. As people of faith, every year we come together for Sunday School, Confirmation, Adult Forums, Bible Studies, so we continue to ground ourselves and learn more about our God.
     
    Hearing Moses’ story reminds me that we, like Moses, are standing on holy ground. God is calling to us too, and is right in front of us. Taking off my shoes, reading passages of scripture, lighting a candle, can all help me to remember that I am on holy ground. How do you “holy ground” yourself, so that you can hear God’s voice?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28, Exodus 3:1-15, Whirl Story Bible, coronavirus, pandemic
  • Aug 23, 2020What is Your Superpower?
    Aug 23, 2020
    What is Your Superpower?
    Series: (All)
    August 23, 2020. God has given all of us gifts, not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. What gifts did he give you? What are your superpowers?
     
    Readings: Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    A few years ago I got to go to Heifer Ranch in Little Rock, Arkansas with a group of youth. We spent a week doing different projects around the ranch — taking care of their animals, tending the crops as they grow for their CSA, packing food boxes. And we gathered to learn about food justice all around the world, and the benefits that a community can get from having healthy animals, and even how to make pizza completely from scratch, with just goat milk, corn, oil, and tomatoes. We even made our own cheese from the goat milk. The cornerstone event of being at Heifer Ranch, though, is a night in what they call the Global Village. The Global Village is a long trail around a lake, with houses set up that look just like what you would find in places all over the world — from Guatemala, the Philippines, Thailand, and many other places where Heifer International has worked with local communities to address issues of poverty. And they also included a refugee camp.
     
    So I was assigned to the Appalachian House for the night with three of our ninth grade boys, two of whom were Cub Scouts working toward Eagle Scout. One of them was a Master Fire Builder — which was a great asset for our house, because the first task of the Global Village evening is to trade what you have for what you need to make dinner over a fire. Fortunately for us in Appalachian House we had all the firewood, and that made our job of trading for food and supplies really easy. To add some extra challenge to the experience, one of the kids in every group was told that they were pregnant, and so they wore a water balloon in a sling the entire time that we were making dinner.
     
    The boy in our group assigned to wear the balloon happened to be the Master Fire Builder. He had been so excited about the evening, and expected to make good use of his fire-building expertise. But once he put the sling on with that heavy water balloon, and we arrived at our house and began to get settled in, our Master Fire Builder quickly realized that he didn’t feel like he could do anything at all while wearing that fragile, cumbersome balloon. “I can’t do anything!” became a refrain. It turns out, the other Cub Scout in our group was quite a good fire builder himself, and after a short time the two Scouts were busy at work discussing the best way to set up the fire, and which sticks would make the most viable kindling.
     
    As I watched them, I noticed that our Master Fire Builder was not only really good at building fires, but also had a really profound way of supporting and empowering his friend, offering insight and encouragement in a way that allowed his friend to recognize and develop his own gift for fire building. In the meantime, our third Appalachian villager just kept finding ways to help. He gathered sticks and broke them down. He cut carrots, and then potato, and went for water. He washed the dishes, helped stir the pot, and transferred food into bowls so that we could eat. And I still say today, I think we had the best dinner in the entire camp! Scrambled eggs, carrots, potatoes, and onion. And the Cub Scouts even knew how to make really good rice — not the instant kind — over the fire, something I would never have been able to accomplish. And later in the evening, when we noticed that there were two wasps in the house where we were sleeping, I found myself able to trust them when they assured me that the wasps were as tired as we were, and would not bother us overnight.
     
    The gifts that each Appalachian House member had were all valuable, and together they allowed us to eat well, stay safe, and have fun along the way.
     
    So a mere six months ago, February 26, we celebrated Ash Wednesday together — my first Worship time as your Pastor. Remember that? Time gets so weird in times of transition, doesn’t it? Karen and I can hardly believe that we haven’t lived here forever. I have a hard time remembering what it was like before. And yet it's only been a short time, really. A short time in which I have learned so much already. And part of what I have experienced in these months is what my Appalachian House team learned during their night in the Global Village.
     
    I noticed it first in that Worship Team, as various gifts of creativity, organization, Biblical knowledge, and music came together in a way that energized all of us, and give us life now as we continue to re-imagine Worship in Corona-tide and beyond. I have seen it in the ways in which gifts we didn’t need in the same way before — gifts for making use of technology in so many different ways — have become essential, and Mike and Dave’s willingness to share those gifts has supported our Worship life together as we join in Worship from all over the country, even at one point from the middle of a lake! Most recently, I have been so grateful for those who have expertise in building maintenance and construction, as we have faced multiple challenges in caring for the Mead Center.
     
    And this is exactly what Paul talks about in our reading from the letter of Romans today. God has given all of us gifts — each one of us — not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. Isaiah tells us we were formed out of the earth to bring God’s love and justice to the world, and God continues to teach us and form us. Paul calls us not to give in to the messages that we hear that tell us we need to stand on our own, look out for ourselves, or that we don’t have anything to give others, but to be transformed by the Spirit, and recognize our place in the body of Christ. To recognize that we, as God’s children, are all parts of one another, and if any one of us is missing, we all lose out. Christ’s body is not complete without us. And as we grow in wisdom, we get better at seeing God at work in us, in others, and the world around us.
     
    And we continue to learn about the gifts we have been given throughout our lives. All of you heading back to school this year have the chance to work on building the gifts you already have, discover new gifts you didn’t know about before, and to help your students and your classmates and your friends discover their gifts too. School can seem disconnected from our faith lives sometimes, but really it is sacred space to learn about who God created us to be. And those of us not in school are called to keep learning, too.
     
    This week, at our Council meeting, we talked about the visioning work that we're beginning. We're asking those big questions — where are we today? What is working well for us, and what needs to be transformed? Where is God calling us, as we look ahead to what is in store for Christ Lutheran Church?
     
    Asking these questions can be a little scary, because change is hard. And it can be really exciting, as we unleash the gifts among us in our family of faith, and seek God’s will for how we can be church in our community today. And one of the important places to start is to recognize the gifts of God among us. I asked the Council when we met this week, and I asked the children this morning, and I ask you now: what are your superpowers? What are the gifts that God has given you, to be shared with your family, and your neighborhood, and this community of faith?
     
    In a moment I'll share some of the gifts that the Council shared at their meeting, and we'll pull the white board back up and see some of the gifts that the kids named as well. So, as we did with the kids a little bit ago, take a minute to share your superpowers with us by typing them in chat, and I will do my best to add them to the white board as we sing the Hymn of the Day.
     
    The promise of God stands firm, in the midst of pandemics and all the challenges we face in our life. God’s word will guide us, and we all have a place in the body of Christ.
     
    What are your superpowers?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8, community supported agriculture, Karen McLaughlin, Mike Wagner, Dave Ringkor, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Aug 16, 2020Nevertheless, She Persisted
    Aug 16, 2020
    Nevertheless, She Persisted
    Series: (All)
    August 16, 2020. In today’s gospel we see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. He claims that all are beloved, and yet he refuses to help the Canaanite woman and calls her a dog. Nevertheless, she persisted. And she shows us something of what it means to be a protestor, of the highest order.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Is anyone else feeling kind of tired this week? Like you're spinning your wheels and you're not getting anywhere? As if no matter what you say or do, it’s falling on deaf ears? I am so tired of looking at other people’s eyes over their masks, or seeing them in little squares on our Zoom screens. Weary of wondering how to spend free time, holidays, with options so limited, always calculating the risk. Parents, teachers, and students are wading through pages of plans and protocols and weighing all the choices for the upcoming school year — none of them ideal, all of them hard. And we all want more than anything to be fully in community, safely. There are many who are living in loneliness, and grief, and isolation these days. Perhaps highlighted a bit as we edge back to “normal” but we can’t quite get there. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like one more Zoom meeting, and I’m going to go soak my laptop in the water pooling on the Mead Center roof! But maybe I should just sit that Zoom meeting out instead. We're all a little weary in different ways, experiencing stress and grief, and to be honest, some trauma. Our brains are understandably a bit sloggier than normal, and our capacity perhaps lower than we feel it should be.
     
    And then today, we have this gospel. The one where Jesus, Jesus, calls the Canaanite woman, who is just trying to save her daughter, a dog. Maybe we should just sit this reading out? Or maybe, if we take a moment to breathe, there is something to be learned from the story, as there always seems to be in the end.
     
    For one thing, if you are feeling worn out today, we can hear in this story that we are not alone. The Canaanite woman comes to the square, crying out for help, and nobody listens to her. And although she doesn’t say how long her daughter has been possessed, we do know that this isn’t the first time she has made her plea. The disciples say she keeps yelling, and they ask Jesus to send her away or make her stop. When Jesus says her problem is not his responsibility, she is not his responsibility — in spite of the fact that she as a Canaanite is of the house of David just like Jesus is — the woman comes right up to him and names their common ancestry saying, “Son of David, help me.” And this is when Jesus, the Son of God, equates her to a dog. Maybe he should sit this one out!
     
    Just because our brains at their best learn really well through repetition, if we take a look at how Jesus taught and the stories he told, we will see that this is not the first time Jesus has addressed the place and beloved-ness of someone seen as an outcast, someone like the Canaanite woman. Jesus likes to give us the same message again and again, to make sure we can get it, and that’s especially helpful with our brains a little bit foggy. And most of the time, the lesson is: all are beloved. This message starts for us today with our Isaiah text: “Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” No limits to God’s embrace all through the Older Testament. And Jesus’ ministry carries that through.
     
    Think about the Prodigal Son. He too is unheard, outcast, and he calls himself a servant not worthy of sonship. And his older brother would certainly have agreed. But their father claims him as a child. God claims them both as beloved. The Good Samaritan was rejected by those around him simply because he's a Samaritan. But as the parable unfolds, we come to see that this person we least expect — the Samaritan, of all people — is the one Jesus chooses to lift up as good, the one we will come face-to-face with when we are laying in the ditch. And then there is the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, lepers, Zacchaeus and other tax collectors, and on and on. There are countless examples of God welcoming the outsider, Jesus lifting up the outcast.
     
    And still, today, Jesus takes away this woman’s humanity by the language he uses — explicitly excludes her from the message he himself has given us over and over, that all are included as God’s children. I think we all have those days, don’t we? When as hard as we try, we in our humanity fall short of our ideals. We speak about patience, and turn around and snap at those closest to us. We do our best to embody grace, and then growl through our mask at the cashier checking us out at the grocery store, or snarl over the phone at the person trying to solve our internet issues. We preach forgiveness, and then we realize, it means the neighbor whose dog won’t stop digging up our lawn, too.
     
    We claim, as Jesus did so many times, that all are welcome, all are beloved, and then we become aware that although we find it easy to welcome people with disabilities, our community, workplace, or school is not actually welcoming for LGBTQIA people. Or we hear the voices of our black siblings, and come to realize that, in so many places where we take our comfort and belonging for granted, they do not feel valued, heard, or even safe. We all have those days — and we all have those barriers within us.
     
    Matthew shows us a Jesus who is fully human, as well as divine. And in today’s gospel we see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. And we learn from what we see Jesus doing in this story how we are called to respond when we are caught in our blind spots, when we hit a wall. We don’t know why or how it happened. Maybe Jesus was tired, and caught off-guard by the woman’s plea and the disciples’ reaction. Maybe Jesus wanted to demonstrate in full ugliness what we shouldn’t do, almost like a living parable. However it happened, in that moment the Canaanite woman doesn’t challenge his words, but says that even dogs deserve to be fed. She reflects Jesus’ words back to him, highlighting just how awful his comment was. Called out, Jesus doesn’t make excuses, or explain why he was right or what he really meant. He hears her, perhaps for the first time. And then, Jesus heals her daughter.
     
    In the end, this story is about Jesus. But it is also very much about the Canaanite woman. The one with the ill daughter. The one seen as an outsider. The one called a pest, and then a dog. The one who had cried out, over and over. The one who had been unheard, and explicitly excluded. And yet, she didn’t give up. They tried to push her away and silence her. Nevertheless, she persisted.
     
    The Canaanite woman, family of faith, is in truth a protestor, of the highest order. One of the more famous writings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is his letter from the Birmingham Jail, which he wrote while imprisoned for his own persistence as a protestor. In it he says, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The Canaanite woman seems to have known this. She knew Jesus could heal her daughter, knew she was worthy of healing. And like Dr. King, Annie Lee Cooper, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement, she didn’t allow attempts to silence her to stop her as she sought what she so desperately needed.
     
    In all of our history, people claiming their right to justice and dignity and their place among God’s children have done as the Canaanite woman did. Slavery ended, women achieved the right to vote, LGBTQIA people claimed their right to exist, and so many other injustices have been righted because of people whose voices have rung out persistently over the years, including today, as black people demand that the long history of systemic racism and brutality against them end.
     
    Even in our church, people who have been shuffled to the side or out the door have claimed their place in the pews and the pulpits, living out the courage and desperation of the Canaanite woman in their own times and places. Because of their persistence, this year we celebrate the anniversaries — 50 years since women could be ordained, 40 years since the first black woman was ordained, and 10 years since the Churchwide Assembly voted to allow ordination for LGBTQIA clergy. All of this took not days, weeks, or months, but years of sacrifice and courage and persistence, people following the lead of the Canaanite woman insisting she be heard.
     
    So we of the soggy brains and weary souls and short tempers can take heart today. The Canaanite woman was tired too, but her persistence succeeded. And even Jesus hit those walls and barriers and tripped up sometimes, as he embodied the vision that God’s love and mercy are for everyone. But that vision rekindled. The promise of God to Isaiah, and Jesus’ challenge and invitation to live out God’s justice, persist, just when we think we are ready to sit this one out. Paul assured us God’s mercy is wide when we fall, and the Canaanite woman is leading the way.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexed, asexual, 2009 vote
  • Aug 9, 2020The Storms of Life are Nothing New to God
    Aug 9, 2020
    The Storms of Life are Nothing New to God
    Series: (All)
    August 9, 2020. Elijah, and Jesus' disciples, were all beset by “storms” at different times in today’s readings. And surrounded by all the chaos in the world today, we may feel that we've been blown off course and are lost. But Pastor Meagan preaches today on the comfort that comes from knowing that the storms of life are nothing new to God.
     
    Readings: 1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14:22-33
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    2020 is bringing us some pretty mighty storms so far, isn’t it? The initial onset of the pandemic, uprisings around racism, economic uncertainty, political upheaval, the resurgence of the virus that we're seeing right now. Christ Lutheran family, we started out this year, and our ministry together way back in the end of February, thinking that we were headed in one direction. It seems the next thing we knew, we were blown so far off course that we aren’t even sure where we are anymore sometimes!
     
    So it's quite comforting, isn’t it, to know that the storms of life are nothing new to God. The disciples, and Elijah, were all beset by “storms” at different times in today’s readings. Elijah has been chased, run out of town by Jezebel’s threats to his life. Many, although not all, of his fellow prophets had lost their lives, and Elijah is exhausted, afraid, despairing. He finds a cave to hide in, and he has no idea what to do next. And even if he did, he doesn't have the energy to do it. And the disciples, having been sent out in a boat to cross the lake ahead of Jesus, encounter a storm. And they are trapped on the lake in the boat, wondering if they will survive.
     
    And into this chaos, God appears. A few weeks ago at Pentecost, with the Holy Spirit appearing in wind and fire, enabling the disciples to speak in languages they had never learned, empowering them to boldly and publicly speak truth when they had been hiding from the authorities for days, I reflected that sometimes God comes to wake us up! To shake us from our complacency, to bring us out of our comfortable places, leading us to share God’s justice and mercy and love with the world. And sometimes, like today, God comes to heal, to feed, to calm, and then equip us to go out again.
     
    As he fled from Jezebel an angel came to Elijah, offered him food and water and rest, and then left. And the angel returned, to offer more food and water and rest, and left again. And then the angel returned to bring Elijah to the cave, where our reading today starts. And God appears.
     
    I picture the disciples, buffeted and tossed by the wind and the rain in an open boat, holding onto each other and the sides of the boat trying their best to not fall out, and to keep the boat balanced, perhaps struggling to figure out what direction they should be heading, if they can manage to direct the boat at all. And then, they see what they think at first is a ghost — until Jesus tells them it’s him. Most of the disciples stay in the boat, still holding on, perhaps gaping in disbelief at the figure that's coming towards them on the water. Peter, in classic Peter fashion, jumps out of the boat into the water and begins to walk toward Jesus, wanting to see for himself if it’s really him. And Jesus has to remind him, once again, that Jesus is God and Peter is not — Peter will not stay afloat without Jesus.
     
    So, where are you today? Are you with Elijah, laying in the cave, resting, feeling completely alone in the chaos and grief and the danger, trying to recover and make sense of what has happened and decide what to do next? Are you with the disciples in the boat, struggling to hold on while the storm continues to rage all around you? Are you Peter, leaping out of the boat into the chaotic waters, making your way toward Jesus?
     
    Wherever you are right now, it is comforting to know that the storms of life are nothing new to God. Elijah feels so alone, as we often may in these situations, and yet we can see from the outside that he is not alone. The angel offers such practical guidance for Elijah, and for us. Eat. Drink. Rest. Repeat. I remember a time some years ago when I was at a really low point in my life, wracked by fear and anxiety, struggling at times to do even basic things, and a friend gave me this exact advice. Eat. Drink. Rest. Repeat. This is sacred direction, family of faith, if you are exhausted. Jesus himself sought time to rest and reconnect with God often in the gospels. And he does again at the beginning of today’s gospel. The disciples in the boat probably felt abandoned by God too, with Jesus off who knows where while they fought for their lives in the storm. And yet, they were not as alone as they thought. Jesus is with them, in the storm, ghostly as he may look.
     
    In the middle of the storm, God is with us. In that low point of my life, through the voice of my friends and the presence of the Spirit in silence, God was with me, bringing healing and new life and peace. When we are exhausted, and feel afraid, alone, and even abandoned, God is there.
     
    Where are you seeing God, in the midst of the storms you are living in, right now? Is God in the sheer silence, as you rest and seek God? Is God off the port bow, almost glowing as they make their ghostly way through the chaos toward you? Is God in the boat, holding you safely as you ride out the storm together? Are you struggling through the storm, trying to stay afloat on the water, wondering if God is actually there?
     
    It is comforting to know that the storms of life are not new to God. And when we have had food, water, and rest, God reminds us that we're not alone. God made the earth, the sea, the sky, light and dark and everything in between, all the animals, the birds, plants, trees, and each one of us, bringing creation of out unformed chaos. And even in the midst of the sometimes chaotic life around us, God is present, continuing to bring life and make a way through the storm.
     
    Elijah felt alone, but God sent Elisha, and the 7,000, so they could walk together in faith, claiming the goodness of God. And the disciples had one another, and they had Jesus, as they made their way through the storm. In the middle of the chaos, God is with us, preparing us to go back out again, sharing the good news that God can handle the pandemic, and racial injustice, and political upheaval, and economic uncertainty, and loneliness, and fear, and anxiety.
     
    As we continue our ministry together, Christ Lutheran family, we may not know yet what the coming months will bring, but we can trust in the promise that God is with us. Your Council is reflecting on where we are and where God is calling us, and we invite you to do so too. Like Elijah, we hear God in the sheer silence. Like the disciples, we see Jesus navigating the stormy water in front of us, and claim the good news that God has not abandoned us. We eat, drink, rest, and continue the journey, until everyone knows. The storms of life are not new to God. And with God, we have nothing to fear.
     
    Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14:22-33, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Aug 2, 2020More Than Enough, From Next to Nothing
    Aug 2, 2020
    More Than Enough, From Next to Nothing
    Series: (All)
    August 2, 2020. Guest pastor Karen Scherer preaches today on the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Even though they had next to nothing, the crowd all ate and were filled, because Jesus can turn "next to nothing" into more than enough.
     
    Reading: Matthew 14:13-21
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    "Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself." We can only imagine Jesus' grief and his mourning over the news of John the Baptist's murder at the hands of Herodias and her daughter. John, who was his cousin. John, who had baptized him in the Jordan. John, who had proclaimed repentance and the coming of the kingdom of Heaven, whose proclamation Jesus had picked up when John was arrested. And if John's death wasn't enough, this difficult news was piled on top of the hurt that he must have felt at having been rejected in his own hometown of Nazareth, just before hearing of John's terrible death. So Jesus withdrew to actually a wilderness place — an isolated place — to be alone, to grieve, to mourn, to pray. And when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. They too must have just heard the news regarding John. And just as Jesus, their sojourn may have been an act of grief, or bewilderment, or something else desperate enough for them to end up in a wilderness place with no food, on that hillside far away.
     
    We too may know of such feelings of grief and bewilderment. We are at a particular turmoil in our country. Black lives are clamoring for justice, and white lives are just beginning to understand. Asylum seekers, even children, are being imprisoned, detained. Unknown or unmarked federal law enforcement personnel are snatching citizens from the streets and driving them off in unmarked vans. The backdrop of this turmoil is a pandemic that has caused fear, closed businesses, created massive job losses, and tempts us to make mask wearing a political statement. The world seems to be in chaos. We may not recognize where we are anymore, but I'll tell you it's some kind of wilderness.
     
    When Jesus went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them and cured the sick. Jesus sees them and he sees us. He not only sees those who are sick and infirm. He sees in the crowd their dispirited, heartbroken pain. Herod's act of killing John was just the final straw for some of these folks. Roman occupation, oppression, corruption. Too big to overthrow, too cruel to endure. "What is left?" they must have been thinking. Jesus' reaction to seeing them is a physical one, one that the English word "compassion" does not do justice to. He was gut-wrenched when he saw the crowd. And so he goes to them, and he goes among them. And he begins healing them, raising their spirits, healing their broken hearts, curing their infirmities.
     
    D. Mark Davis has a great blog spot called Left Behind and Loving It. And he writes this: "A revolutionary leader, like a zealot, could have used this moment to rally troops. Five thousand men, plus women and children, in one place — angry or bewildered or dispirited over the death of John the Baptizer — would make a great start to an army that could have stormed Herod's palace. Instead it becomes a feeding story, a healing story."
     
    Well truth be told, in these current times I find myself much of the time feeling much more like a zealot than a disciple. I find myself feeling angry and sad and anxious. And if you're like me, after many gut-wrenching hours swiping through our social media feeds, we have not seen much cause for hope. Divisions increase. Memes plant seeds of irrational bias. And resigned, depressed, left without hope or otherwise spiritually impoverished, many wonder what hope do we have. In our secular society, where do we look for deliverance? We look to our government, our courts, our church's leadership. But no person or institution can be granted universal moral authority. All such authorities in fact have been systematically eliminated. We disagree on what is fact and what is truth today. So we find ourselves just wanting it to all go away.
     
    When it was evening, the disciples came to Jesus and said, "This is a deserted place and the hour is now late. Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." The disciples just want to send them away. And I suspect that they too just wanted to hunker down with Jesus. And besides, there was nothing they had to give them. Jesus said to them, "They need not go away. The location of abundance is here — in here, in the heart — not elsewhere. They need not go away. You give them something to eat." And they replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." Ah, the response of scarcity. We just have a couple of fish sandwiches. What are we going to do with fish sandwiches? And he said to them, "Bring them here. Bring them to me." And then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass ("ordered" meaning more invitation). "I've got something. I've got a plan. I've got something to give you." And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples. And the disciples gave them to the crowds, and all ate and were filled. And they took up what was left out of the broken pieces: twelve baskets full.
     
    Where do we look for deliverance? What hope do we have? Not in miracles from on high, no. But in the presence of God with us. We disciples may look around and believe that we are out of earthly possibilities. Except that God has inhabited the stuff of this earth. God has come to us in flesh and blood, in bread and wine, in water and word. God has claimed us at baptism. Blessed and broken and shared, Jesus not only offers us bread, but his very life, his presence, his compassion, his promise with us now. "This is my body and blood given for you." For nourishment, for healing, for freedom to act. God has promised that no devil, no ruler, no mob, no injustice, nothing in all creation will separate us from this love of God in Christ Jesus. That's good news for days in the middle of global pandemic.
     
    When you too feel like I've got nothing or next to nothing — I've got next to nothing left for my people, next to nothing left for this ministry, next to nothing left for my family and friends, next to nothing left for this moment... Well, good news: next to nothing is Jesus' favorite thing to work with! Bring it to me. Bring them to me. Like the disciples, we will never have or be enough by ourselves. But Jesus is enough. Sustained by Jesus and his promises, we've returned to the fray with hope. Where worldly wisdom suggests there is no cause for hope, we have hope. And we have so much to share. Jesus invites us to share the food with which we have been fed: bread and wine, mercy and sacrifice, community, hope, faith, and love. And hope and faith and love bubble up in fits of joy as God uses us little Christs to feed our neighbors, to speak the truth we know, and to act and work for the kingdom of God, where we know that all are welcome and all are fed. If you feel like you've got next to nothing left some days, it's enough. Because Jesus can turn next to nothing into more than enough. Bring it to me.
     
    And so may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Karen Scherer, Matthew 14:13-21, D. Mark Davis, Left Behind and Loving It, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Jul 26, 2020When the Ordinary is Sacred
    Jul 26, 2020
    When the Ordinary is Sacred
    Series: (All)
    July 26, 2020. In the most ordinary of tasks, God shows up. In the most ordinary of things God is present, and the ordinary is sacred. The weekly practice of baking bread at home, for online worship on Sunday, connects us with generations of people in all times and all parts of the earth. And today, with our friends Jack and Ruthie and Maggie and Megan, we celebrate the sacrament of Communion.
     
    Readings: 1 Kings 3:5-12, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I don't know how many of you have made bread, but there is something unique about bread dough for those who have made it, isn’t there? I hadn’t done a lot of bread baking prior to COVID-19, but suddenly I've found myself making bread on a weekly basis, for the celebration of Communion. I use a really simple recipe — only four ingredients plus water. And there is no yeast in it. I put the flour, baking powder, salt, and oil in the bowl and add some water, and begin to turn it over and over with the spoon. If there’s still any flour left in the bowl then I add a little bit more water and turn it some more. And maybe a bit more — but not too much. Once all the flour is all mixed in, when there’s just the right amount of water, there is that moment when the bread dough becomes super stretchy and almost stringy, flaky-looking in a damp sort of way I think. That’s when I wash my hands (again) and mush the dough between them, digging my fingers in to be sure that any dry bits are well-mixed. And then I let it sit for about half an hour before I fry it in a pan. My favorite part is when the dough is just done enough to hold its shape really well, and I use the spatula to make the cross on the bread before I flip it over to cook the other side.
     
    Most weeks I make my bread on Fridays, and it sits wrapped in paper towel on the counter waiting for Sunday morning. I'm kind of shocked that none of my cats has discovered this routine yet, but maybe they just don’t like bread. Making the bread has become one of my favorite parts of the week, the mixing and the kneading and the frying and the crossing, and this ritual has brought new meaning to the sacrament for me, in its ordinary-ness.
     
    This weekly practice of taking such simple ingredients, come right out of God’s earth, to make the bread that feeds my body, connects me with generations of people in all times and all parts of the earth, who have done the same to feed their families. Generations of Christians who have made flour and water into loaves and wafers, poured the wine, and set the table for their Sunday Eucharist celebrations, for two thousand years now. Each Sunday as we celebrate Communion, I have felt nourished in body as well as spirit. It has surprisingly become one of my favorite meals of the week.
     
    And this week, I got to make bread with friends! Wednesday evening, Jack and Ruthie and Maggie and Megan, and their families and I, got together on Zoom, and we had the privilege of sharing this ritual together (thanks parents!) while we continued to learn and talk about what the sacrament of Communion means and the grace of finding God in the making, and the breaking, of the bread.
     
    The kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a huge tree for the birds to nest in. The kingdom of God is like a bit of yeast — when it's mixed in with a whole bag of flour, it makes the whole loaf rise. The kingdom of God is like finding treasure while you are plowing your field. The kingdom of God is like sorting fish with nets. Not stories of grand miracles or royal parades, but ordinary folks doing ordinary things, and discovering that God is right there in the ordinary-ness.
     
    In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experience of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”
     
    In the most ordinary of tasks, God shows up. In the most ordinary of things, God is present, and the ordinary is sacred. In the catechism, Luther explains that baptism reveals God’s grace not because of the ordinary water alone, but because in the water and the word and the promise of our God, God extends forgiveness of sins, rescues us from evil, and brings us new life. The sacrament of Communion reveals God’s grace, not because of the bread and the wine, but because in the bread and the wine and in the word and the promise of our God, God extends forgiveness, and salvation, and life.
     
    We as Lutheran Christians celebrate these sacraments, and in these moments of grace, we experience God making the ordinary sacred. Nourished and fed and forgiven and blessed in these sacraments, we can see God’s presence in all ordinary things. Deer in the yard. Tending your garden. Washing your dishes. Conversation about the Sunday scriptures with a friend. A headbutt from your kitty, or an affectionate lick from your puppy.
     
    And Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, God’s promise to be faithful has no limits. Even when everything is working against you, even when death surrounds you, even when it seems that there is no way out, when we are so confused and wounded and exhausted that we can’t string two words together, God is present. Because nothing, Paul says, nothing can separate us from God’s love.
     
    And so today, we come together to worship, we hear the promises of God in the scriptures, and with our friends Jack and Ruthie and Maggie and Megan, we celebrate the sacrament of Communion. And in the ordinary bread — or the crackers, or the waffle, or the cookies — with the word and the promise of our God, the grace of God is present with us.
     
    In our first reading today, we hear that Solomon could have chosen wealth or power as his gifts from God. But he didn’t. Instead, he chose to ask for God’s Spirit of Wisdom to change him, so that he might know God’s will, and be able to bring justice for God’s people. And as we are fed and nourished by the bread and the wine today, we see God in the ordinary. We too are empowered to embody the love and the mercy of our God. We too, like Solomon, are granted wisdom to know God’s will and be a voice for justice for all of God’s people.
     
    Jack, Ruthie, Maggie, and Megan, in your baptisms we celebrated the love and wisdom and justice and joy that you each bring into this world, and claimed the promise of God that you are God’s beloved child forever. Today, we celebrate with you the sacrament of Communion, and we are all strengthened and blessed by your presence in our family of faith. We pray that you will always know how much God loves you, that you will know you are forgiven when you make mistakes, and that you will see the presence of God in the ordinary things all around you.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, video, YouTube, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Kings 3:5-12, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, Matthew 13:44-52, coronavirus, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor, Jack Wood, Ruthie Helton, Maggie Ringkor, Megan Eftink, First Communion
  • Jul 19, 2020Living in the Messy Middle
    Jul 19, 2020
    Living in the Messy Middle
    Series: (All)
    July 19, 2020. Any gardener knows that weeds are a never-ending challenge. Pastor Meagan preaches today on Jesus' parable of the weeds among the wheat, and how our world and our lives are a lot like the field in the story.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 44:6-8, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In our gospel today, Jesus takes his parable about the sower and the seed from last week and he extends it, saying that these gardens that have so many weeds growing in them are like the Kingdom of Heaven. And as much as I love gardens, I am not a very skilled gardener, so my first reaction to hearing this image quite honestly is, “Ugh!” Any gardener knows weeds are a never-ending challenge. This spring, it seemed like every time we thought we had gotten all of the dandelions up, we would turn around and there would be half a dozen more. And of course dandelions aren’t ones that you can just grab with your hand and pull up easily. It takes some work with a weed puller to get at the roots. And even so, often at least part of it will remain tightly entrenched in the soil. Or more seeds, unseen in the earth, are preparing themselves to sprout, leaving the possibility that another dandelion will pop up where the last one lay.
     
    And being new to St Louis, and tending new gardens, there are of course many things growing in our yard with which we are not yet familiar. Often, as a new plant would sprout, one of us would say to the other, “Is that a plant or a weed?” And as often as not, the other would say, “Beats me.” We've learned a lot by uploading photos to online plant identification apps, or posting pictures on Facebook and asking friends what they thought. But we've been left with a certain amount of guesswork, pulling out what we believed to be weeds, and leaving what we weren't sure of. In the front yard, we had several small lily flowers pop up in just random places. They bloomed beautifully and then they died, leaving green leaves and a brown, crusty stem behind in the midst of the grass. I initially advocated to leave them where they grew. But once the flowers died, they provided far more of a challenge as Karen would attempt to mow around them than they offered in beauty. So I relented, and Karen took them out. “Are they plants or weeds?” “Beats me.”
     
    And the process of weeding, as we all know, is an ongoing one, requiring patient, hard work — and it is as much about tending the plants and flowers as it is about removing the weeds. I learned long ago to take it in blocks, addressing one section, then another, then another, of the garden beds. Attempts to remove all the weeds at once have never ended well. So, this parable of the weeds in the wheat as the Kingdom of Heaven definitely gives me pause. But the more I think about it, the more it resonates. Because in spite of my initial “ugh” reaction to this image, truth be told, this world, and our lives, are an awful lot like the field in Jesus’ parable — not clean and neat, yielding only wheat and no weeds, but a mix of wheat, weeds, and things we can’t even identify.
     
    I remember as a teenager getting into an argument with one of my brothers, probably about something really silly, and feeling desperate for him to know that I was right. And the more we got into it, the more my voice went up — and the more I tried to make myself tall (a futile effort at any time). And my brother said, “You’re really mad about this!” And in the midst of my unawareness, I replied of course, “No, I’m not.” “Oh yeah, you are.” “No, I’m not!” “Uh huh!” “No I'm not! Stop telling me I'm angry! You're just wrong!" I was so frustrated and angry. It was happening right inside me, and yet I couldn’t see it. Has anyone else ever had that happen? Where something was going on around you, or with a another person, or inside you, and you just couldn’t figure it out?
     
    Over the years, getting to know myself, understanding how I am feeling or what I am doing, and what is helpful and what is not, what is wheat and what is weed if you will, has been a process — much like the ongoing process of weeding a garden. Because being human is not a clean, neat, clear venture, but really super complicated at times. Paul describes it in a lot of different ways, today using the image of labor pains to describe the challenges of living through this process of becoming, of finding our way when so many things can distract and block us from seeing and doing God’s will in the world. In Luther’s language, we are all sinner and saint. We all have weeds and wheat. I think of it as living through a really messy middle, certainly in process, but not there yet.
     
    The good news in all of this is, God knows this. And as it tells us in Isaiah today, no matter what, we belong to God. We have been adopted, chosen, to be God’s children, beloved. And from “of old,” Isaiah says, God has told us that only God is God. In other words, in all this messiness, of good and evil, saint and sinner, God is ultimately in charge. We are not. We, along with all of creation, are in process, family of faith. And God is with us in that. God will be faithful right up to the end. And we can have hope that in the end, God will heal all wounds, remove all evil, leaving only the wheat that is growing along the way. Jesus’ parable tells us this too. He says it is not up to us to pull out all of those pesky weeds and create a perfect garden. It's enough for us to live what we call the theology of the cross — we name the wheat and the weeds, the good and the evil that we see, as best we can. We do what we can with God’s help to nurture the good, in ourselves and in others.
     
    C. T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis, who had been working for decades for civil rights and racial justice, against the evils of racism and oppression, know this. Last year Congressman Lewis said, "Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, a year. It is the struggle of a lifetime. Never be afraid to get in some good trouble," said congressman John Lewis. And we too can do this, trusting that in the end, only God will be able to sort it all out. Twelve Step spiritual wisdom tells us this too — it is our job to listen, to tend, to notice, and to name, and to ask God for help. But removing the weeds of our lives is up to God and not ours.
     
    Jesus tells his followers that in the end, the weeds will be cast into the fire, conjuring up perhaps images of the devil and those overcome by sin, burning in hell. Interestingly, overwhelmingly in scriptures, fire is very sacred. Fire lets Moses know that he should pay attention, that something is happening that he needs to learn about. Fire guides the Israelites in the desert by night. And tongues of fire come upon the disciples at Pentecost, purifying them and empowering them for the work that they have ahead.
     
    We all tend to resist the refiner’s fire. Moses comes close to the bush, but he's shaking in his boots. Israelites get weary and frustrated because the end isn’t coming soon enough. The disciples go out after having been blessed by fire, and the people notice their transformation and question it, because of its power. We do this too, when we resist facing the realities of racism and other evils, and see how we ourselves have been blind and complicit with systemic oppressions in this world. Or when we are called out for something we aren't aware that we were doing, we can resist that. Or when we in shame realize something of our own sinfulness, our own being, to change. Because being transformed isn't comfortable, is it? Recognizing the weeds in us isn't comfortable. Living in the messy middle is hard. And sometimes all we want is for this process we are living in to be over. “Is it wheat or weeds?” “Beats me.”
     
    We can be encouraged by Isaiah’s words that God’s promises are from the beginning, and they stretch all the way to the end. Jesus promised that God is not going to abandon us to be overcome by the weeds, even though it may seem that way at times. It’s not our job to pull all those weeds out — thank goodness! Because that is a job that is beyond us. It is enough that we tend our gardens as best we can, ask God for help, and trust in God to sort it all out.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, YouTube, video, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 44:6-8, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, Matthew 13:36-43
  • Jul 14, 2020Tending Sacred Places
    Jul 14, 2020
    Tending Sacred Places
    Series: (All)
    July 12, 2020. In the sermon today, we remember those who have recently passed away — and how they, like the sower in Jesus' parable, sowed the seeds of faith in this community.
     
    Readings: Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Many years ago, I was on the phone with the Office Manager from my childhood church, when I heard the extension in my parents’ house pick up. After listening for just a few seconds, my brother exclaimed, “Joanne O’Neill!” It had only taken a couple of words from my conversation partner for him to recognize her voice, though it had been several years since they had spoken. My brother, back in his church grade school days, had been quite a troublemaker, and for whatever reason the kids who fell into that category often ended up spending a lot of time with the feisty, energetic, short, white-haired administrator. And she didn’t mind it one bit. She made quite an impression on my brother and his friends, and they on her.
     
    Some of the teachers, I know, felt like it was pretty hopeless, not worth the effort on a group of kids that seemed intent on just stirring up chaos, having a good laugh, showing no interest in their grade school days — in anything that the teachers might have to teach them. Joanne O’Neill saw it differently. Perhaps she saw something of herself in their rambunctious rebelliousness. Joanne took the time to sow seed into these unlikely fields, planting seeds of hope and watering them faithfully. She made sure that they knew that she, at least, delighted in them.
     
    And I remember Gail Merrill, our neighbor from across the street, showing that same delight in me, an eccentric kid, who always did everything “right” (or at least I tried!), but always seemed to fall a bit outside that circle that defined the “in-crowd.” In the world of “Cheers,” a little more like pedantic Cliff, than I was like cool Sam.
     
    Coming alongside our parents, who loved and nurtured and cared for us, Gail and Joanne, and many others over the years, sowed seed and tended soil, creating a space for my brothers and me to grow and become the people God created us to be. And we all need that, don’t we? Soil in which we can set down roots. Seeds planted in us, that can bear fruit.
     
    Vic, and Gloria, and Gwen, all of whom were laid to rest this week, sowed so much seed into this life. Love for family, sharp wit, passion for traveling, heart for teaching wisdom and knowledge, and a commitment for sharing God’s abundance with everyone. They all embodied the joy of their faith. They were all, in their unique ways, sowers of faith in their families, their communities, and their worlds. Vic, Gloria, and Gwen all sowed seed into this community of faith, and Luther Memorial before it, helping to form and nurture a place where we who are gathered today, and all those who will come, can grow.
     
    A Twin Cities Lakota elder, Jim Bear Jacobs, shared with a group of United Theological seminarians that Lakota tradition tells us that our stories are rooted in place, and not in time. As I shared last evening, according to that tradition the valley below Fort Snelling, on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Paul, is the birthplace of creation, a sort of Garden of Eden. It is also the birthplace of many Lakota people whose mothers travelled days and weeks to get to that place so their children could be born there. You can feel it, when you walk there — no matter how much time passes, their stories and the story of creation itself are alive there in that sacred place.
     
    And in this sacred place, in the gathered community of the Christ Lutheran family, for over a century, we have heard the Word of God, and broken bread, and shared the Eucharist together. Through the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, we live in Jesus, and Jesus lives in us, and because of that, we all live forever. This is a sacred place. The stories of Vic, Gloria, and Gwen are rooted in this place now. No matter how much time passes, their stories are alive here, along with the stories of all who have been here, all who are here now, and all of those yet to come.
     
    We are human, as Paul reminds us so pointedly, and it's easy for us to get caught up in what Paul refers to as the “flesh” — to be distracted and focused on what is best for us at the expense of our neighbors, security that comes from our own efforts, messages that tell us that God’s abundance is not enough for everyone, the voice inside us that says maybe we aren’t worthy of love after all — the sinfulness of disconnection, and judgement, and fear that cuts us off from the life-giving soil of God’s creation, God’s Spirit.
     
    We enter into sacred places, those places where we are tended and fed, and we in our turn feed and tend to the unique lives around us, and we're connected to the Spirit that gives us life. And then, like the sower in Jesus’ parable today, we sow more seed. We will not do it alone, and we will make mistakes, because we're human, and it’s not about being perfect, after all. It’s about creating places where stories can be shared, and songs can be sung, and the will of God can be revealed, where God's spirit can give life. Sacred places, that honor and give birth to life.
     
    Some years later, when Joanne passed away, I remember calling my brother and saying to him, “All of the adults are dying! Who is going to be the grown up now?” And then realizing, that was us! And it is on us, as it has always been, to continue to tend the fields. And sow more seed. Tend, sow, rest, repeat.
     
    We don’t need to worry about whether the soil is right, or what will happen after the seed is sown. Because what happens to that seed isn't up to us. It's up to God. We may sow, but God is constantly tending, tilling, and preparing all of creation — including each one of us — to receive the promise, and let it flourish. We never know where the seed we sow might grow.
     
    Archbishop Oscar Romero offers us a reflection to sow on:
     
     
    "It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
     
    The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
     
    We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
     
    No statement says all that could be said.
     
    No prayer fully expresses our faith.
     
    No confession brings perfection.
     
    No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
     
    No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
     
    No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
     
    This is what we are about.
     
    We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
     
    We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
     
    We lay foundations that will need future development.
     
    We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
     
    We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
     
    That enables us to do something, and do it well.
     
    It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
     
    We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
     
    We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
     
    We are prophets of a future not our own."
     
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, Matthew 13:18-23, Vic Saeger, Gloria Richardson, Gwen Hickman